Opinion: Being an informed citizen is a full-time job

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As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s a good time for all to reflect on Black suffrage and how the Civil Rights movement helped transform voting rights. Remembering is crucial as we have witnessed a surge in attacks against these rights over the past several years, threatening the gains over the last six decades.   

We’ve all heard the quote: “Be the change you want to see.” It’s a sentiment that no doubt influenced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Change does not roll on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

These quotes speak to how action goes a lot further than empty rhetoric. Basically, complaining about issues can’t match the action of voting. But showing up to vote on Election Day is only part of the picture.

Voter fatigue means local elections often have a significantly lower turnout than national elections — but they’re actually more impactful to your community. For instance, in our upcoming City Council and mayoral elections in April, we will be voting for folks who will decide our city budget and how it’s allocated. They will make decisions about housing and houselessness, transportation, and economic development. But, because this election happens in April — just on the heels of an election in November — it might seem optional. Voter fatigue is real, but not voting in these elections can have grave consequences — it’s like running three-quarters of a race and then crapping out in the last stretch. When it comes to voting, we need to show up every time.

The Citizens Project has prioritized addressing disparities in voting through community engagement that helps folks understand the importance of their vote in all elections.

“House District 17 [southern Colorado Springs] had the third lowest voter turnout in the state,” says Citizens Project Executive Director Mike Williams.

From September through December of 2022, Citizens Project conducted a participatory action research survey in House District 17 through canvassing and community events. One finding: Between the November 2020 presidential election and the April 2022 state election, voting participation dropped close to 18 points. Some challenges listed included not knowing where to vote; not trusting mail-in ballots; illiteracy; having scheduling conflicts; and transportation issues. For the folks who chose not to vote, some of the reasons listed were: annoying political ads; difficulty finding information on candidates and ballot measures; and just too many things on the ballot.

Election season is again upon us; it’s not too late to find out who/what is on the ballot, identify where you stand and vote. The current political landscape has left many people — working-class, young people, BIPOC folks — feeling exhausted, disenfranchised and frustrated. But we still have to vote. As Colorado Springs continues to grow, it is more important than ever that you make your voice heard in a way that helps shape positive change. Being in the know and voting in local elections is one way to do that.

Disclosure: Patience Kabwasa is the board chair of Citizens Project.

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