Though she may not be able to cast a vote, Chispa Arizona Civic Engagement Director Nicole Morales is finding ways to engage her community in the civic process. A recipient of DACA, the Obama-era policy protecting undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15-31 from deportation, Morales came to the United States as a child, working tirelessly to teach herself English, getting into advanced placement classes, and winning multiple scholarships in the process. Yet, her lack of documentation barred her from receiving these awards, or even obtaining a driver’s license, which prevented eligibility for in-state college tuition, and from voting in elections.
Morales put her energy into activism, attending rallies and protests in her community that drew attention to the injustices and barriers to access that she and other Dreamers faced. Working with Chispa Arizona, she is now focused on expanding voter access and resources in Latinx communities and other communities of color who are historically excluded from the electoral process through programs that engage people civically at every level.
“I’m currently in a position where I could only dream of before DACA,” said Morales.
Through her work with Chispa Arizona, Morales and other Chispa organizers are working to make voter education more widespread in BIPOC and low-income communities, as well as engage young folk around Arizona’s Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties. They work on helping voters update their registration status, find their polling location, ensure they know voting dates and deadlines, and answer questions about voting, especially in communities where voting resources are not available in their primary language. The team does this by hosting community events and meeting people where they are at, visiting hotspots like local high schools, businesses, and community centers, and going door to door to shift the culture of voting in their communities.
“It gave me a lot of pride that after elections, people would reach out to me and say ‘I voted and I was thinking of you,’” Morales said.
She added that expanding access to the vote and participation in the electoral process is particularly important in her Latinx community because there is “still a lack of trust in the system because the system has failed us over and over again.” She added that many Latinx communities lack the time and resources to learn about voting, as many work full-time and have responsibilities to care for their families at home.
“More access to voting would allow everyday working communities to participate. If you make the process easier, they will also feel more welcome. This should be a process everyone should feel welcome and a part of,” Morales said. In her work as an activist and organizer, she recalled often feeling like an “infiltrator” because of how information about voting is often intentionally obscured from her own community and communities who are historically excluded from the electoral process.
The electoral process shouldn’t feel like a secret, which is why LCVEF is partnering with Chispa Arizona as part of the largest non-partisan, site-based voter registration program in the country to reach communities who are some of the most impacted by the climate crisis and pollution, and are facing some of the greatest barriers to the ballot box.
The continued presence of COVID-19 is limiting in-person outreach in communities, and the fact that this year’s election is not a presidential year, both make educating and mobilizing voters more challenging. This year is also Chispa AZ’s first time organizing in-person in two years. As much of the community is still working in a hybrid environment or remotely, they have had to reassess what strategies and high traffic hotspots to target in their efforts as the landscape of where communities are gathering changes. These challenges highlighted the critical need for organizers who are from the communities they are engaging to thoroughly understand and navigate changes as they occurred.
The Chispa AZ team perseveres in strategizing around these new challenges and are working over the final weeks of getting out the vote. “We’re all little wells of knowledge. Not one person knows everything, and that’s the way we make each other stronger,” Morales said.