With the midterm elections in less than two weeks, organizations and individuals have been ramping up initiatives around voter registration and education. The team at Broad Street Ministry (BSM) has been running its civic engagement initiative since 2019, which serves to help people experiencing poverty and homelessness — including LGBTQ people and people of color — register to vote and learn about the candidates on the ballot. While 2022 voter registration has ended, BSM continues the voter education component of its program.
“Our civic engagement specialists are going to be taking the ballot questions that I provided them, talking those through with anyone that has questions, and also going over any of the candidates and their platforms for anyone who wants to know what they are running for,” said Sam Philips, civic engagement ambassador for BSM.
It is crucial that the communities served by BSM be educated about the issues that are on the ballot, Philips said, “largely because a lot of these policies that the folks that are going to be elected will develop are going to impact [marginalized people] directly. Because a lot of the folks that we serve do not have access to many services, we really want to provide them with a voice to say what they believe and really fight for policies and politicians that they believe will best advance them and their status in society.”
One of the biggest barriers to voting for BSM’s clientele is not having a permanent address to register to vote. As such, those without an address have been able to use BSM’s address to register to vote. The organization has roughly 4,200 registered mailboxes. “Because of that, we do have the highest number of registered voters to any single address in the entire state,” Philips said.
Apart from a lack of address, other barriers to voting for people who utilize BSM’s services include “not having their basic needs met – getting a hot meal every day that we provide or hygiene products, things that will keep them grounded in their efforts to really progress in society,” Philips said.
Beyond the straight-forward voter education piece, this year’s civic engagement initiative involves a visual art component led by Lisa Kelley, who teaches art in the context of social change for other local organizations, including Prevention Point and Mural Arts. Kelley facilitates a weekly art table where people can talk about their social values, and the issues and policies they think political leaders should prioritize.
“[She’s] really working with them to create a lot of illustrations around voting rights and values in the community,” Philips said.
Kelley plans to compile the posters that guests create into a larger image that will serve as an ad showing the location of polling places for people registered to vote at BSM.
Doing this kind of work is personal to Philips because they identify as a nonbinary lesbian, they said.
“Because I am part of the LGBTQ+ community, I find it very important to have voices heard that are not necessarily always represented in mainstream society,” they said. “We have a lot of folks that identify as queer, and we really want to provide a safe space for them. I take pride in doing that work in combination with my reentry work, and just providing that safe space for my fellow queer folks out there.”