The American elections are fast approaching. As the daughter of two Americans, I cannot avoid it; our tables at home are strewn with newspapers recalling the election race. Therefore, when I heard that there are citizens out there who do not even read up on elections so much as vote, I couldn’t help but be shocked. That’s when I discovered Vote from Abroad, a group of over 200 volunteers, with the sole purpose of influencing international American citizens to vote. To address this importance of voting, I have interviewed one of the three co-chairs of this organisation: Elizabeth Kelly.
I started by asking Ms. Kelly to tell me about her life outside of Vote from Abroad. Until 2018, she was the Behavioural Change programme manager for Transport for London, promoting more walking and cycling on the journey to school. Before that, Kelly worked for various environmental advocacy groups. Now she is a freelance consultant who has been chair of Vote from Abroad since late 2018. Even when she was telling me about her former jobs, I couldn’t help but be inspired by her drive to improve our planet.
As chair, Kelly’s role consists of training their volunteers to participate in voting registration drives at locations (American schools, universities, workplaces) where there is a critical mass of US citizens. Additionally, her task is to improve flyers and posters for these drives, and she’s even developed a voter advocate toolkit so volunteers can encourage their friends to vote too. And coronavirus can’t stop them! (They have enlisted an expert’s help in developing social media campaigns to reach more overseas US citizens in coming months). But they still have more work to do to in overcoming their main challenge: getting 18-29 year olds to vote. Only teamwork and working together, suggests Kelly, can expand their reach on youth.
Kelly told me of a conversation she had with a British man who asked her how he could sign up- he turned out to be an accidental American because his parents were working in America when he was born. He’d been paying taxes, but had never voted in the American elections before. Kelly was most struck by his determination to vote in 2020 to change the current situation, “a change from the drives I was at in 2018”. It seems that, as the political situation in America becomes more and more bleak, one good thing to emerge is that people who wouldn’t have voted before now feel a new-found duty to make their voice heard.
When it comes to Ms. Kelly, her job speciality of promoting sustainable transport to combat climate change is closely interlinked with her desire to volunteer for Vote from Abroad. I asked what made her feel motivated to urge others to vote, and her answer was simple: the election of Donald Trump. “He is the single biggest obstacle to solving the climate crisis, so I have to do all in my power between now and November to ensure he is a one-term crisis.”
But the conversation took a heavier turn when the weight of the times struck down. “It is always important to vote”, Kelly remarked. “But even more important now, given what we are up against”. In the last twenty years, she has seen people become increasingly “cynical” and “complacent”, which she uses to explain the election result of 2016. But her role at Vote from Abroad is not just about urging people to vote. “It is particularly important now to demonstrate that you want a government that reflects your values and that we can battle back against these democratic challenges (money in politics, gerrymandering and voter suppression).”
I came away feeling refreshed and relieved. Elizabeth Kelly is proof that, while much of our world seems to face dim sights ahead, there are still people out there who are determined to make good. “I strongly believe that you have to put your talents into making the world a better place in any way you can”, she tells me with conviction. She believes in the statement by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If there is anything I’ve learnt from talking to Ms. Kelly, it is that one person is never too small to make a difference, if they have the teamwork skills and determination to carry that change out. In the words of Kelly, “on we go together”.