Mable Yee: Who isn’t voting?

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Through EngageHer.org and documentary film Engage Her: Getting minority women to lead and vote, founder and CEO Mable Yee is working to get women to the polls — especially women of color — millions are registered to vote but don’t cast their votes. So why do all those undecideds get so much attention?
Just 10 days to go till the big vote for the next prez. Here’s Mable…


With now less than two weeks to go until the big election day, it seems like every major news network has their own special Ohio independent voters’ focus group. But according to your documentary, Engage Her: Getting minority women to lead and vote, millions of women of color are registered to vote, but aren’t not voting. What are the latest statistics and why do you think the mainstream media is not drawing more attention to these registered voters who don’t feel like they should even vote?
In the 2004 general elections, from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • 47% (1.5 mil) of Asian-American U.S women citizens did not register & vote.
  • 40% (3.3 mil) of Latina U.S. women citizens did not register & vote.
  • 28% (3.7 mil) of African-American women citizens did not register & vote.

Total: 8.5 million citizens who are women of color could have registered and voted but didn’t.
I think the mainstream media doesn’t cover nor care about these huge populations because women typically are ignored or invisible to the media. In this election cycle first with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, there was a lot of attention paid to women, but it was primarily white women. When the coverage turned to Barack Obama, it was about African Americans/black voters but they covered primarily the men. If they spoke about an African-American woman, it was Michelle Obama and they heaped a lot of negativity and criticism on her, oftentimes ignoring her strong qualities. Oprah is another big factor, but it was all about the celebrity factor.
When you look at the press coverage, it’s about the black voters vs. the white voters. More increasingly they talk about the brown vote, but no major women are discussed. The Asians receive virtually no attention along with the Native Americans, who are routinely ignored.
Yet if you look at the changing multicultural landscape of this country, with California leading the way, we can’t continue to ignore these populations. So called “minorities” collectively comprise the majority in California. By 2042, the Census Bureau is predicting “minorities” will become the majority nationwide.
The impacts and ramifications upon our society will be widespread and far reaching.
We all know that the majority of mainstream media outlets is controlled by white, majority men who dominate and control the news topics, content and distribution. The critical factor is the rise of “multiculturalism” which replaces the term minority and communities of color and how blended or people with multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds will impact the needs of our country.
Engage Her discusses the different histories and contexts of where many women of color are coming from when deciding whether to vote — racist anti-suffrage tactics in the U.S., corrupt democracies in many women’s home countries, language barriers, sexism — just to name a few. It’s amazing many women even vote in the first place. Can you give some examples of how these contexts play out in real life, and what you think get-out-the-vote groups should keep in mind when trying to mobilize women of so many different contexts?
We learned that women are very focused on the issues that affect their everyday lives. In their 24 hour day “window,” women have to deal with taking care of their families, work, going to school, health, paying the bills, feeding their children and more. The politicians and political campaigns do a terrible job of telling these women how they are going to provide solutions and make their personal lives better. Women care about issues that are immediately on their daily radars:

  • “My child is sick, he can’t go to school, I don’t have childcare, if I stay home from work, I’ll get fired because I don’t have sick leave, what do I do?”
  • “My husband got laid off from his job, we’re not going to make ends meet, how will we pay our bills, how will we feed our kids?
  • “My mother just got diagnosed with cancer and she doesn’t have health-care coverage, how will we seek treatment and how will we pay for it?
  • I just graduated from college, none of my friends can find jobs in their fields with their degrees and we have huge student loans to pay off.

