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Turning the volume up on Native Americans so we can all hear

‘We have to save ourselves — we stick together, we come together, we learn, we form strategies, and we do whatever it takes to win the things we need for our people.’

Voting is evidence of good organizing, according to Joey Williams, who is on a mission to create better conditions for his community and the people he loves than what he experienced growing up as a boy in 1990s Bakersfield, California.

“I love my people so much that I’m willing to organize and to create something better for them,” Williams says, “because I don’t want to ever have anyone I love see or feel the things I have.”

Williams is building a sense of community missing during his Bakersfield childhood, which he describes as “a very violent time.” At 7, he entered the foster-care system.

“We had war on drugs, war on poor people, and crackdowns where they sent thousands of Black, Brown, and Native people to prison,” he says. “This created a vacuum where we no longer had role models, we no longer had people that we [could] look up to.”

By his teens, Williams was caught in the net of gang violence and drugs, and his first-hand experiences led him to work to help end mass incarceration and police brutality with Pico California.

Williams cites George Floyd, the Black man murdered on the street in 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer, as a motivator: “That changed things a lot across the country. I saw how Black folks unapologetically centered and prioritized themselves within the movement.”

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Now, as the director of organizing at California Native Vote Project, which works to build Native American political power through voter engagement, Williams urges districts to work with local tribes around building Native American civic education.

“We have to save ourselves — we stick together, we come together, we learn, we form strategies, and we do whatever it takes to win the things we need for our people.”

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