You may have seen her diaries here under the byline of msblucow. Her blogging at Venice For Change has a significant influence on local politics in the Los Angeles area, and politicians and candidates either love her or fear her. If they're smart, they do both at the same time. Marta is a wizard behind the lens of a camera, and if I use one more of her photos for my Facebook profile, I have every confidence she'll start charging me for the privilege. I've seen her photos drive entire narratives for campaigns in a way only the most iconic visual imagery can do.
But what sets Marta apart from many others is the recognition of a simple fact: No matter what happens online, the essence of being a community organizer usually involves getting off of the blogs and into the streets. That's why every two years, she organizes a voter registration drive at a well-attended local streets festival in her neighborhood of Venice, California.
No matter how large a voice one may have online, there really isn't anything quite like the feeling of helping a new citizen register and see the excitement in his face about knowing that he'll be able to have a voice in American civic discourse. Few things can rival telling a felon that no matter what the law is in Arizona, out in the Golden State we let people who have paid their debt to society and are off parole have a voice in our democracy again, and seeing the tear in his eye because you told him what nobody else would. Even something as mundane as helping someone who won't be in town on election day get a ballot abroad is incredibly rewarding. Between Marta, me and the dozen other volunteers working the booth that day, we registered over four hundred people. That is four hundred people who may not have gotten the chance to cast a ballot otherwise: Four hundred different stories, ranging from people who had moved across the world to people who had moved across the street, and all eager for the opportunity to vote for the people they want to represent them from the highest office in the land to the lowest office on the ballot.
Now, some may say that it doesn't really matter in deep-blue California: After all, Barack Obama will win the state easily, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein will coast to reelection without lifting a finger. But there is so much more than just the top of the ticket: In the Venice area alone, for instance, longtime Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman is being challenged by a Republican-turned-independent who is spending millions to try to buy a seat in Congress. Just next door to the South is the swing Assembly District Democrats will need to win if we are to gain the super-majority we need to actually govern the state. And even in a state as large as California, we know that grassroots efforts to register and educate progressive voters could make the difference between whether the odious Proposition 32 passes and takes away the voices of working men and women in the state, or whether Democrats and progressive of all stripes beat back this right-wing affront to democracy.
Not every state has the same laws and deadlines as we do on the West Coast, and some deadlines have unfortunately already passed. But even if there is absolutely no contested issue you can think of at any level this upcoming November, consider spending whatever time your state laws still allow to get out on the ground and get new voters signed up to participate in the fundamental exercise of democracy. You might find it to be a reward in and of itself.