So get-out-the-vote groups have to relate the everyday issues to voting and the power of the vote. We tell women: You hire and fire the president of the United States. If you don’t like the job that this president is doing, then you fire him/her by not hiring the person who’s going to continue the same policies. You also hire the next president and you have to hold him/her accountable to do the right things for our country and fix the problems that directly impact you, your families and your communities. Vote for the person who’s going to take care of you and your family.
We also tell groups to tell women “You can just vote for the President and skip the rest.” Many immigrants or multicultural women are confused by the ballots, initiatives and are afraid to vote for the wrong person. So they end up not voting at all. We emphasize to keep it simple and vote only for the people or issues you care about.
Emphasizing that younger children help their parents register and inform them about the nominees, issues, etc. and bring them to the polls really helps. Having the encouragement, support and education from their trusted family members makes a huge difference.
Telling women to remind all their friends, families and groups to vote makes a big difference. Women are big networkers and hugely influential in their communities. When the mother votes, everyone votes.
What are some anti-suffrage tactics being used today to prevent certain groups from voting and what should someone do if they suspect their voting rights are being threatened?
We are hearing about people being purged from the polls or hearing Robo calls that can scare them. We encourage that people go to the polls with someone else in case they run into any voter intimidation tactics and they can insist on their rights. Oftentimes immigrants don’t want to raise a fuss or create a problem, but they have to know that they must assert their right to vote. The League of Women Voters publishes an easy voter’s guide that simplifies the ballots and does it in seven different languages. Other groups publish voter’s rights guides so people know to insist on voting in their balloting area.
The important thing is to go to the polls, be patient, wait in line and complain if you think you are being treated unfairly. Many people are going to out of state polling areas to monitor, watch and ensure that fair practices are taking place. Ask for help.
Some women think they shouldn’t vote because they don’t have the authority to vote — don’t have enough information and education needed to cast a vote on a given issue, let alone the highest office in the country. What do you say to women who hold these beliefs?
Vote only for the things you know about. If you only want to vote for the president, then do it. You don’t have to vote for everything and don’t feel guilty if you don’t know the issues. There are plenty of people who know less about the ballot than we do, but they vote because their husbands, church, or associations tell them to. So we tell them to go ahead and vote and ignore the rest of the issues and problems. Feel good about voting and knowing your vote does make a difference.
How did you find yourself launching EngageHer.org and later the documentary? What and/or who was your catalyst?
Having come from a corporate and technology world where I worked primarily with white male decision makers, I always wanted to change and get more women and multicultural women to step up and become leaders. When I saw the numbers about voting participation and how abysmal they were, I knew that I wanted to find out why and then make a documentary to tell the stories of why these women weren’t voting. Unlike the corporate world where there are a ton of issues to keep us from ascending the corporate ladder, voting is an activity anyone can do with virtually no barriers.
I started by finding a filmmaker and teaming up with her to create the documentary which defied all odds and timing. We were told it would take $200,000 and two years and we did it in nine months with zero outside funds, a lot of help, volunteers and supporters. Along the way, all these women wanted to join us because we were awakening a social consciousness within them and making them think about why their mothers, grandmothers and parents didn’t vote when they came to this country or when they grew up. As a result, we decided to launch an online organization called EngageHer.org to educate, activate and motivate women of all races and colors to join us and collectively use the Internet to make a difference. We have young, old, first to fifth generation immigrants, all types of women who want to join us and make a difference. It has been an overwhelmingly positive and movement whose time has come.

Do you remember the first time you voted for president? What was your context?

I first voted in 1972 when Nixon ran for re-election against George McGovern. Coming from the whole Vietnam War demonstrations, Third World Liberation, etc. you can imagine which way I voted. It was a tumultuous time. In addition, my parents both came from China and never voted, never talked about voting and never stressed the importance of civic engagement. It was not until I went to UC Berkeley in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War’s escalation that my social and political consciousness took a big awakening.
Any last words on the right to vote?
If you are happier off today than you were in 2000 when there was no Iraq war, gas cost less than $2.00, No Child Left Behind didn’t exist and we had a federal surplus, then you know who to vote for. If you are worse off, then you know who to vote for. However, if you sit out the vote, then you just voted….automatically. You voted to continue the status quo. Because change is going to require a lot of votes in one direction or the other.
Vote for your children, yourself, your families and your future.

