CCNE Civic Engagement Project: Identifying "Community Voters" for Social Change

August 28, 2008 -- Connecticut Center for a New Economy

By Ricardo Henriquez, CCNE Director of Development and Administration

“Let’s say that after a snow storm there is a shortage of plow trucks available to clean the streets; the mayor has to decide then to which neighborhoods he is going to send his trucks. Where do you think the trucks are going? To the neighborhood with 70% voter participation, or to the one with 20% voter participation?” Gwen Mills, political field director for Connecticut and Rhode Island for Unite Here, posed this question to a group of community leaders gathered to discuss the issue of civic participation. The participants smiled and nodded. They knew where the trucks were going, and now they knew how they could make those trucks go to clean their streets.

Over the next couple of months, conversations like this will take place again many times, thanks to the Community Voters Project, organized by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE).

CCNE was founded in 1999 as a coalition of community groups, labor, and faith organizations seeking a response to the widening gap between the rich and poor in Connecticut. Since then, the organization has lead many social justice campaigns, including a landmark Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Yale-New Haven Hospital in 2006.

Since November 2007 CCNE has been engaged in an ambitious research and policy development project called “The New Haven Economic Blueprint”. The Economic Blueprint is being developed through the authentic engagement of local neighborhood residents in the formulation and prioritization of public policy recommendations. An important part of this citywide conversation will be the Community Voter Project, a door-to-door outreach strategy through which CCNE organizers and volunteers will collect information for the Economic Blueprint and register and mobilize “community issue voters.”

The goal of this project is to knock on 10,000 doors in neighborhoods with low civic participation between September and November of 2008.Through organizing, education and advocacy, CCNE will help residents of New Haven understand the relationship between economic justice and exercising the right to vote. Through this process CCNE expects to create the voter base that will support the policy platform originated from the Economic Blueprint.

The Community Voter Project was the result of a successful summer internship program. This past June and July, CCNE ran a program with six high school and college age students looking to get involved in community organizing in New Haven. For 8 weeks, the interns went door-to-door conducting surveys to gather input for the Economic Blueprint Project, identify leaders and register new voters in every neighborhood in the city. Sochie Nnaemeka, a college senior, summarized her experience this summer: “the work I did with CCNE was actually life-changing; I gained a whole new perspective on myself and the commitment I'm ready to make to our communities and this country. I learned so much about the issues that people face day to day that keep them from getting ahead.”

CCNE realized that the excitement generated by this year’s historic election could not go to waste, and decided to concentrate all its resources in developing the voter base that will support the policy platform for the Economic Blueprint in the future.

The Community Voter Project will require the participation of 60 volunteers every week, in order to complete the target of knocking on 10,000 doors in two months.To meet this goal, CCNE is partnering with labor unions, faith organizations and community leaders. The program will officially launch on September 2, 2008.

CCNE’s intention is not only to register new voters, but also to educate people about why their votes matter. The conversations that community organizers and volunteers have at doors around the city will not be about becoming a registered voter, but about how voting can help generate major changes in public policies.

For more information on the Community Voter Project, contact Ricardo Henriquez, CCNE Director of Development and Administration, at ricardoph@ctneweconomy.org