Sunday, December 13, 2020

2020 Election Community Debrief


For the past four election cycles, the Hub has offered voter registration to patrons & community members in an effort to help make voting more accessible for all. We know that access to food is and always has been political; programs and policies like SNAP & WIC, public charge rules, minimum wage, TANF, healthcare, housing, and more all influence people’s ability to get the food they need. We offer voter registration because we want to make sure our community has a voice in decision-making on those issues. 

Though this election cycle looked very different - no chatting & checking registrations over coffee in the pantry, no helping folks fill out an absentee ballot form, no dropping off filled-out forms at Election Central - we still managed to connect with community members about the in’s and out’s of voting both before and after the election. 470 voter registration packets, 10 online voter registration help sessions, one dedicated 6-person voter registration team, 3 petitions to expand voting rights, and many conversations later, here’s what we heard from patrons and community members about their experience of registering and voting this year; what worked, what didn’t, and what changes might make a difference for next time around. 


Community & Ceremony 

In the general election, more community members we spoke with voted in person than by mail. While they were at the polls, folks noted that the sense of community they felt and the ceremony of voting in person were both valuable to them. Chatting with other people in line, going to vote with friends, getting assistance from poll workers, meeting candidates, getting a ride from friends to the polls, and a general feeling that people were going the extra mile to be helpful, civil, and kind to one another meant a lot.  In addition to human connection, the ceremony of voting in person was important to many - things like getting their voting sticker, voting at the same polling place they always have, and recognizing their election workers. 


Expanded Vote-by-Mail & General Accessibility 


Several other positive notes centered on moments of increased accessibility this election cycle. While most people we spoke with voted in person, some who did vote-by-mail requested their absentee ballot online through the IndianaVoters website portal, an option that was available for the first time this year in Indiana. Along similar lines of expanding access to voting-by-mail, folks flagged that the availability of no-excuse absentee voting in the Primary was useful and appreciated, as well as Monroe County mailing out information on absentee voting to all registered voters. Patrons were dismayed that the same communication and availability wasn’t extended to the General Election. 

People also noted some bright spots when it came to physical accessibility this election cycle - things like having chairs & tables to offer seated voting, poll workers checking in with senior voters about their physical needs, and allowing voters with disabilities to bypass long lines. 


Suppressive Infrastructure & Rules  

Sadly, alongside the positive reports, we heard about barriers that made voting difficult for community members, and in some cases, altogether impossible. We heard that patrons faced wait times at the polls varying between 10 minutes and more than 2 hours, with times being notably longer for those who chose to vote early. The long lines combined with (and likely a result of) having only one location option for early voting deterred some who were interested. One patron noted that she drove to the early voting site 5 times, and each time realized the line was too long for her to wait in. Though she was able to vote the day of the election, it’s not difficult to imagine that others with similar experiences may have been discouraged entirely. Additionally, we heard that despite the availability of free rides on Bloomington Transit during Election Day, transportation still posed an issue for patrons. 


Beyond infrastructure barriers, other patrons noted that some voting rules and restrictions made voting inaccessible for them. For example, one patron told staff that due to COVID forcing job, housing, and life changes for him this year, he had failed to register by the deadline (set a month before the election) and so was unable to vote. Another patron was unable to vote because under Indiana’s rules, she did not qualify for an absentee ballot, but with two children with auto-immune conditions at home, she felt unsafe visiting the polls in person and so was forced to opt out of voting entirely. Several community members also voiced concerns about the US’s continued use of the Electoral College, and that they would prefer to see that system dismantled. 


Information Gap 

Other barriers stemmed from lack of information or confusion on voting rules and procedures. In a
year when uncertainty has plagued many (if not all) aspects of life, voting was no different. Patrons reported being unsure about whether there was free transportation to the polls, facing difficulty finding information about candidates, uncertainty about whether early voting was bound by the same rules as absentee voting, and general anxiety about what the polls would be like with regards to COVID-19. 


Perennial Problems 

And lastly, folks experienced impediments to voting in many ways that felt familiar to past elections. As with past years, we heard that making a voting plan that accommodated work schedules was hard. That folks were anxious about whether they'd been purged from the voting rolls. We heard that there was dismay with the tone of politics, a feeling that the candidates didn’t represent voters, and concerns about the use of corporate money in politics. And that people were concerned about not only their own ability to vote, but their friends, family, and neighbors’ too; people reported concerns about the disenfranchisement of incarcerated people, concerns about how rural voters would get to the polls, or whether polling places were really accessible for community members with disabilities. 



Recommendations For Future Elections 


Given all that we heard this year, we would offer the following recommendations for future elections. Some call State legislators and elected officials to take action, others are focused on the Federal level, and still others are geared towards what we can do as individuals and a community. 


