By Larry Fondation, Director of Community Engagement at Green Dot Public Schools
A Crisis of Engagement
There are 3.9 million people living in the city of Los Angeles. Of those, 1.8 million are registered to vote: about 61% of the adult population. However, voter turnout in L.A. is notoriously low. Even in high-stakes elections such as the mayoral race of 2013, only 410,000 people cast a vote. Turnout for city council elections is approximately 15%. For Los Angeles School Board; about 11%. Half the city council won their seats with less than 10,000 votes and not a single school board member holds a mandate of more than 10% of the electorate, and in some instances, it’s as low as 4%. Such levels of civic engagement compromise the inherent value of democracy and call into question the accountability of elected officials to the people they are sworn to serve.
Green Dot Votes
Tuesday September 22 is National Voter Registration Day. It falls within High School Voter Education Weeks, which run from September 14 to 25. During this time, Green Dot’s Community
Engagement Team will partner with the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) to work with schools towards achieving a goal of registering 1,000 students and parents to vote. The registration drive will take place within a broader education program raising awareness of the democratic process and the rights and responsibilities of democratic engagement. While eligible 12th graders will complete and file registration forms, younger students will be familiarized with the paperwork and application process to prepare them for future filing. CHIRLA will help eligible students navigate pathways to citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, and AB130 and AB131 access to public colleges and financial aid.
Green Dot’s activities during High School Voter Education Weeks are part of a larger commitment to provide historically disengaged residents with adult education opportunities and structured training in political self-advocacy.
To date, over 5,000 parents have taken part in the programs. In December 2014, over 1,500 parents gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center to make a united and public call for better schools, more employment opportunities, improved transportation, an end to illegal dumping on the community’s streets, and lend their support to the citywide campaign to raise the minimum wage. By empowering residents with accurate information and the skills to effectively communicate their concerns, Green Dot hopes to contribute to more meaningful civic participation by those who have the most to lose in disengagement and, in doing so, inspire a more accountable and collaborative city hall.