By George Vernon
Voter registration now a focus of LGBT-centric organization
The San Diego Democrats for Equality, with a 41-year history of advocating for the LGBT community, is about to embark on their largest endeavor yet.
With the help of a $78,000 grant from businessman and philanthropist Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate political action committee, the group is now charged with registering 4,000 voters before the November election.
Club President William Rodriguez-Kennedy shared the news at their monthly meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25. The announcement was met with a long round of applause as Rodriguez-Kennedy noted that the project is unprecedented for similar clubs in San Diego County.
“In terms of scale, this is unheard of,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “Democratic Clubs register voters, organize and contribute volunteers, time, talent and treasure to the party and campaigns all the time, but never on this scale.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy said this marks the first time any Democratic Club in the county will have over $100,000 in income and expenses.
“This is the first time any [local Democratic] club will have hired a staff of 10 to implement a professional campaign to register and educate voters,” he said. “The sophistication and professional nature of this program, as well as our intent to empower our community, youth, students, and disadvantaged communities, is simply unprecedented.”
NextGen Climate supports organizations and campaigns that register progressive voters, while also working to combat climate change. Steyer, who previously founded a successful California business, left to work full-time on nonprofit and advocacy efforts. He serves as president of NextGen Climate, which he launched in 2013 to prevent climate disaster and promote prosperity for all Americans.
Using the grant funds, the club has leased office space in Mission Valley, and will hire organizers to carry out the goals of the project. The first staff member, who will serve as field director, has already been hired. Rodriguez-Kennedy is in the process of bringing on more staff and volunteers have begun moving into the office space.
Steyer was first introduced to the Democrats for Equality group when he was invited to speak to their membership several months ago. Rodriguez-Kennedy said Steyer spoke about his philanthropic and civic work and shortly after the meeting, the club found itself on a list of those requesting grants from NextGen Climate to assist with voter registration efforts.
“We were considering a proposal for something like $10,000, but [NextGen Climate’s] staff encouraged us to think big, so we put together a $78,000 program,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said.
While Rodriguez-Kennedy wasn’t able to speak to the decision-making process of Steyer and his committee, he said the proposal submitted presented the Dems for Equality’s legacy, its strong financial footing, and its ability to front costs and start the program immediately. He said he believes these factors likely played a key role in the proposal’s approval.
The quick issuance of the grant will create some challenges for Democrats for Equality — primarily related to the short amount of time left until Election Day — as registering 4,000 voters is no easy task; but Rodriguez-Kennedy is confident that their efforts will make a difference in the November election cycle.
“We don’t have much time, but if we pull off the program and build strong relationships, we will have a measurable impact on the immediate election and we may be able to attract donors to continue our community organization and coalition building efforts,” the 29-year-old former Marine said.
Another goal of the grant is to strengthen coalitions between the local Democratic clubs.
“Oftentimes when clubs are approached by campaign organizers, the conversation is focused on how that particular club can help campaign X or candidate Y win their race,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “We are reaching out to clubs to see how we can bolster their efforts and how we can register more voters as part of our efforts.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy said that news of this effort — to have multiple clubs working together on the common goal of turning out as many voters as possible — has been received by many club leaders as “a refreshing change.”
The Mission Valley campaign office, located in the Camino Park Office Building at 2667 Camino Del Rio South, #203, will hold its grand opening Sunday, Sept. 18, from noon-2 p.m.
Their next order of business will be to solicit volunteers to register, educate, and canvass voters. Rodriguez-Kennedy said that anyone who interested in volunteering for this effort should call 619-269-1007 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and an organizer will be in touch.
It’s unclear whether the office will remain open and the program continue following this election cycle, but club leaders will consider that possibility at a later date. For more information about the organization, visit democratsforequality.org.
—George Vernon is a local freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.