Building Power in Frontline Communities

As an anchor organization in bridging the rural / urban divide, Georgia WAND is building power in frontline communities by cultivating leadership and civic engagement. We increase knowledge, leadership, skills, confidence, and the participation necessary for community members to speak for themselves and make U.S. democracy more robust and participatory. We

began doing civic engagement work as a tool to build power in the 2000’s. We launched our We Count! Civic Engagement program and co-founded ProGeorgia, a state civic engagement table. We were invited into Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit V (NPU-V) where we connected the local struggles of a historically Black community starved of public resources to the communities in Burke County, who suffer elevated levels of radiological contaminants due to the high levels of public investment in the nuclear weapons and energy industries. We focus on people directly affected by environmental oppression, systemic violence, and a lack of political representation and economic opportunity. We focus on relationship building, collaboration, raising constituent voices, and building the pipeline for next generation leadership.

Voter engagement is key to reaching people in affected communities who are afraid to speak out about the impact of their job or environment on their health. We use civic engagement as a critical tool to advance environmental and economic justice. Therefore, it is imperative that local residents educate, build relationships with, and hold people in power accountable. Through voter registration, Get Out The Vote, voter education, program recruitment, leadership development training, opportunities to speak out and hold elected officials accountable, and critical education about intersectionality and power, our voter engagement work provides specific opportunities for residents to have their voices heard and votes cast to affect the issues facing their community.

A key reason women gave to Hart Research group in 2014 for why they didn’t vote was they didn’t believe their voices were important. They also cited not having enough information on critical issues or candidates. Women lack education about being civically engaged, including information about critical issues that affect their lives, including environmental regulatory policy, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy policy; national security and the ties between high levels of Pentagon spending and state violence and systemic racism. Georgia WAND works to is building a multiracial, intergenerational, transpartisan, cross-geographic electorate that hold elected officials accountable to protect people and the environment and to value peace over violence.

One of our core values is that the work must be led by people who are most affected by social and environmental injustices, whose expertise from lived experiences lead to a greater understanding of the crisis. Community members cite that elected officials rarely come to the community seeking input or votes – despite the fact that many of the public officials representing these communities are representative of the communities they’re serving. This shows that electing candidates is not enough. It is critical that residents have the political acumen, confidence, support, and opportunities to effectively educate elected officials—get to know them, hold them accountable—and make sure that their decisions and statements echo throughout the community. The problem goes beyond the ballot box: once people are sworn in, it is critical to pay attention to what elected officials are doing. In our targeted SW Atlanta precincts in NPUs V, T, and X, civic engagement metrics are low, especially voter registration. For example the precincts we are targeting average 13% unregistered New American Majority citizens (people of color, young people, new immigrants, LGBTQI individuals, women). At every turn our efforts are led and/or informed by people in frontline communities.