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Participants pose during the #WalkTheVote parade in Detroit, Michigan on Oct. 4, 2020.
Courtesy of #WalkTheVote
Citizenship

#WalkTheVote: Voting 'Parades' Across the US Are Helping People Get to the Ballot Box


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When a friend informed her about the #walkthevote initiative two months ago, Lina Srivastava felt it was a no-brainer to press pause on her career and focus her time and energy on getting out the vote before Nov. 3.

In an election so consequential yet fragile, Srivastava felt the need to do what she could to support civic action and American democracy. 

Nearly 80 other volunteers across the country have felt the same sense of urgency and came together to create #walkthevote, a nonpartisan movement that encourages early voting through local “parades” that walk voters to ballot dropoff boxes. 

Founded in August by Roy Bahat, head of venture capital firm Bloomberg Beta, the initiative aims to help voters exercise their civic duty in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vulnerability of the Postal Service

But at its core, #walkthevote is meant to be a celebration of democracy. 

“The narrative here is that we want to make voting this year easier, safer, and more secure — but above all, an act of celebration,” Srivastava told Global Citizen. “Joy is absolutely essential to a healthy community and a healthy democracy.”

In the beginning of October, when ballot boxes became available, #walkthevote launched its first parades in Detroit and East Lansing, Michigan, a battleground state in the 2020 election. Since then, the movement has taken off, with more than 70 parades mobilized in a dozen states and 45 cities, including Austin, Texas; Miami, Florida; Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin; and Sitka, Alaska. 

High-profile stars like Joan Jett, Margaret Cho, and Snoop Dogg have also helped spread the word, according to Srivastava.

Community leaders in multiple states, especially battlegrounds, will continue to hold parades up until Election Day to encourage voters to drop off their ballots in person.

“Even if you already voted, just the act of walking with someone to the ballot box and cheering is really fun,” Srivastava said. “The act of voting is something to be done in community. It’s not an individual act — it’s really an act of caring for your community as well.”

The #walkthevote team, a nonpartisan group of about 80 volunteers, does not actually organize the parades, but rather provides local activists with the resources and support to mobilize these events in their own communities.

The team, which includes graphic designers, venture capitalists, students, and more, has created pandemic-related tool kits, a range of media assets, and merchandise such as branded masks to distribute to parade organizers. They also search for local musicians who are willing to perform at the end of each walk.

“This has all happened in two months,” Srivastava said. “We’re all volunteers here, and we’ve all got a sense of purpose, commitment, passion, and humor. It’s really been a bright light in the middle of what’s been otherwise a very stressful time.”

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Since August, Srivastava has put aside her career in international human rights to help get out the vote. As she has her own company, she has the flexibility to take time off and go on what she considers a sabbatical of some sort. 

But these few months have been nothing close to a vacation for Srivastava. #walkthevote is just one of four voting initiatives she is volunteering with during this last stretch of the 2020 election season. Once the election is over, she said the first thing on her list of to-do’s is to go to sleep.

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For months now, Americans have been dealing with uncertainty, stress, and fear around the 2020 election. As concerns such as voting by mail for the first time, voter suppression, and how long it will take to announce a winner continue to dwell in the back of people’s minds, #walkthevote hopes to bring back the joy of voting and remind Americans that casting your ballot is a moment to celebrate.

“Even in the middle of a pandemic, even in the middle of so much strife, polarization, and oppression, celebrating is an antidote to the stress that we’re feeling,” Srivastava said. “It's the glue that holds communities together.”