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Mid-City CAN Blog

Grassroots groups push to register City Heights voters

Sarah Saez
Sarah Saez

Several grassroots organizations are working together to register voters in City Heights and make sure that refugees and newcomers get the support they need for civic participation.

"When you first approach people, especially people in communities of color, they are like, 'My vote is not going to count,' " said Sarah Saez, policy and program director at United Taxi Workers of San Diego. "So I think there is a huge opportunity to show them that it does."

The organizations taking part in the nonpartisan effort, called The People's Voters Table, include United Taxi Workers of San Diego, Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans and Mid-City Community Advocacy Network. The groups are focusing on registering refugees and people of color.

"City Heights could be a huge player and already was," Saez said. "We doubled the vote in the last election from the primary to the runoff."

Many opportunities exist to build upon that, said Ramla Sahid, director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans

"One of the things that most people don't know is that refugees – not immigrants – but refugees specifically, within five years of being here they are allowed to become citizens and that automatically makes them eligible to become voting citizens," Sahid said.

Sahid said that many direct-service organizations focus only on refugees' physical needs.

"But there is no strategy around what the long-term integration is of those communities," Sahid said. "So how are they fully a part of our society, as full human beings, as full citizens of this country?"

The People's Voters Table goal is to conduct voter outreach in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way. It also wants to connect community concerns – like the need for jobs that pay livable wages, affordable housing and health care, Sahid said.

"The reason that they came out to vote was that they had a stake in it," Saez said. For example, "this is my job. This is my livelihood that I feed my family with. And who I put in office is going to affect that."

The People's Voters Table goal is to register 3,400 people to vote by Dec. 2015 – most in City Heights, Sahid said. It will do that by having small meetings at people's houses and tapping into the natural leaders in the refugee communities to educate refugees about voting.

“It is so much more than registering people to vote,” Saez said. “It is showing them who their elected officials are, and even potentially helping them represent their community by running for office.”

Mid-City CAN had a meeting on Sept. 13 to educate people about voting as well.

Thong Hoang, a City Heights resident who is a Hoover High School senior, said he came to the meeting because "I'm 17 years old, about to be 18 next year, and I want to get ready to take responsibility as an adult to make my voice heard."

Hoang said the meeting taught him how powerful voting is.

"It directly tells the politician that the power is based upon it," he said. "If they fail to satisfy us, we have the right, the power to kick them out of office.

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