New Haveners and Yalies convened on Loomis Place Sunday evening to write letters to voters in an effort to increase turnout for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Several Yale Law School faculty members and New Haven residents organized the event near the Divinity School in response to an outpouring of enthusiasm for civic engagement following Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Using addresses and templates from the national nonprofit Vote Forward, New Haven residents, Yale faculty and Yale students reached out to historically underrepresented voters. In each letter, volunteers explained their own motivations for voting and encouraged the recipient to join them in voting in the upcoming election. This is the second installment of a similar event that took place Sept. 20.
“So many people are frustrated by what’s happening in politics,” law professor James Forman Jr. told the News. “People want to do something, but they don’t know what to do … People need an opportunity to act. So we thought this was a great opportunity to do that, to provide a chance for people to be politically active [and] to do it in a community.”
Another organizer and community member, Navtej Dhillon, spoke to the News about how Ginsberg was an inspirational figure to him.
“I think us coming together is both in honor of her memory and also the celebration of her work,” Dhillon said. “It’s not just about collective grieving, but it’s also channeling that sadness into a sense of possibility.”
Organizers reached out to the community through a neighborhood Listserv, the Yale College Democrats and word of mouth. At the event, attendees lined the sidewalk of Loomis Place and chatted as they wrote, encouraging swing state voters to participate in the upcoming election. In their letters, they included their own reasons for voting: Forman, for example, wrote that his parents marched for the right to vote in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and University Librarian Barbara Rockenbach wrote that she wanted to “create change for her children’s future.”
Forman also emphasized the importance of community in activism, especially since most people have been working in isolation for months due to the pandemic.
“People are limited to phone banking, letter writing or text banking from their homes or from their dorm rooms because it’s so hard to be together,” Forman said. “But we have this whole block which has no traffic on the weekends and we realized we could bring together neighbors, law students, undergrads … [to] do something collectively.”
Attendees wrote approximately 1,200 letters — “three times the number we wrote last weekend,” said Forman and Law School Deputy Dean for Experiential Education Muneer Ahmad, who came up with the original idea for the event. The attendees ranged from Yale undergraduates to families with young children to residents who have lived in New Haven for decades.
Gabe Hohensee ’22 told the News that he was motivated to attend the event in order to help “others be cognizant of this moment” and encourage civic engagement.
“This is such a super critical election,” Hohensee said. “Not only because Donald Trump [has been] a terrible leader during the pandemic, but also because 2020 is on the 10 year loop [when] they start redrawing districts for voting going forward. So I think it’s important that we have fair, honest politicians in leadership whenever we go through the process.”
Senior Conservator of Paintings at Yale University Art Gallery Patricia Garland said she has written over 60 letters for Vote Forward since the 2018 midterm elections. She is “asking people to believe that … their vote really matters.”
Vicky Murphy ’90, another attendee, wrote letters out of concern for the health of the American democracy.
“Our democracy is at the brink right now and I believe this is the most important election of our lifetime,” she told the News in an interview. “For too long we’ve thought that taking care of our democracy is someone else’s responsibility, but I think it is on all of our shoulders, so I’m doing what I can to ensure everyone can vote this year.”
Ahmad and the rest of the organizers are planning similar events for next Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.
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