Spread your Wings and Vote

As the November presidential election looms, the seemingly endless barrage of campaign messages, signs and bumper stickers makes it nearly impossible not to formulate an opinion. However, the unfortunate truth is that, come Election Day, many well-informed Americans will elect not to vote, throwing their constitutional right by the wayside.

Whether the lack of action is due to sheer apathy ("Voting is pointless, anyway") or misguided unease ("I don't really know enough to make a decision"), LGBT community center Wingspan is setting out to raise Tucson's voter numbers. In cooperation with the U.S. Action Education Fund, the goal is to locally register 1,000 LGBT and allied people and their families by Oct. 1.

The U.S Action Education Fund, the nation's largest progressive activist organization, fights for social, racial and economic justice for all. The fund encompasses people from different backgrounds who are united around a common goal: "To take our democracy back from the corporate elite and the well-heeled special interests that dominate the political process today," as Wingspan's press release states. The group seeks to be a powerful voice for the majority of Americans whose voices are not being heard by those in power.

"With this voter registration drive," says Cathy Busha, Wingspan's director of programs, "Wingspan will mobilize LGBT people and our allies to create positive social and political change in their lives and communities."

The voter registration drive welcomes volunteers of any sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as people of diverse backgrounds and ages. Wingspan especially encourages people of color, bilingual folks, people with disabilities, transsexuals, bisexuals, rural dwellers, youth, seniors, HIV-positive or AIDS-affected people, and survivors of violence to volunteer at the center. For this initiative, at least 20 volunteers are needed to help register people to vote via a three-pronged approach.

Volunteers at all Wingspan events through October will be trained to ask visitors if they are registered to vote. In addition, front desk volunteers at Wingspan will be trained to ask every person who comes in if they are registered. Other volunteers will be enlisted to write e-mails and articles encouraging people to stop by the offices and register to vote.

"I have heard many progressive LGBT people say, 'Voting is pointless,'" says Busha. "But if you feel cynical and disenfranchised, the remedy isn't to stay home on Election Day--that's what the Big Boys want you to do."

The initiative's goal is to help LGBT and allied people increase their participation in politics and democracy. The effort benefits Wingspan as well: For each person who registers to vote, Wingspan receives $2 from the U.S. Action Education Fund.

"We live in a democracy, which means the citizens run the government. Wingspan wants to empower and motivate LGBT and allied people to reclaim democracy. Voting is central to how democracy works," says Busha.

Wingspan seeks people who like to attend events, talk to people and believe in democracy. Volunteers can even select the events they are already planning to attend and take along voter registration forms. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Wingspan is permitted to encourage people to vote and to talk about political issues. The main restriction that volunteers need to keep in mind is that while they should act to empower the prospective voter, Wingspan staff and volunteers cannot tell people which candidate or party to vote for.

This weekend's training meeting will provide tools and tips on how to get people registered to vote. Volunteers will learn how to effectively respond to the most common objections and reasons not to register, how to fill out voter registration forms, who can and cannot be registered, and how to have fun while doing it.

"People have fought for your right to vote," says Busha, "but simply having that right isn't enough. A strong and stable democracy relies on people using their votes. By voting, you hold your elected representatives accountable."

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