By: Elena Richardson, Grants Program Manager for The Fund for Santa Barbara
From Casa Magazine published January 30th, 2015.
Abysmally low voter turnout swept the electoral stage in 2014 with only a quarter of California’s registered voters casting a ballot. Recently, the Fund for Santa Barbara awarded a grant to CAUSE Action Fund (CAF) for their work to increase political participation among the people who most need representation. By focusing efforts on working-class people of color in low income neighborhoods, CAF “goes where no one else will go”, shares Marcos Vargas, Executive Director for CAF.
Based in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, CAUSE Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) nonpartisan not-for-profit dedicated to advancing progressive public policies that benefit working class families. CAF is the political action arm of CAUSE, a 501(c)(3). CAF began as the PUEBLO Action Fund (PAF) in 2000 and in January 2013 merged to create CAF. “This organization has such a deep history”, Vargas shares of PAF “both organizations bring so much to the table as we continue to grow.”
The mission of CAUSE is to build grassroots power to create social, economic, and environmental change in the Central Coast region, while CAUSE Action Fund engages in educational and electoral activity through grassroots organizing, educating voters, and engaging in legislative advocacy to accomplish this mission.
As a 501(c)(4), donations to CAF are not tax deductible; this limits potential funding sources for CAF. However, CAF accomplishes all it does because of its dedicated supporters, “people that donate to CAF believe that everyone should be able to participate in the electoral process”, explained Vargas.
“Really, what CAF is about is making democracy work”, shares Vargas. They do this by “engaging first-timers” like Eva Cedillo in Guadalupe. As a first time leader (CAF calls election volunteers leaders), Cedillo shared that her experience showed her that “all people have leadership skills.” This experience, Cedillo shares, has helped her “accomplish more goals, for myself and for my community”.
Anabel Merino, a former CAF Organizer and current CAF Leader shared that many of her volunteers were not able to vote themselves, “either because they were young students under 18, or because they were undocumented”. She went on to say that these volunteers “understand the importance of getting out the vote and the difference that it can make in their community on issues like transportation, schools, and housing”.
Organizer Rigoberto Gutierrez registering students to vote at Santa Barbara City College
By organizing low income neighborhoods, CAF reaches working class, low propensity voters. Rather than “robo-calls and glossy mailers”, CAF’s efforts focus on one-on-one voter conversations and a year-round candidate endorsement process led by working families “from housekeepers to high school students”.
How do they know it’s working? Director of Research, Cameron Yee, shares that if a voter has a conversation with a CAF Leader, they are more likely to vote. In the November 2014 Election, 60% of CAF-contacted voters turned out to vote, while the citywide voter turnout average was 44%. Over half of these voters were in “targeted precincts” (i.e. voters in low income neighborhoods).
Vargas shares that CAF’s work is “not just about winning elections”. By “empowering working class families to go out and talk to their neighbors about voting, CAF is working year-round to build power from the ground up for the long haul”.
For more information, please visit CAUSE Action Fund at: http://causeactionfund.org/
To learn more about the advocacy and lobbying work that nonprofits can safely engage in, please visit www.AFJ.org