Irene Villaseñor is POV’s Youth Views manager. Youth Views is a project that works with youth, educators, and youth-serving organizations to use POV films as a tool for youth engagement. Irene writes in today to talk about how communities can organize around the 2008 POV film Election Day to reduce voter disenfranchisement, and her own experiences on Super Tuesday with the Asian Pacific American community.
On July 1, POV will broadcast Election Day, a film by Katy Chevigny that combines 11 stories that were shot around the country on November 2, 2004. The film focuses on how incredibly varied our voting experiences are across the country — we see stories of activists on the Pine Ridge Reservation as they mobilize Native voters, advocates in New York City that want to unleash the voting power of ex-convicts, and a Republican committee man in Chicago that wants to ensure that Republican voters aren’t intimidated at polling stations, among other scenes from election day 2004.
This wide-angle view reveals the barriers to civic participation that some communities must overcome in order to have their votes count. The film can be a powerful eye-opener, especially for citizens who blame voters for the electoral scandals in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004.
Working with this film inspired me to reflect on how my own community, Asian Pacific Americans, struggles with voter disenfranchisement. Since May is Asian Pacific Heritage month, this is one of the best times to delve deeper into our legacies and assess how much progress has been made.
We still have a way to go.
Since 1988, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) has been monitoring our community’s participation in local and national elections. In a 2006 report to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which was created to eliminate literacy tests, poll taxes and other barriers to voting), AALDEF identified that Asian Americans continue to experience racial discrimination, harassment, and institutional barriers at polls.
AALDEF’s latest report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2006 Elections, cites incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement in 25 cities across the nation. These statistics called me forth to get involved. On Super Tuesday, I volunteered to survey Asian American voters about their experience, ensure that translators and translated materials were available, refer people to AALDEF’s complaint hotline, and speak to the press about the situation.
During my shift, I discussed with the other volunteers how Election Day could be an incredible resource for people who wanted to mobilize communities for the 2008 elections and examine what deters individuals and communities from political life.
If you want to borrow Election Day for a community or classroom screening, sign up on POV’s Community Events Planner. For information on a range of election-year issues, check out POV’s Why Vote? website. And if you would like to get involved with AALDEF’s Asian American Democracy Project, visit their website for more information.