A new grassroots organization has risen out of the League of Young Voters’ ashes, aimed at producing what was the League’s best known and most invaluable resource, the Voter Guide.
The Voter Education Brigade, which will celebrate its official launch with a party on Thursday, May 8 at Think Tank, comprises core members of the League (which downshifted to an all-volunteer model in 2013 and will focus moving forward on voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts) as well as new members like Sarah Graulty, who moved to Portland from Vermont last spring.
“The guide was so important to me as a new Portlander to get a handle on what was happening, and what was on the ballot,” she recalls. She appreciated how comprehensive the guide was; indeed, for nine years, the Voter Guide has provided local citizens with in-depth information and informed opinions about every candidate and referendum appearing on Portland ballots, from who’s running for Water District to how to vote on multi-million-dollar bond issues. The material in the guide is based off a combination of candidate questionnaires and in-person interviews, as well as public debates and forums. As the League did, the Brigade will make endorsements based on their research.
Despite the connections between the League and the Voter Education Brigade (whose current chair, Zack Anchors, is a Phoenix contributor), there is at least one key difference between the two organizations. The Brigade hopes to reach a wider audience by “expanding beyond just young voters,” says Emma Halas-O’Connor, the group’s deputy chair and a former member of the League’s Elections Committee, which produced the Voter Guide.
Former League program director Delia Gorham, who currently serves as that organization’s chair, notes that engaged participants sometimes “aged-out” of the League’s process; not having to focus solely on one demographic “takes away some limitations,” she says.
Halas-O’Connor points out that while Brigade members lean progressive, the guide and its endorsements have often stepped “outside the realm of party-aligned politics,” and she believes the Brigade will continue to foster that independent streak.
Will Everitt, a longtime League volunteer who was the group’s state director in 2010 and is involved in the new endeavor, praises the Brigade for “continuing tradition but also making its own new history.”
Most importantly, though, the group wants to make a difference this fall. “We live in a time when an extreme minority of wealthy individuals dominate elections with their message,” Halas-O’Connor said in a press release. “By equipping the voters with sound information and enabling easy access to candidates and elected officials, we can make elections be about representing people’s interests.”
In addition to the May 8 event, the Brigade will also participate in this Friday’s Art Walk. In partnership with the Community Television Network and Local Muscle Moving Company, the group is offering people the chance to record brief videos in which they can share their political priorities; look for the truck near Queen of Hats on Congress Street this Friday, and for the first-ever Brigade-issued Voter Guide this October.
Visit votereducationbrigade.org to learn more.