One of the worst things an organizer can do, says Isabela Villarreal, is to tell people to go vote without giving them a reason.
Voting, she says, is one of those few actions that have a tangible impact on our everyday lives, but it also gives us the opportunity to be seen and heard.
“It’s about connecting people to the issues,” says Villarreal, policy and communications manager at Next Up in Oregon. “That’s why we exist in the first place, to engage people not just during the election but throughout the year.
The connection helps to build young people’s leadership capacity as young organizers, so they can get others to turn out to vote or engage citizens on issues that matter to them in their communities,” she says. Next Up is also interested in the restoration of voting rights for people who are currently incarcerated.
“There are so many restrictions on voting rights in so many of these states that it’s not a legislature that’s truly represented by the people. It’s not a legislature that’s truly about self-governance,” Villarreal says. “It’s important in this moment to make sure that our voting rights are protected and secured, and actually equitable.”
Villarreal began her career in community organizing with some culturally specific and environmental justice organizations, such as Verde NW and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, but it wasn’t until she began working with Next Up in Oregon that she was exposed to the voting rights movement. There, she has helped Oregon to become one of the most expansive voting rights states.
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“We helped pass the first automatic voter registration laws in the country, which led to tons of other states implementing AVR [automatic voting rights], such a game changer!” Villarreal says. “We also helped pass 16- and 17-year-old preregistration, and most recently, we helped pass paid postage and registration modernization.”
Community and identity keep popping up when Villarreal talks about her work.
“I bring various identities to this role as a queer woman, as a Latina woman, as a Middle Eastern woman. But I am also very aware that there is so much colorism, anti-Blackness, ableism, and fatphobia in our movements,” says Villareal, who is driven to dismantle these attitudes in her communities of interest in her day-to-day work.
Moreover, she says: “The blatant transphobia and racism that we see institutionalized across schools or counties or cities or states, or on a federal level really drives home to me why voting rights are so important.”