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Democracy revisited–Cleveland VOTES reflects on the best moments of 2023 (and looks forward to 2024)




Despite it being an election "off year," there were a lot of interesting political and civic developments in 2023. While many changes are worth celebrating, others created a lot of frustration for voting activists (and continue to do so into 2024).


See what the CV team has to say about the ups and downs of democracy that occurred this past year (and hopefully feel activated for the next one).



 


Erika Anthony


What was your favorite democracy moment of 2023?

I am most proud of my role as a Steering Committee member for the People’s Budget campaign and the Cleveland VOTES’ team participation. While I’ve been fortunate enough to support a number of campaigns over the years, this is the first time I’ve served in a leadership role with a campaign. While we did not ‘win’ the campaign on November 7th, I very much consider our collective work over the last 2.5 years to be a WIN for Cleveland. We shifted the conversation around participatory democracy, educated community members about participatory budgeting, and elevated the importance of prioritizing the needs of community members and not corporate interests. Despite being outspent and enduring heavy opposition, 33k voters said YES to Issue 38. A message has been sent, and we look forward to engaging those voters and continuing this conversation. 

What work are you most proud of from the past year?


I am most proud of the Cleveland VOTES team, which includes our full-time staff, consultants, and interns. Despite all the curveballs and general disdain for the state of our democracy, they show up and show out for our community. We are not a large organization and yet, each of their roles serves a critical need and positively impacts our community. 


AND! As if our regularly scheduled programming was not enough (e.g. Equitable Civic Engagement Fund and Civic Holiday season), they bravely helped to launch multiple new initiatives this year! Incredibly proud of launching The Democracy Collective, Civic Cafe/Fall Civics, as well as our budding creative activism strategy. We have made refinements to our internal operations for maximum efficiency and continually made improvements to our communication channels. 


What Cleveland VOTES projects/programming are you most excited about in 2024?


Presidential Election years always bring mixed emotions for me. While I appreciate the added attention and energy, as an organization that operates year-round, I selfishly want to see this type of energy EVERY year for EVERY election. Nevertheless, I’m excited to support our partners and the broader community to not only vote but fully grasp why it matters to them/their families/communities. We have some exciting ideas and forthcoming programming to achieve this goal---I’m excited to catalyze next year’s engagement plan with the hopes that it will transcend into the years ahead. 


Summarize your feelings about the state of democracy in 2024 in 3 words.
Frustration. Disappointment. Potential. 

What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can stay engaged as we head into the new year?


My first recommendation is to stay closely connected with Cleveland VOTES via our newsletter, social media channels, and in-person events. We strive to be a reliable and trustworthy source for all things democracy-related for our city/region. 


Secondly, I’d encourage folks to ask themselves “Why and how do I want to be engaged?” While most of the focus will be on the Presidential campaign, there will also be a slate of other candidates and issues on our ballots next year (e.g. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, Judicial races, ballot initiatives, redistricting, etc). With that being said, there will be tons of volunteer (and paid) opportunities to donate funds, canvass, phone/textbank, write postcards, engage with voters at events, etc…



 


Brianna Zgodinski



What was your favorite democracy moment of 2023?

I was very pleasantly surprised when so many Ohioans came together and voted in the August Special Election and defeated Issue 1. And there were a lot of volunteers, nonprofit employees, and election workers working hard behind the scenes to spread awareness about the election and Issue 1. They deserve so much gratitude!

What work are you most proud of from the past year?


I am really proud that we have been able to help change the narrative that people around the world believe about Ohioans—that we don’t care about "off-year" elections and we’re anti-progress. But then Ohio showed up in great numbers for the General Election and protected reproductive rights, our schools, and more. A lot of us have been (rightly) bragging about it. I don’t think people will write us off so quickly in the future. 


What Cleveland VOTES projects/programming are you most excited about in 2024?


I am excited to expand our partnerships with local educational institutions.



Summarize your feelings about the state of democracy in 2024 in 3 word
Anxious. Determined. Hopeful.


What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can stay engaged as we head into the new year?


Ohio is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. You will be hearing a lot more about gerrymandering in 2024. If you want to help fight for fair district maps before the next election, I recommend following  Fair Districts Ohio and signing onto the Citizens Not Politicians campaign. We deserve leaders who actually represent the will of the people and who are elected via a fair voting process.



