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From our partners: RISE Together Fund

Punching Above Our Weight: Expanding Nonpartisan Voter Engagement Among BAMEMSA Communities

By Sheila Bapat | September 22, 2021

In 2019, RISE Together Fund committed to giving our grantees the tools necessary to bring a larger segment of high potential BAMEMSA* voters to the polls during 2020, and the results speak for themselves. We committed to supporting grassroots civic engagement because it is time for our communities to realize their power as a voting bloc, and to ensure that policymakers are consistently accountable to our communities.

Many of our grantees are fighting back against local and state policies that criminalize their communities, so they truly understand and are committed to the need to leverage all the power they can muster. With a critical election in 2020, our grantees wanted to step up—and they needed tools to make that happen. Existing avenues for data access and tracking for voter engagement are often hard to access or too expensive for our grantees to even imagine accessing.

Critically, eighty percent of our grantees’ budgets are under $2 million per year; many are under $1 million per year. Realizing their potential requires increased access — access to data**, access to brain power, and access to funding. To build a multiracial democracy, we must improve access for local grassroots groups on all of these fronts.

In 2020, RISE Together Fund piloted a voter data partnership with quantitative political scientist Dr. Tom Wong, and our grantees seized this opportunity. Dr. Wong worked directly with our grantees from Georgia, Arizona, Virginia and many other states to more accurately identify BAMEMSA voters in the voter file. Previously, many of our grantees had no systematic or accurate way to identify BAMEMSA voters in voter files.

His team also coached our grantees on effective messaging. For some grantees, his team built new voter engagement programs with our grantees from the ground up. Based on Dr. Wong’s evaluation of their work, in the aggregate our grantees increased turnout by more than 5% across all voters that were canvassed, and by more than 6% across the high potential (or low-propensity) voters they successfully canvassed.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY POTENTIAL

Justice for Muslims Collective’s work exemplifies our impact in 2020. Through their work with Dr. Wong, JMC received a list of more than 53,000 BAMEMSA voters in Northern Virginia. Critically, JMC now owns this original data set and they can leverage it for their range of organizing efforts.

JMC also worked with Dr. Wong to build a volunteer-staffed phone banking program that successfully canvassed 1,155 high potential voters of color across 3 languages (English, Urdu and Hindi), and the organization actually contacted 8,000 voters.

While the raw numbers may appear small, we see the slim margins that can determine the outcomes in many counties and states. Indeed JMC’s work represents the type of engagement that can make or break an outcome. Empowering this level of grassroots engagement targeting high potential voters will transform our democracy over the long term.

JMC is just one of 18 RISE Together Fund grantees that received this support. Follow-up surveys with JMC and other grantees revealed that 100% of the participants who worked with Dr. Wong reported they were better able to develop nonpartisan voter-engagement plans and 67% reported they were better able to train staff and volunteers to conduct more targeted outreach. And this pilot program revealed just how much potential there is. Our goals for the future are much bigger.

BUILDING A MULTIRACIAL DEMOCRACY

RISE Together Fund is encouraged by our pilot program, and at the same time, we are well aware of the work ahead. White supremacy continues to grip our nation, revealing itself through voter suppression laws, vitriolic media, and hate attacks against all communities of color. We are among the chorus of funders committed to transforming our democracy. In the coming five years, RISE Together Fund plans to build the following:

  • Grow the Infrastructure: Sustain data and analytics support for our field through January 2025 for 10-15 of our grantees in key states.
  • Change the Narrative: Partner with media firms so that our grantees’ impact on our democracy is known.
  • Build Long Term Power: Fund our grantees to apply the data and tools they gain from their nonpartisan voter engagement efforts to their issue advocacy and community organizing goals, including current engagement around their state’s redistricting process. Sustained data support can also be leveraged for broader policy objectives including ending the carceral state, standing up for refugees and immigrants, and fighting for economic justice.
  • Iterate and Evolve: RISE Together Fund will continue asking our grantees what is working for them and what isn’t. This will help us adjust our funding and priorities as our programming develops.

As our name calls on us to do, we are empowering our communities to RISE to the occasion, to empower the BAMEMSA community to be part of the inclusive, representative democracy we seek to build.

*RISE Together Fund uses the acronym BAMEMSA for Black, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian to describe communities we support that have been acutely impacted by post 9/11 discrimination. While Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian (AMEMSA) is a common term in philanthropy, because of our understanding that Black communities are often excluded in both community and philanthropic spaces, many felt it was important to be explicit about commitment to fund Black leadership. No acronym can fully capture the rich diversity of the field, but many in philanthropy are adopting this acronym to describe the communities they support.
**Hahn, Hahrie & P3 Lab: “An Approach to Understanding and Measuring People Power.” May 2021, specifically “Investing in data and analytics capacities can help build the potential power and strategic learning capacity of organizations”