Saturday, April 12, 2008

Passing the torch: Engaged in volunteerism and determined to make the world a better place

A component of the PLAN's Civic Engagement Initiative is combating voter apathy and increasing voter participation. Phase One of the initiative is targeting a half dozen voter precincts within Reno over the next 6 weeks that have demonstrated traditional low voter participation. Registered voters in Nevada will help select the next PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. In the contest for the presidency in 2004, Kerry and Bush were in a dead heat with Kerry holding 49% and Bush trailing with 48%. At the stroke of midnight on the 3rd of November, Nevadans chose President Bush over John Kerry 50% to 47% — moving the state's 5 electoral votes into the Bush column. It was a margin of 3%. Although Nevada has historically leaned Republican, the high concentration of labor unions and the Hispanic-American vote make it a potential battleground state. (Its 2006 Gubernatorial election was particularly competitive, and Republican Jim Gibbons won only by a slim margin.) The Las Vegas metropolitan area with its dramatic increase in population has become an attractive destination for Democratic campaign resources, and Republicans are buoyed by the strong disapproval ratings of Gibbons (29% approval rating as of March 2007) and Bush (34% approval rating as of March 2007). Furthermore, Nevada has, with the single exception of 1976, been won by the victor of every US Presidential election since 1912, a record which makes it a secondary bellwether state. The 2008 election is vital to the important issues that will impact and affect the future our social and educational institutions, national security, foreign trade and relations, our environment and the future of ALL NEVADANS.

The Civic Engagement Initiative is asking all registered voters to give their pledge that they WILL vote in November of 2008. Volunteers from the community, local organizations and TMCC High School spent their Saturday morning canvassing approximately 250 homes in Voter Precinct #1018, which is south of the Nevada Museum of Art and west of Virginia Street, knocking door to door asking registered voters to pledge that they will participate in the up-coming national election in November. Each volunteer was paired with another and hit the streets armed with voter registration applications and pledge sheets and worked in groups of two. Kat Baltierra and Jorge Castro teamed up and set a record of 12 pledges and 2 new voters registered. Kat, who is a senior at TMCC High School, stated that people were very excited to see young people actively participating in our democratic process and added that people generally had a positive attitude towards the volunteers. Her partner, Jorge, agreed, stating that people were happy to engage the young activists in a 'chat' about the issues. Another volunteer, Joe Togoan, who had done similar projects for the Democratic Party here, said that it was also important to convey to the residents and voters that this initiative was a non-partisan effort. Joe was also teamed up with another TMCC High senior, Amanda Gabbert. Their team was able to secure two pledges and register two new voters. The training the volunteers underwent at PLAN stressed this aspect of the initiative. Ireri Rivas, who coordinates the program, stated that these areas are very diverse and contain mixed communities of varying socio-economic levels and political orientation, avoiding heated debates and maintaining a "smile" and a neutral non-partisan stance is important in securing peoples' pledges. The volunteers also disseminated information to several residents who were ex-felons on how they can reinstate their voting rights. As, Langston Hughes once penned, "Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, WE, the people, must redeem the land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain-- All, all the stretch of these great green states-- And make America again!" In the United States, approximately 70% of the eligible population registers to vote, which may be an important contributing factor in the low average election turnout, and in recent decades just barely has topped 50% of voting age population in presidential elections. However, in 2004, election turnout was up to 64% of the voting age US citizens. In the early, caucuses and primaries, including Nevada's caucus, according to, the "Millennials," as sociologists have dubbed the youth vote; have already shaken up the presidential primary races with their surprisingly large turnouts in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary at 13 percent and 43 percent respectively. It is the hope of the organizers at PLAN to continue that positive momentum and increasing the avenues for educated civic participation in our democratic process. Thanks to all the volunteers who participated in the event and for giving up their Saturday morning.

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