Interpersonal

  1. Normalize and engage in conversations with friends, family, and neighbors about voting plans
  2. Urge elected officials to expand voting rights and infrastructure immediately, to improve the next election cycle


Community 

  1. Strengthen community norms around voting, and support intersectional local efforts to offer voter registration, clear information about elections, and help getting to the polls 
  2. Build new community narratives that help increase the ‘ceremony’ of early voting and absentee voting as much as voting day-of
  3. Ensure that polling places are physically and logistically designed & set up with inclusivity, accessibility, and equity in mind
  4. Continue and expand the investment of County resources towards outreach to all registered voters in advance of every election
  5. Invest more heavily in early voting infrastructure
  6. In the absence of state or federal action to make Election Day a holiday, conduct community-wide outreach to workplaces, urging them to provide paid time off for employees to go vote


State 

  1. Expand the availability of no excuse vote-by-mail to all Hoosiers permanently 
  2. Strengthen civics education in Indiana schools 
  3. Change regulations to allow voter registration up to and on Election Day, as well as exploring options for automatic voter registration  
  4. Restore voting rights for incarcerated Hoosiers
  5. In the absence of federal action to make Election Day a holiday, name election day a statewide civic holiday, and create state legislation requiring employers to ensure paid time off work for employees to go vote


Federal 

  1. Establish Election Day as a national holiday
  2. Pass Federal legislation requiring all states to restore voting rights to incarcerated individuals 
  3. Provide Federal funding to help states implement strong voting infrastructure with an emphasis on equity and accessibility 
  4. Engage in nationwide narrative building that frames voting as as a right guaranteed to all, and an opportunity to build collective power 


Friday, April 26, 2019

April 2019 Updates

As April is ending, we are in the swing of garden season! We have had several work dates that have allowed us to be super productive in the garden and our plants to be thriving thanks to some rain too. We have held a few workshops including a very successful Tamale Workshop tag teamed by Alissa and Thomas. We had our yearly Garden Youth Service Day where Bloomington high schoolers came in and assisted us with reorganizing, cleaning, and mulching different areas of the Hub. We are grateful for the great turnouts for our several events throughout April and looking forward to many more as the weather continues to get better and better. Here are some pictures from some of these great events!



Friday, March 29, 2019

Garden Planning Workshop 2019

On March 25, 2019, The Hub hosted a garden planning workshop where Erika, our garden coordinator, taught participants how to properly plan their gardens. She highlighted the different techniques, different types of soil, and how to prioritize your space. Participants were able to plan their gardens based on an in workshop worksheet and learn how to keep their gardens thriving whether it be through preventing pests or how to plant based on what kind of sun access they get.







Vegetables and Cooking Workshop 2019

On March 18, 2019, The Hub had the nutrition and garden teams collaborate to host a workshop on different ways to use vegetables in cooking. We displayed vegan and vegetarian options that are not just salads and really fun ways to incorporate vegetables into your meals. Participants were able to pick the recipe they focused on and were able to do each recipe on their own in groups which allowed for interactive learning to yield the best results for recreating in their own home kitchens!










Friday, March 8, 2019

Seed Starting Workshop

On Monday, March 4, 2019, we had one of the beginning steps to our garden season which was seed starting. We taught patrons what to look for with tools for seed starting and what we use for planting. Erika demonstrated what desirable soil looks like, planting techniques, and different ways to use household items to garden. The group was able to interact with soil and make their own "newspaper pots." If you are interested in getting more involved with our workshops, call Alissa at (812) 339-5887










Friday, March 1, 2019

February Workshops

This month, we had a couple workshops for patrons, volunteers, and community members to join us for. The workshops were Things on Toast and Cooking and Growing Microgreens. In Things on Toast, we explored different options and toppings to spice up your toast and new ingredients to learn how to use. The participants were able to each make their own dish and then we had a delicious taste test at the end.
 











For the Cooking and Growing Microgreens Workshop, Alissa and Erika teamed up to teach participants how to grow their own microgreens and new ways to use them in cooking. Not only were participants able to harvest their own microgreens, but they also were able to use them in recipes and taste test them at the end of the workshop.






Wednesday, February 6, 2019

MHC Advocacy Up In Indy!

Near the end of January, Hub community members trekked to Indianapolis for the Senate Committee on Financial and Insurance’s hearing on SB 104 - a bill to cap the APR rate on predatory payday loans at 36% instead of the current 391%. The hearing included the author’s presentation of the bill, testimony in support of the bill, and testimony in opposition of the bill. Hub folks had lots of thoughts about the experience!

There was the good, like seeing the process firsthand and working alongside other Hoosiers invested in restricting predatory loans. 
Chuck Roldan: “I was impressed by the credentials of everybody who talked. The Institute for Working Families person, Erin Macey, had everything - a compelling, complete line of thought.”
Joelle Parker: “I’m glad I went, I haven’t been before.”
Lilly Bryant: I was proud to go up to the statehouse where they make all the important things happen. Walking into the room up there made me proud also to be in a country where us women have a voice and choices to help with these bills.

