Do Something

Go to a Vote Safe event

Better Civics is teaming up with SEAMAAC for another Vote Safe pop-up this Saturday, October 30th. Join them at Mifflin Square Park to make your voting plan and be a part of their get out the vote efforts (plus free music and food!). And if you want advice and ideas for holding your own community event, reach out.

Vote Safe Pop-up
October 30th, 3-6:30pm
500 Wolf St. (Mifflin Square Park)

Check out more upcoming Better Civics projects here.



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Here's what you need to know

Don’t wait! Plan to drop off your mail-in ballot at an early voting center on or before November 3.

Of course you can—taking all Covid-19 precautions—vote in person November 3. Find your polling place (which may have changed) here.

And make sure you’re prepared:


Better Civics: Meeting People Where They Are

We hosted a block party during a pandemic, and it was great

Better Civics: Meeting People Where They Are

We hosted a block party during a pandemic, and it was great

VideoWhen the pandemic hit, all of the things we love about civic engagement were put on pause: door-knocking, civic association meetings, community gatherings and the conversations that happen between strangers on the street. We’ve written about this in previous columns and it’s something that’s always on our minds.

Naturally (or unnaturally?) get-out-the-vote efforts shifted to almost totally online. At first, there were reports of political organizations and candidates opting out of in-person canvassing. There are a number of amazing organizations that have risen to the challenge of going virtual; we applaud their quick pivots. But it cannot be denied that by moving communications online, many people remain left behind.

We should all be hyper-aware of the digital divide here in Philly and around the country. The gap is not just about access to tech. With the amount of disinformation being disseminated online, it is about one’s ability to know where and how to seek out information and which accounts to follow on social media to get real, fact-based information.

Sure, with the availability of voting by mail, it’s easier than ever to vote in Philadelphia. But according to a recent report from The Inquirer/ProPublica, while the “new law has enhanced access for middle-class and affluent voters,” the report goes on to say that “more than 392,000 Philadelphians had requested general election mail ballots by Oct. 20. In the 10 highest-income zip codes, 47% of voters have requested mail ballots. {While} in the city’s 10 lowest-income areas, only 27% of voters have done so.” A contributing factor: the way the information is being delivered—or not being delivered.

Do SomethingPhiladelphians get their information from their neighbors, their block captains, the local business owners—all within their hyper-local communities. So, taking a cue from the incredible work the Philadelphia Census has done during the pandemic, Better Civics decided to do something that at the time felt kind of, well, wild:

We decided to host in-person events during a pandemic.

We weren’t alone. Organizations like SEAMAAC, UrbanSEEK, and others also recognized the importance of weighing the risks and talking with people face-to-face. So we masked up, bought a bulk order of branded hand sanitizers, and hit the streets to talk with residents about voting, dubbing our event “Vote Safe” and hosting the first one on Sunday, October 11, at Smith Playground, in partnership with Unity in the Community, led by South Philly superstar Anton Moore.

We hosted a block party during a pandemic, and it was great
Vote Safe pop-up October 11th at Smith Playground. Photo by Meredith Edlow

Better Civics has since planned and executed three socially distant get-out-the-vote events, with more in the making. We follow all CDC-guidelines for outdoor gatherings including social distancing, wearing masks and having reduced crowds.

Our events serve as a resource hub to encourage voter engagement. They are “pop-ups” with informational materials, giveaways, and we have a DJ and free food from local food trucks. We are meeting people where they are, listening to them, answering their very specific questions, and helping them make a personal plan to be active—the very idea on which our organization was founded.

So what was it like to plan and execute our first in-person event, a block party, which is the pillar of community gatherings in Philadelphia? It was thrilling. And stressful. And caused a lot of anxiety—we wanted to make sure that what we were doing was the right decision. Would people show up? Would too many people show up? If they did come, would they be safe? Would someone get sick? Would we all get sick? Is this a truly bad idea? But something magical happened as we started planning, and it all came together.

Here, our take-aways (psst: we are eager and excited to share additional information with any group who’s interested):

Everyone wanted to be involved. We had an incredible amount of support, both financially and through in-kind resources from big organizations like All Voting is Local and Planned Parenthood’s Shout Your Vote campaign, to more grassroots groups like Shape Up the Vote and Congregations Affiliated to Strengthen Elections (CASE). Community organizers were hungry to get back into action, and we were able to present them with an opportunity that was thoughtful and safe.

We created spaces for people to feel safe. Safety has always been our number-one priority with our events. From the start, we put the word SAFE into the title, so people already knew before they had to ask; and we had language in all of our promotional materials encouraging people to wear masks, practice “safe six,” and be conscious of the pandemic at hand.

We are meeting people where they are, listening to them, answering their very specific questions, and helping them make a personal plan to be active.

We also provided free PPE and advertised that we would do so in advance. We bought branded hand sanitizers and pens so everyone could protect themselves while filling out forms and signing up to vote, volunteer and work the polls. We had safety signs around the event, and most importantly, we asked for cooperation. If someone wasn’t wearing a mask, or if a crowd was forming, we had our volunteers kindly present the challenge and ask people to be safe. There were no fights or outrages in defiance.

We got people IN and OUT! Unlike pre-Covid events, there was no lingering. The more the event looked full, the quicker we got people on the move. But we all still had a blast. We had a DJ playing music and a food truck giving out wrapped sandwiches to eat on the go.

Custom HaloIn addition to the free PPE, we had cool voting-related giveaways and we encouraged guests to take extras to bring back to their friends and family. In addition to each event, we send canvassers out in the surrounding neighborhoods to knock on doors and drop literature. These tactics combined allowed us to have a significant reach without overcrowding the physical event space.

Most importantly, we got people talking about voting and civic engagement. Never forget that people are yearning for in-person, human interaction. It is days like these when we can convene communities to support each other, that we truly love our work.

One gentleman came to the event with his vote-by-mail ballot and it wasn’t “dressed” properly. We were able to save his ballot! Another person was waiting for their ballot to arrive, and we were able to direct them to a satellite election office nearby. We helped people secure rides to the polls, reminded people to use the security envelope, and answered the endless questions about this confusing and overwhelming election season.

We also talked with and listened to people who had not previously committed to voting and convinced them to make it to the ballot box this year. These are conversations and questions that may not have been addressed through an Instagram post or a phone bank call. It took in-person interaction to build trust and comfort levels to have honest conversations about the very personal act of voting.

Better Civics will continue to talk with residents online and offline about the importance of civic engagement and voter participation. We encourage all organizers to continue to do the work and have these conversations now and after November 3. And if you want to do a safe, socially distant and responsible in-person event, reach out to us; we’d love to talk with you.

Jen Devor and Megan R. Smith are co-founders of Better Civics, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to revolutionizing civic engagement and voter participation.

It’s election season in Philadelphia. Are you all set to vote?

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