Join the Conversation

  • Seamster

    There’s a big statistical problem with this:
    In 2004, 60.7% of the electorate voted (thanks, Wikipedia). Citing the fact that 28% of African-American women didn’t vote as a bad thing boggles my mind. 72% of them voted, a 12% gain on the average! And thank goodness, too, since African-Americans generally vote overwhelmingly democrat.
    Latina women are .7% below average and Asian-American women are 7.7% below average, but don’t take those numbers as being accurate because we have a difference in significant digits. However, I can’t take those in a feminist context because I don’t know what percentage of Latino men and Asian-American men vote.
    Here are the numbers that I’d like (and might go get after this): percentage differences between male voting and female voting overall, then that percentage difference for each demographic, and then the percentage turnout for each demographic.
    There are lots of good points made in this article, but the misuse of those numbers rankles me.

  • http://pandanose.wordpress.com mk

    I was just talking with a friend about how for all the hoopla about race in this election, certain segments of the population are still functionally invisible.

    Emphasizing that younger children help their parents register and inform them about the nominees, issues, etc. and bring them to the polls really helps.

    Reading that line I can’t help but think of David Sedaris’ recent New Yorker piece… How young is she talking about?

  • Lisa

    I just came in to say what Seamster has already said. The numbers for African American women voting in 2004 are actually very impressive, not something to be discouraged by. The US Census Bureau lists the number of citizens that voted in 2004 at 63.8%. Getting a 72% turnout (I’m assuming here that the 28% includes both those who didn’t register and those who did register but didn’t vote) in a particular demographic is fantastic. This is made even more impressive by the fact that the those in the lower class are less likely to vote and African American women have a higher percentage in the lower-income range than the general population. Women as a group have also had better voting rates than men since 1984.
    There is obviously plenty of room for improvement, but we have come a long way in under a century of women’s suffrage. Women have been pretty impressive in coming out to vote in a male-dominated political world. Now it’s time to push for more recognition of our issues.

  • Lisa

    http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/fast_facts/voters/documents/genderdiff.pdf
    This is a nice side-by-side comparison of differences between genders divided by age and race over several elections. I may have misunderstood the statistics in this post because this lists different figures than I was coming up with. However women outvote men in every racial group (particularly African American women at 59.8% vs. their male counterparts at 51.8%).

  • lyndorr

    Interesting. It seems the problem is young people and minorities who are not black. That only 30% of any part of the population casts a vote is crazy. Notice they didn’t even count Asian’s votes until 2000? They are never mentioned by the candidates. Do people really think the country has no other minorities?

  • A male

    And this is why, e.g., the Australians I knew in Japan were quite proud of the fact that they are obligated by law to vote.
    That only 30% or less of those eligible to vote are responsible for us having Bush (or anyone else) as President, does not represent democracy to me.

  • http://womanrebel.blogspot.com Suzy Q

    Sometimes people have to engage in the FUBU (For Us, By Us) approach to organizing. This is particularly true when there are language and cultural barriers. One has to be part of the culture to know what to say and how to say it without coming off as a cultural imperialist telling women of another culture what to do using language and culture that my be insensitive at best and seen as downright rude by people you are trying to organize.
    The same set of rules for organizing come into play when organizing across class lines where economic populism might play a greater role than the idea of liberal vs. conservative.
    The issue of white people organizing within the African American community has been touchy since the Black Power movement of the 1960s. SNCC came to view whites in within the civil rights movement as exerting a hegemonic influence that raised issues and charges of unintentional racism.
    That people are even discussing the issues of feeling left out and saying, “include me and my community in these efforts” is a step forward in creating a new progressive majority that replaces horizontal infighting with outreach and interaction.

  • kennedym

    I think it is very important that all people that are able and and allowed to vote in the United States should exercise their right to vote especially in an election such as this. I think women would have one of the most important reasons to vote. Women’s rights are at stake and things can go either way. If Obama gets into office (which I honestly hope) then Roe v. Wade won’t be ovdrturned. But If McCain gets into office (which i hope not) it’s possible that not only Roe v. Wade be overturned but women’s concrceptives will be done with… everything. If women wnt to protect their rights then voting for someone who are willing to help them protect those same rights will be a good thing.