The role of mediating institutions in civic engagement

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In preparation for the 2016 General Elections, the Heartland Workers Center (HWC) made the intentional effort to partner with other organizations working in South Omaha in order to increase voter participation. While research has shown that going door-to-door is the most effective strategy to reach potential voters, we realized that the lives of today’s citizens are busy, as they work, attend classes, children’s activities, church services, and other community events. 
 
Partnering with 22 different organizations and groups, we once again show that mediating institutions act collectively to promote civic engagement and can become sources of change.
 
Promoting Voter Engagement
At the Intercultural Senior Center (ISC) on 30th and R Streets in South Omaha, HWC organizers talked with the seniors about voting, while getting some of them registered to vote and collecting early ballot request forms.  When asked why the organization participated in these efforts, Carolina Padilla, ISC Executive Director, said, “First, it is important to support other organizations working in South Omaha.  Second, we must recognize that seniors have influence in their families, and they can be the examples of what it means to participate in public life.”  She also ended by saying, “Our families are schools where we can teach our children and grandchildren, like in this case, about the importance of voting.”
 
The HWC also spoke about civic engagement and voting to students during the Latino Center of the Midlands (LCM) Adult Education Classes. During the classes, staff pushed students to be motivated to participate and make their voices (their vote) be a part of the political process.  “We are glad to be a part of this initiative because it is important to increase the number of outlets for voter registration and education in the Latino community,” said Carolina Quezada, LCM Executive Director.   “The more community members know about the importance of voting, the more they will communicate it to others in their family, work groups, social groups, etc.”
 
In addition to partnering with ISC and LCM, other community partners included inCommon, One World Community Health Centers, the Juan Diego Center, and United Food and Commercial Workers, among others.
 
Through these efforts, we were able to register 458 new voters and collect 200 early voting ballot request forms. 
 
Recruiting Volunteers
 
Beyond giving presentations at community organizations, our partnerships with organizations also encouraged individuals to volunteer.  In addition to the organizations mentioned above, the HWC also connected with students from the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO), Creighton University, and South High School, and the volunteers with the new Drive 2 Vote campaign.
 
Dr. Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado offers a Latino politics class during election cycles.  As to why it is important to get his students involved, he said, “It’s important for students to understand the democratic process, and to know and understand that a democracy is only as vibrant as those who participate.” He added, “The HWC efforts are an extension of what our country is about – being more inclusive and making sure that everyone has a voice.”
 

News-category1HWC Staff