 


Lique Gates



What was your favorite democracy moment of 2023?


The unity in strategizing as we fought hard through multiple campaigns looking to dismantle equitable democracy building. We had a special election in August that countless organizations and organizers worked to inform Ohioans about in a condensed amount of time. Only to be combated with the same Issue number being introduced with an opposing message. The success of this general election cycle is something to celebrate. We also helped support a city charter amendment (Issue 38), and the community-wide collaboration around this issue was amazing. 

What work are you most proud of from the past year?


Watching the people I deeply admire and appreciate get to see the results of their hard work. Civic engagement work can be hard, and having a community is vital. I am so grateful for the support Cleveland VOTES receives. I am a proud member of the team.


What Cleveland VOTES projects/programming are you most excited about in 2024?


  • Seeing the Activation Projects our current Democracy Collective participants are planning + crafting

  • More collaboration with the local creative economy as we roll out our Creative Activism initiative

  • Focusing on a national election and assisting with the impact on a local level


Summarize your feelings about the state of democracy in 2024 in 3 words.
The work continues.

What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can stay engaged as we head into the new year?


I would ask them the level of engagement they would like to commit to and start with basic ways, such as connecting virtually with Cleveland VOTES + similar organizations.



 


Tacha Sako



What was your favorite democracy moment of 2023?


I believe it was seeing how we were able to not only defeat Issue 1 during the Special Election in August, but then repeating the process in november for the other Issue 1 (which we successfully passed). I am a firm believer in advocating for people's autonomy, so winning with Issue 1 was important.

What work are you most proud of from the past year?


I want to say the work of my team, seeing how we were able to be a part of PB CLE (Issue 38). It was incredible to build an issue from the ground up and then introduce it on the ballot. Though we did not pull through with it passing, there were a lot of people in the community who heard us and wanted it to pass.


What Cleveland VOTES projects/programming are you most excited about in 2024?


I am most excited about State of Our Democracy and Creative Activism crossover for 2024. We will have programs all year, but in the late summer and throughout fall, we will be giving the people more for the presidential election, which I'm looking forward to. This is a great opportunity for people to not only learn about what is going on in the community but also a creative way for people to interact with CV.


Summarize your feelings about the state of democracy in 2024 in 3 words.
Nervous, Resilient, Activated.

What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can stay engaged as we head into the new year?


Follow our social media pages, sign up for our newsletter, and connect with our partners. Be on the lookout for new events and more information as the year progresses.



 


Yugan Sakthi



What was your favorite democracy moment of 2023?


Issue 1’s passage in November was certainly the most relieving moment. To have months, if not years, of work be condensed into one night of nerves---I was terrified! Was it my favorite? Maybe. Actually, my favorite moment might have come after, when I went to the Ohio Voice convening in Columbus. There, a panel of people central to the Issue 1 campaign talked about the campaign, its successes, challenges, and more. I was truly inspired hearing every detail and thought that went into it.

What work are you most proud of from the past year?


I feel incredibly proud to be part of the force that launched The Democracy Collective (DemCo). It is a very ambitious and important project that will hopefully create a new model for social justice incubation in Cleveland and beyond. I learned so much from interacting with Erika, Lique, and the Liberation in a Generation team. Within a few weeks of joining Cleveland VOTES, I was given the opportunity---and responsibility---to work with Lique to create and execute the selection process for the DemCo facilitator. It was a learning experience, and now DemCo is in full swing with our facilitator Kirby Broadnax, as well as a powerful cohort of 10 people!


What Cleveland VOTES projects/programming are you most excited about in 2024?


I look forward to organizing more community civic dialogues that get people talking about elections, voting, civics, community engagement, and more. I am also excited for the 2024 State of Our Democracy. With 2024 being such an important year for civics, the energy and conversation at SOOD will definitely be strong. Finally, I am also excited to see our DemCo cohort members move from the curricular stage of the program toward implementing their activation projects. They will be using their knowledge and skills to activate and engage within their communities.


Summarize your feelings about the state of democracy in 2024 in 3 words.
Vulnerable. Capable. Defendable.

What would you say to someone who wants to know how they can stay engaged as we head into the new year?


Keep up with our blog. Sign up for our newsletter. Ask questions and think big! And stay informed about what’s on the ballot. It’s not just the new president that will be decided!





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