But there were also frustrations, some about the committee process, and who it is and isn’t accessible to.
Laxmi Palde: “It speaks volumes [...] just seeing that most of these legislators are older, and male, and white and they’re talking about something that affects communities and demographics different from that. Seeing the lawmaking process in action was pretty sad. That was the first time when I was like maybe I should run for office  in the future.” 

Joelle: “They divided up the testimony to where we said ours, and then the other side did. The last say is the one they’re going to remember the most. I wish we had a different pattern - one presents, then the other, then you can present after or at least get a minute to say something back.”

Chuck: “There was a gap in terms of personal testimony. There wasn’t anybody [who had used a payday loan] in the room. I imagine that a lot of Hoosiers who have taken out loans probably wouldn’t be able to take off a random tuesday at 1pm and drive an hour to Indy.” 

...And some frustrations about what seemed to be social norms in the committee meetings.
Chuck: [Committee members] were hanging out on their phones.
Laxmi: and leaving the room...one guy was falling asleep.
Joelle: I complained when I got home about the guy from my county getting up and leaving - it seems disrespectful.


Hubsters also had thoughts about the content of testimony and committee members’ questions. 
Chuck: There was a line of questioning that was really concerned about a gap in services that could occur if payday lenders were barred from the state. [...] I guess that’s one way of looking at it. I kept thinking that it’s the same way that when you open up a bag of potato chips, you’re never less hungry - it doesn’t even fill the gap. And also another way of framing it, is that the gap that Senator Bohacek was talking about has a name - and that name is poverty. It’s much bigger than this. [...] Payday loans are a part of the larger poverty tax that we inflict on low income people.”

Joelle: They acted like the government was going to have to pick up for everybody, making it into a socialist thing. But that’s not really true. We have things that [...] could be a solution to fill the gap. I think that we just need to focus on that.


Another big surprise? The level of information committee members seemed to have about the bill. 
Chuck: One thing i was kind of surprised by, a lot of the people on the committee were just wanting to learn.
Joelle: It’s hard to believe that they just don’t even know the laws that are impacting their constituents so harshly.
Laxmi: A lot of them were asking basic questions well into the meeting that were answered very early on.


Hub folks also noted that there were recurring misconceptions brought up about who uses payday loans. 
Chuck: One person [offering opposition testimony] used the phrase ‘unbankable’ population, which makes sense if you’re talking about states where people don’t have to have a bank account to open a payday loan. But Indiana has the regulation that you have to have a bank account [to take out a payday loan]. It’s also such a loaded word. It’s like ‘good for nothing people.’

Joelle: They said they were going to go buy drugs with the money, instead of things like ‘I’m going to bury my dad.’ The reality of it is that really horrible things are happening to people like, ‘I’m six months behind on my rent and they’re kicking me out tomorrow.’

Laxmi: They asked questions like ‘What is the profile of someone who would take on a payday loan?’ [...] That kept coming up. Where are these payday loans or lenders concentrated - is it in communities where there are lots of drugs? It was sad that it had to be a part of the conversation. That seemed to be the preconceived notion.

When asked if they wanted to rebut anything else that had been said, or wished something had been brought up, Hub folks noted the following. 
Chuck: The gap comment. They [payday loans] don’t even fill the gap!
Laxmi: And some basic fact checking! They kept bringing up [...] that people can’t take out multiple loans, but they’re sort of working around the reality.
Chuck: Yeah...you can take one, and your partner can take one. And they kept on talking about the modal number of loans that people take out as two - they didn’t talk about the mean or median, which I felt would be more useful. The middle-of-the-road payday borrower takes out how many loans? That might be a useful statistic to know.
Joelle: But it also only takes one of those to completely destroy you at 400% apr. That would be my rebuttal.

And last but not least, Hub folks had this advice for folks considering going up for a committee hearing. 
Chuck: Don’t count on the legislators to know anything about the bill. Maybe prepare two testimonies - one for experts and one for novices, and you’ll quickly see which one you need - probably the one for novices.

Joelle: Dress up to the nines, as best you can. Get straight to the chase - tell them something very startling for your first thing, and how it affected you personally. Just talk about that and have it be from the heart, because that’s what affects them. If there’s any way that you could communicate, ‘how would you feel if it was your brother, your mother, your grandfather - you - who had this happen to them?’  And then that brings it home to them.

Laxmi: Know that you bring a unique perspective that won’t be heard otherwise in that room, and using that to your advantage. And carefully crafting your words so that they’re as impactful as possible.




Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sourdough Bread Workshop 2019

On January 23, we had an awesome workshop where we demonstrated how to start a starter for sourdough bread and how to shape it to then cook. We had a great turn out and an even better taste test. Thanks to those who joined us, be sure to look out for our next workshops 'Things on Toast' and 'Growing and Cooking with Microgreens.' We hope to continue to get everyone involved in these events so spread the word!