My Voice Matters, and So Does Yours

By: Alesha Washington

“It is entirely unacceptable that I should have no voice in the political affairs of my own country, for I am not a ward of America; I am one of the first Americans to arrive on these shores.” James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin’s words resonate so deeply with me, as a Black American with an understanding of the fight for voting rights in this country. Also, because of the lessons I’ve learned having spent a considerable amount of my career as a lobbyist. I fell into a career focused on public policy in my early twenties. I was hired at a large social service organization as a government grant writer. They had a government affairs program that had been dormant for more than a year and offered me the opportunity to manage it if I could figure out how.

I did and the rest is history.

The power of everyday people

That chapter of my life taught me that whether we recognize it or not, the decisions made by government leaders impact every facet of our lives. It showed me how philanthropy and public policy advocacy can be powerful tools to empower and invest in folks to lead the change they hoped to see in their community. It affirmed that despite the traditional power brokers who influence our communities’ political affairs, everyday people do as well, and what a beautiful thing it is when we step fully into that power.

All of this is top of mind for me as I prepare for my first major election as a newish Washingtonian. Voter turnout in 2023 was the lowest on record for a general election in the state’s history. While it was an off-election year, it was still one where many locally elected positions – from school board to city council – were up for consideration. Persons elected to these positions make critical policy decisions about how we address the homelessness crisis, public safety, and much more.

Given this is a presidential election year, turnout in Washington is expected to be higher. Even so, I would argue that we all have important work to do in the coming months to show up fully in the affairs of our region. This year, there will be state-wide initiatives on the ballot with huge implications for the resources that flow into our communities to fund important things like education and public transit. It’s the kind of election that will determine the trajectory of our community for years to come.

More than just voting

Yes, voting matters. But to truly be involved in the interests of our communities, we must make the time and effort to research and understand the issues we will be asked to vote on. That’s especially important as we look towards the spring primary and fall general election this year.

KUOW, our local public radio station, and their podcast, Seattle Now, have become important go-to sources for me to learn so much about the key issues in the Seattle region and election matters. And then once we get informed, we must encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same. At this point, I’m sure the people in my life are sick of the many Seattle Now podcast episodes I have shared with them, but what they won’t be able to say is that I didn’t share.

We must also invest in the nonprofits doing critical civic engagement work like the Washington Community Alliance, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, and Washington Bus – organizations we recently featured for their democracy-building efforts. It’s important for us – especially those of us in philanthropy – to support the work of those on the frontlines who are fighting for a just democracy. These leaders are among many who are working tirelessly to ensure we have access to fair and balanced information so we can make informed decisions on the ballot.

I am grateful for these organizations that continue to give life to the power that everyday people have. They show us what is possible for our democracy. They remind us that every one of our voices matters. My hope for 2024 is that we all remember those voices, including our own, as we move through this pivotal year.