With COVID-19 disproportionately impacting minority groups and accounts of police brutality against Black Americans becoming all too frequent, the lead up to the presidential election has been like none other for communities of color. The stakes are only climbing, and voters of color are hoping to elect leaders that value their lives and hear their concerns in this make-it-or-break-it moment.
To help empower voters of color and equip them with the necessary tools to make their voices heard on election day, Hollywood figures – from Oprah Winfrey to America Ferrera – have launched initiatives to ensure people of color stay visible and heard.
“What people believe about themselves; what people believe about their role in politics, what they believe about whether or not they have the power to affect change in their own lives, much less in the country, really makes a difference of whether or not they show up to use their power,” Ferrera told Deadline.
The Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander and Black communities may be growing as a percentage of the U.S. population, but strength in numbers isn’t always realized at the polls. In 2016, voter turnout among these demographics either remained the same or decreased from the 2012 presidential race, according to census data. In 2016, only 49% of eligible Asian American voters cast their ballots, and the voting rate among the Latino and Black communities decreased by .4% and 7%, respectively.
Lower voter turnout can be a result of various factors impacting these communities, including harmful rhetoric, voter suppression and civic insecurity.
“We know where that confidence gap comes from: what stories are told about Latinas, who we are, what we are capable of and what we’re doing in this country,” Ferrera said. “We have a culture that just ignores the contributions of Latinas in this country and at worst depicts very harmful stereotypes.”
The Superstore actress teamed with Eva Longoria to launch She Se Puede, a lifestyle community that seeks to empower and inform Latina women. The online platform, which has provided supporters (including One Day at a Time co-creator Gloria Calderon Kellett and Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz) with COVID-19 town halls and virtual yoga sessions, has also worked to encourage Latinas to carry out their vote.
Also empowering the Latina population this election season is the Latino Victory Project’s digital #VoteLikeAMadre campaign, backed by Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Saldana, Karla Souza and more. Latino Victory Project President Nathalie Rayes also attributes low voter turnout among Latinas to “shameful” Latino representation in politics. To combat this, #VoteLikeAMadre urges women in the Latino community to elect candidates focused on tackling the negative effects of climate change, especially in the hard-hit states of Texas, Arizona and Florida, which host 55% of the Latino population.
For the AAPI community, civic apathy may come from generational fears of drawing unneeded attention and a focus on just surviving in a new country, especially for older immigrant voters, says The 2020 Project co-founder Philip W. Chung. That’s why The 2020 Project seeks to help AAPI community members open up the political conversation and realize their power as voters.
Oprah Winfrey Network President Tina Perry told Deadline that she and teamed with Winfrey to launch the network’s OWN Your Vote campaign, a bipartisan initiative focused on mobilizing Black women voters and providing them the necessary tools for the 2020 local and presidential elections. Perry said that Black women can be an undeniable force this election season.
“I think that people are connecting those dots more than ever before. If you want to have policies change or you want policies to be shaped and passed that are in your interest as a Black woman, exercising your right to vote is a really powerful way to do it,” Perry said.
From voter suppression affecting Black women’s votes or harmful imagery interfering with Latinas’ political potential, such campaigns hope to change their respective communities’ relationship with voting. To help amplify their missions, these initiatives have further enlisted a range of Hollywood stars to spread the word.
During The 2020 Project’s voting info session “Zuko Tuesday”, Dante Basco spoke with live viewers about their registration status and discussed qualms they have about voting. The digital event, named after Basco’s Avatar: The Last Airbender character Prince Zuko, also saw the actor speak with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, share valuable voting instructions, and host a trivia game about the voting process.
“Are you registered to vote?” an excited Basco asked a random audience member during the livestream, which drew more than 3,000 viewers.
Basco told Deadline that as a Filipino artist and filmmaker, he wanted to inspire young voters and fans to have more control over how they’re represented in policy.
“When it comes around to these important years and important elections, the story is us, all of us and we are a part of that story,” he said. “We can make an impact and our voices do matter. It’s not time for us to fly under the radar, it is time for us to be heard. It’s no longer time for us to be invisible anymore.”
Crazy Rich Asians and All My Life actor Harry Shum Jr. has also joined The 2020 Project’s efforts to mobilize the AAPI community leading up to November. He told Deadline that his involvement came from of a desire to educate Asian American voters about what’s on the line in local and presidential elections.
During “Zuko Tuesday,” he encouraged viewers to reflect on issues and policies that have upset them. From schooling to coronavirus-related anti-Asian racism, the Glee star said that identifying key areas of concern in his community is a way to find common ground and unite behind government officials that may better represent Asian Americans’ needs.
Prioritizing the needs of her children, her community and herself at the polls is what it means to #VoteLikeAMadre, How to Get Away with Murder’s Karla Souza said. As a mother of two infants and an advocate for climate change reform, the actress told Deadline she thinks often about mortality and the kind of world we are leaving behind for future generations.
“We all have that expiration date that’s coming up and within that life cycle, we might not see the peak dangers of climate change, but my kids and my grandkids definitely will,” Souza said. “Voting like a mother automatically implies voting longer term.”
For these movements and campaigns, mobilizing voters of color doesn’t have to rely solely on star power. Perry said that special content can also play a role in informing voters.
Starting in September with the Own Your Vote Town Hall, a virtual voting event that reached more than 20,000 OWN viewers, the network introduced additional programs dedicated to voting. OWN also launched its first digital animated short series, Sincerely, Camille. Perry said the series, from Munirah Safiyah Jones, serves to educate Black women voters about election issues like voter suppression, healthcare and COVID-19, while also entertaining them.
“You have to think about giving back to that community on a corporate level,” Perry added. “Incorporating civic engagement [and] social responsibility into the work you do is very easy to do, especially when you have a captive audience – a group that you directly talk to and are connected to.”
While it may be easy to get swept up in the fervor around the 2020 presidential election, the organizers and Hollywood figures behind voting platforms say that engaging voters of color and boosting their civic confidence shouldn’t be exclusive to election season. It’s why The 2020 Project seeks to continually educate younger AAPI voters beyond November, and why OWN features storylines relevant to Black communities in its content. It’s also why #VoteLikeAMadre asks voters to pinky promise that they will vote to make Earth more habitable for future generations, and why She Se Puede continues to share empowering social media messages for Latinas.
This election year, also defined by mass unemployment and a slew of natural disasters nationwide, has been unlike any other. Voting in the upcoming elections won’t miraculously reverse issues and change America overnight. But, it has the opportunity to set the foundation for longer-term change – change that generations of Americans, from immigrants and labor activists like Dolores Huerta to civil rights leaders like the late John Lewis, set out to enact.
During the OWN Your Vote Town Hall, Winfrey revealed that she casts her ballot for the change-makers that came before her.
“I vote for those who marched, who prayed, who sacrificed and who stood in humiliation and disrespect – those who we pay lip service to,” she told attendees. “We stand on their shoulders.”
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Como mamá de dos hermosos bebés, sé que haría todo en el mundo para protegerlos. Es por eso que en las próximas elecciones voy a hacer un #PinkyPromise para #VoteLikeAMadre. Ahora es el momento de enfrentarnos al cambio climático y luchar para que nuestros bebés crezcan en un mundo más limpio. ¡Únete y ven a ser la madre que sé que eres y #VoteLikeAMadre! • As a madre to two beautiful babies, I know that there is nothing in this world that I wouldn’t do to protect them. That is why in this upcoming election I am making the ultimate pinky promise to #VoteLikeAMadre. Now is the time to stand up against climate change and fight for a cleaner world for our babies to grow up in. Come be the madre I know you to be and #VoteLikeAMadre!