In 2012 in San Diego, a lot of people showed up to vote who had never (or rarely) voted before. The reason: local social change organizations worked together to mobilize tens of thousands of people — including large numbers of Latinos, African Americans, Asians, gay voters and young people — to go to the polls.
San Diego is one of four counties in California where the Haas, Jr. Fund and a group of other funders are supporting local organizations to work across issues to increase civic participation and voting among groups that are underrepresented at the polls. It’s essential work as California’s population — and the nation’s — continues to grow more and more diverse. And it is work that is generating important lessons about how best to strengthen democracy and lift up the voices of low-income families and people of color.
In a new report called Bolder Together 2, we try to capture and share some of these lessons while telling the story of our work with these four counties over the past five years. One of the key lessons is that funders need to let local groups lead with their issues. The partners in California Civic Participation Funders have a range of issue priorities, from improving healthcare to immigrant rights to equality for women. But instead of entering these communities with an already-set agenda, we have tried to allow priorities and strategies to emerge from the local groups and their constituents.
We’ve found that this approach means local groups are more invested in the work and that the partnerships have the staying power they need for long-term impact. And each of the funders understands that all of our priorities will benefit to the extent that leaders in these counties are combining forces to powerfully advance change on the multiple issues that impact low-income families with children.
The bottom line: If these groups are successful in strengthening democracy and increasing civic participation, then we all win. And the fact is, these groups are succeeding — not just in San Diego but also in Orange County and the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside.