On June 17th, 2023, the Juneteenth Market was hosted at the Rosewood Park on Rosewood Ave. The League of Women Voters was invited to register voters at this event, as well as take part in the festivities. It was a beautiful Saturday morning with vendors, rides, and a parade.
It was a fun-filled day meant to celebrate Juneteenth. Juneteenth is also known as America’s second Independence Day, as this is the day, June 19th, 1863, that the last enslaved African-Americans were freed. While the Emancipation Proclamation was officially made into law on January 1st, 1863,
also known as “Freedom’s Eve,” it could not (and in many cases would not) be made effective all over the country immediately. It was not until Union Troops marched into Galveston, Texas on that fateful day that everyone had been truly freed.
And this market was certainly a fantastic way to celebrate! There were many vendors and booths, platforming black-owned businesses and community services. There were rides, folx on horseback, and of course the parade, in which our Voter Registrar, Bruce Elfant participated. It was wonderful to see so many members of our community celebrate such an important event, as well as come together to support each other.
The League of Women Voters were invited to register voters at this event, and Travis County Voter Registration covered not only the League and their efforts, but also the events of the festive and important occasion of Juneteenth.
I spoke with Emil Hunziker, member of the League of Women Voters, longtime VDR for fifteen years, and VDR Lead for this event. I got the chance to speak with him after engaging with festival goers and potential voters. It was clear by the way he called out to folks, and spoke with them, that this was a deep passion of his.
He spoke about working with the League for a long time, and working with other VDRs to organize events to get people registered to vote.
Since Valerie Debill, long-time Super VDR, had taken her role at the League as the Voter Registration & Turnout Director, the League of Women Voters has gone back to their roots, Hunziker explained. “It’s about returning to the original focus,” he shared, “of not just focusing on the numbers registered to vote, but about getting people excited to vote!”
He went on to explain that it was not enough to simply register voters; it is important to enable citizens to get out there and vote. “It is important that we enable voters procedurally,” Hunziker went on, “that we educate folks on how to vote, and educate them about their rights.”
We ended our conversation on the importance of establishing the League of Women Voters at events such as the Juneteenth Celebration. Not just to register voters, but to keep the name of the League of Women Voters out there, and to truly connect with the community. He hopes to impart his many years of experience to the League and to the next generation of VDRs.
However, the League of Women Voters was not alone in their endeavor to register and educate voters. Covering the festivities of the Juneteenth Market, I came across another vendor, the Afro-Americana Collection. Amongst their provocative protest art, I also saw a sign to register voters. Upon seeing this, I had to speak with my fellow VDRs and organizers.
The fellow manning the booth, and his partner were Damond and Lilly. They were showing and selling their work for their socially conscious lifestyle brand the Afro-Americana Collection. The purpose of the work is to show the beauty of the Black experience, as well as showcase where we still fall short of our ideals as a country. Politics are incorporated in their art, according to Damond, because politics are intrinsically tied to the Black experience.
I spoke to Damond about his perspective on the relationship between protest and voting. “The way I see it,” he responded, “if you want to be engaged, the first line of defense is registering to vote and voting.”
He then went on to discuss how within the Black community, he saw a lot of disaffection and a lack of faith in the system, leading to a lack of voting. While he completely understands where this point of view comes from, he disagrees with it. From his perspective, voting for the lesser of two evils, means that there is still less evil. Damond hopes that his art can reach out to people; encourage them to vote and get involved.
When I mentioned my working with the League of Women Voters, he smiled, and said, “I love the League. We use their voting guides all the time.”
Having these conversations back to back, and engaging with the community at this event, truly reinforced my belief in the importance of not just registering voters, but also educating and engaging with voters. When it comes to voter registration, it is of course important to register voters. However, that is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is important that we educate voters about their rights, about upcoming elections, and how they can make change.