With Election Day fast approaching, people across the land are doing their part to raise awareness regarding the importance of exercising your 15th Amendment rights.
Locally, basketball players at Westview High School are doing the same, instituting a program committed to getting as many people as possible to register to vote.
#WestviewVotes, in conjunction with When We All Vote, is a nonpartisan call to action dedicated to increasing civic engagement, voter registration and election participation in our community, as well as empowering young people to see the central pillar of our democracy in action.
Jaren White is a sophomore at Westview and a member of the basketball team who's taken a leading role in their registration drive. While inspired by the coach and program, he also said he's had his eyes open for some time now in part thanks to regular conversations he has with his 18-year-old sister.
"I talk a lot with my older sister, and we talk a lot about politics and how important it is to be involved and share your voice," White said. "I wanted to help my coach and the team to get the message out."
Every member of the Westview basketball program has committed to enrolling at least 10 people on their "team" by having conversations, getting their commitment to register and then circling back for confirmation of registration and voting. Students will provide links and resources to their "team" for each step along the way. The goal is to reach 500 people before Oct. 13, the last day to register in Oregon.
In addition, Westview boys head basketball coach Mike Wolf has been contacted by other athletic teams — both in the Beaverton District and beyond — for information on how they too can implement this program.
"As a former college coach, a lot of my friends were involved in a movement, starting back in June which was trying to, first of all get 18- to 24-year-old college students in the voting process," Wolf said.
Wolf was quick to point out however, that while he's had numerous discussions with past and present colleagues about what they can do to contribute positively during these difficult times, it's been his players that have driven the effort to truly make a difference.
"We had a number of meetings and after maybe the second or third one, the players said, 'Hey coach, you know, we do a lot of talking, but what can we do? What can we actually do?'" Wolf recalled.
The coach said that in addition to the work they're doing with the election, they've also used this time to have important discussions with they're players regarding the narrative around social injustice, along with the complications as a result of the pandemic. And while the coach has certainly been talking, he's done more listening to what the young men have had to say about their life experience.
"We've tried to use it as an opportunity to have some valuable discussions with our kids and support them with what they're going through," Wolf said. "Dealing with this unique time has been difficult, but then also to really have some conversations in response to the climate around social justice."
The idea is to have each of the kids involved initially have conversations with the adults in their lives about the civic responsibility of voting, get them to speak their commitments to register to do so aloud, then follow up with confirmation of registration.
The coach also armed his kids with basic tools to help steer people in the right direction, such as web links and QR codes that show them where they can go to get properly registered.
Thus far, White said that the people he's talked to have been very open-minded. And in fact, even his friends — despite their age — have shown interest in the process.
"They've been very responsive," White said about his friends. "We talk a lot about politics and what's going on right now in the political world."
Wolf said he's been impressed with his kids' commitment, but he also said he believes the process has been very educational for them.
"When I shared with them that voter participation in federal elections bounces between 40 and 60 percent depending on whether it's a presidential year or not, somebody said, 'Wait coach, you mean half the country doesn't vote?'" Wolf said. "Yeah, that's a problem."
And what has White learned?
"I've learned that people are sometimes a little bit afraid and shy to share their voice," he said. "And that voting is the perfect way to let your voice be heard."
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