By Desmond Goodwin
Photos by Desmond Goodwin
National activists have called for more millennials to participate in the 2020 election. And the Woke Vote organization in the South, is one group working toward getting more young people involved, informed, and interested about politics.
“Woke Vote is to ensure that people of color realize the power of their political voice, as well as the power of our community to shift policy and changes,” said Dejuana Thompson, the director of Woke Vote, who spoke on leadership and activism for a Women’s History Month event at Xavier University of Louisiana on March 22, 2019.
Thompson discussed the importance of women’s roles in society and politics as part of a community talk on “Conversations On Leadership & Activism.” Woke Vote was founded in 2017 and is based in Birmingham, Ala. It was primarily designed to engage and bring out unprecedented numbers of African-American millennials and faith-voters for key elections in Alabama. The program made over 100,000 connections that helped to advance the first ever Democrat from elected from the South to the U.S Senate for the first time in 25 years. Doug Jones’ 2018 win of the Senate seat in Alabama came in part thanks to African American women voters and the work of organizations like Woke Vote.
Thompson shared how it is the work of many influential women in activism today who served as role models for her, and who have led the way in the fight for representation. She referenced her contemporaries like Carmen Perez, Angela Rye, Linda Sarsour, and Symone Sanders, as examples of other woman engaging their communities in the political process in recent times. She shared how none of these women had an easy path to get to where they are today in their work across the country.
“Be bold and know that you have value, and that you have worth,” Thomson said. “Anything you can think of, you can do it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and to a young black girl in the world, know that you can do anything,” she said.
Thompson reflected on her experiences with racism and what it was like growing up in the birthplace of civil rights: Birmingham, Ala. She shared the battles she faced with such racism, sexism, and her long journey to national politics.
She has spent more than 15 years working as a community activist, political strategist, and consultant. She has served as a national deputy director for Community Engagement and was the national African American engagement director for the Democratic National Committee, where she managed relationships with national allied organizations on key strategies to engage various constituency groups. She was also appointed by the White House to serve as a senior advisor in the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Make sure you give yourself opportunities and connect with people who can actually challenge you to help you advance,” Thompson said.
Woke Vote aims to bring its message to as many colleges and universities to inspire activism among students, Thompson explained.
“I think that students need to be educated outside the classroom,” said Amber Davis-Prince, the senior associate director for Center of Student Involvement. “For me this means bringing in speakers and other programs that go beyond what you can learn in a book in order to stimulate your mind in a different manner,” Davis-Prince said.
For Thompson having these conversations with younger voters has always been important. She believes that the more young people are confident and able to talk about politics and social issues, the more change can be created.
“The sooner we are able to plant the seeds of change in individuals, we understand that later we will be able to the harvest of growth from this,” said Deanna Reed, a Birmingham, Ala, resident and coordinator of Woke Vote. “These will be the same people that will begin to change their local communities and by leading campaigns, running for offices, and be the change we ultimately need in the country,” she said.