The American Women's Party seeks to empower the millions of unregistered voters in this country by registering them and schooling them in how to combat voter suppression. Founded last fall by organizers Maya Contreras and Mia Brett, the group launched its second major initiative today, Step Up and Vote, which will impel millennials and college-aged voters to go out to the polls in the same numbers that black women and WOC do.
As Contreras, who identifies as black and Latina, explained, black women are "not only the most progressive voting bloc, but they vote in the highest percentage every single time." However, only 7.1% of the 115th Congress are WOC, and only one WOC serves as governor, New Mexico's Susanna Martinez. This leads to an imbalance where the white leaders they help to elect deprioritize their needs once in power.
"What I wanted to do with Step Up and Vote was ask other people to vote the way black women do," she says. For example, in Alabama, 70% of black women turned out to vote for Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore, whereas millennial turnout was only 23%. "We're stepping up all the time," she says. "We want policies instituted that we care about, and those policies that are pushing equality will literally help everybody. If millennials voted the same way, Republicans would basically never win a seat again."
The video above, narrated by Contreras and choreographed by Janille Hill, employs step dancing as a metaphor for the initiative, which Contreras credits to her friend Arin Lawrence, a step-dancer from Howard University. Lawrence will be part of their effort to register young voters and train them in combating voter suppression. The initiative will center around colleges, in particular, the HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). This spring, they will begin training juniors who, upon returning to campus next fall as seniors, will mentor freshmen and get them to the polls in November. The goal is to get 100 colleges involved, they are at two dozen currently, and students who work with them will be eligible for course credit through the Campus Coordinator Internship Program.
Like Never Again, the movement the Parkland students created that organized last weekend's March for Our Lives, Step Up and Vote emphasizes solutions to problems above Occupy-style yelling about a broken system. "17, 15, and 11-year-olds are saying, 'I want my democracy to work for me,'" she says. "I absolutely love that, and I want the same enthusiasm from millennials because I know that cynicism sets in when you see politicians who are literally bought and sold, like Marco Rubio. But I like that the kids are saying, 'Well then, let's vote them out!'"
"We want to show people that we really value new voters coming in," she continues, while pointing out that this is not just about voting - it's about holding those elected to office accountable. "We want them to know that we see what the issues are with voting. There should be automatic and same-day voter registration. We have the solutions. We're saying step up, change the makeup of the House, and then let's try to get these programs and make it easier to vote."