Democracy Vouchers inspired this Seattle resident to consider running for office

Voting is extremely important. But it’s a small part of getting someone elected. No matter how you slice it or dice it, getting elected is going to cost money.

As a voter, vouchers empowered me to support a candidate who would fight for issues I cared about. But vouchers also have inspired me to run for office. 

In 2017, I ran for the interim Seattle City Council 8 position, and though I wasn’t appointed, so many people encouraged me to run for a district seat following that process. If we didn’t have Democracy Vouchers in place, it would be unaffordable for me to run. But Democracy Vouchers present an opportunity for someone like me to run. 

I come from intersectionality of identities not typically represented as fiscal supporters of politicians: working poor, Caribbean black, latino, with Western-prescribed mental health eccentricities. 

If there weren’t vouchers, it limits people like me being a part of the process. I have so much I can contribute to the process. I have supporters, experience working on a city commission, unique ideas to bring to the table, am currently working on my second masters in public administration and have a masters of nonprofit administration. What I don’t have is affluence or affluent friends. But, just because I’m not affluent and don’t hang out with affluent people, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be a part of this process.

At the end of the day, you need to pay a campaign team, you need to buy ad materials. You need to pay for poster boards, and you need to pay for the gas it takes to knock on doors. 

We live in a city that says it values intersectionality, anti-racism and progressive values. But if we believe in that stuff, we need to put equalizers in our system. Democracy Vouchers are an equalizer. 

ChrisTiana ObeySumner is ChrisTiana ObeySumner is a Queer, Indigenous, Black Womxn who is a doer of all the things -- most notably Founding E.D. of the Eleanor Elizabeth Institute for Black Empowerment and Principal Social Equity Consultant of ChrisTiana Consulting.

Democracy Vouchers gave this Seattle resident a voice

Being homeless is the most horrible thing you have to live through. You’re invisible. You don’t have an address, which makes it difficult to get a job, or get mail. Becoming homeless feels like getting erased.

The Democracy Voucher program made me feel like becoming visible in our local democracy. It made feel like I was valued. I got to donate to a candidate who made clear my voice mattered. It was huge.

When you have nothing, the vouchers made me feel like I had value within a community. It gave me the opportunity to make a decision and contribution that other folks could make without giving it a second thought. I had never donated to a campaign before, but vouchers gave me an opportunity to participate. Those little things that still keep you connected to the community as a whole is everything.

When I donated my Democracy Vouchers to the candidate of my choice, I made sure to do it in-person and get a photo. It was that important to me. Even though he didn’t win, I felt like a part of process. You don’t get  much of that at all when you are homeless.

Though I am now living in a home, I still fight for my homeless friends. And giving those vouchers was one way I could fight for them, knowing I could use these vouchers to advocate for the type of policy I wanted to see. These vouchers gave me a voice.

Susan Russell is an affordable housing advocate, formerly homeless, and a Real Change vendor. 

Democracy Vouchers Are Crucial for Communities of Color


We recently celebrated the 54th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. I remember watching this landmark event with my parents in the home where I now reside. Experiencing this event as a Black family and the conversation that I engaged with my parents led to my commitment to become involved in grassroots action throughout my life to this present time.

Regardless of what political activities I have been involved with, protecting and expanding access to voting is still one of my top concerns. Some of these activities include voter registration in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. I was involved in the efforts to end Apartheid and end trade with South Africa. Later, I was a delegate for both President Obama in 2008 and Bernie Sanders in 2016.

One of the points made by my parents about the 1963 March on Washington related to voting. Both my parents were born and raised in the South - my father in South Carolina and my mother in Mississippi. My mother's hometown, Forrest, Mississippi, was a small town about 40 miles from Jackson, Mississippi. Most Blacks didn't have the opportunity or possibility to vote.The segregation and racism in the Jim Crow South led to the relocation to Seattle of my parents and many others of my mothers family after WWII.
During the recent past challenges to voting rights and access to elections for Black Americans and other people of color, as well as homeless, incarcerated, recently released individuals, and others in our country is still a current fact which hinders our democracy today.

Seattle's creation of the Democracy Vouchers is an exciting tool for citizens to use to deepen our experience in local political action. The monetary amount may be small by today's political standards, but I believe the Vouchers allow more voters to participate and counter other professional lobbying efforts to some degree. I think that the Vouchers give voters like me, who don't have a PAC or support from an organization back by corporate money, an opportunity to support candidates whom I trust.  
I invite those who are against the Democracy Voucher program to recognize that they can use their Democracy Vouchers for candidates they like (whom I probably would not support) with this program as well. Democracy Vouchers expands the level of direct participation in our Democracy.

Roi-Martin Brown has been a member of Washington CAN for 2 years. 

Democracy Vouchers Fight Corruption in Elections


As another election cycle is here, I realize that I can participate in a way I've never done before because of Seattle's new Democracy Voucher program. Taking big money out of politics, where even low-income people like myself can contribute to candidates, is why I supported passing Honest Elections and why I still support the voucher program. Because of the vouchers, I've been able to contribute more than I ever have before. I know I still can't support candidates in a way that wealthy people can, but this program helps fight the appearance of corruption in our election system. 

Some people say that as a renter, I shouldn't have vouchers to give because the Democracy Voucher program is funded by a property tax, which costs the average homeowner about $11.50 per year. I am a taxpayer too. Although no property tax is directly linked to my name, paying rent every month contributes to my landlord's income that helps pay for their taxes. 

Some people have said they don't support the democracy voucher program because the vouchers support candidates they don't agree with, but for me, I know that some vouchers will go to candidates that I don't support because they don't represent me. That's what's fair about this program. It gives me the opportunity to contribute and support people that represent my voice while others can support candidates that have their interests at heart. 

As this election cycle nears its closing, I am thrilled that I've been able to participate in our democracy in a new way.

Gina Owens is a 16-year member of Washington CAN.