Archive for October, 2008

Who Isn’t Voting?

I wanted to share an article where I was interviewed about Engage Her on the Feministing.com site about the upcoming elections. As more people hear about our film, Engage Her and our organization, we are discussing many issues surrounding minority women and our impact on this election. More to come:
Mable Yee: Who isn’t voting?


Through EngageHer.org and documentary film Engage Her: Getting minority women to lead and vote, founder and CEO Mable Yee is working to get women to the polls — especially women of color — millions are registered to vote but don’t cast their votes. So why do all those undecideds get so much attention?

Just 10 days to go till the big vote for the next prez. Here’s Mable…

With now less than two weeks to go until the big election day, it seems like every major news network has their own special Ohio independent voters’ focus group. But according to your documentary, Engage Her: Getting minority women to lead and vote, millions of women of color are registered to vote, but aren’t not voting. What are the latest statistics and why do you think the mainstream media is not drawing more attention to these registered voters who don’t feel like they should even vote?
In the 2004 general elections, from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • 47% (1.5 mil) of Asian-American U.S women citizens did not register & vote.
  • 40% (3.3 mil) of Latina U.S. women citizens did not register & vote.
  • 28% (3.7 mil) of African-American women citizens did not register & vote.

Total: 8.5 million citizens who are women of color could have registered and voted but didn’t.

I think the mainstream media doesn’t cover nor care about these huge populations because women typically are ignored or invisible to the media. In this election cycle first with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, there was a lot of attention paid to women, but it was primarily white women. When the coverage turned to Barack Obama, it was about African Americans/black voters but they covered primarily the men. If they spoke about an African-American woman, it was Michelle Obama and they heaped a lot of negativity and criticism on her, oftentimes ignoring her strong qualities. Oprah is another big factor, but it was all about the celebrity factor.

When you look at the press coverage, it’s about the black voters vs. the white voters. More increasingly they talk about the brown vote, but no major women are discussed. The Asians receive virtually no attention along with the Native Americans, who are routinely ignored.

Yet if you look at the changing multicultural landscape of this country, with California leading the way, we can’t continue to ignore these populations. So called “minorities” collectively comprise the majority in California. By 2042, the Census Bureau is predicting “minorities” will become the majority nationwide.

The impacts and ramifications upon our society will be widespread and far reaching.
We all know that the majority of mainstream media outlets is controlled by white, majority men who dominate and control the news topics, content and distribution. The critical factor is the rise of “multiculturalism” which replaces the term minority and communities of color and how blended or people with multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds will impact the needs of our country.

Engage Her discusses the different histories and contexts of where many women of color are coming from when deciding whether to vote — racist anti-suffrage tactics in the U.S., corrupt democracies in many women’s home countries, language barriers, sexism — just to name a few. It’s amazing many women even vote in the first place. Can you give some examples of how these contexts play out in real life, and what you think get-out-the-vote groups should keep in mind when trying to mobilize women of so many different contexts?
We learned that women are very focused on the issues that affect their everyday lives. In their 24 hour day “window,” women have to deal with taking care of their families, work, going to school, health, paying the bills, feeding their children and more. The politicians and political campaigns do a terrible job of telling these women how they are going to provide solutions and make their personal lives better. Women care about issues that are immediately on their daily radars:

  • “My child is sick, he can’t go to school, I don’t have childcare, if I stay home from work, I’ll get fired because I don’t have sick leave, what do I do?”
  • “My husband got laid off from his job, we’re not going to make ends meet, how will we pay our bills, how will we feed our kids?
  • “My mother just got diagnosed with cancer and she doesn’t have health-care coverage, how will we seek treatment and how will we pay for it?
  • I just graduated from college, none of my friends can find jobs in their fields with their degrees and we have huge student loans to pay off.

So get-out-the-vote groups have to relate the everyday issues to voting and the power of the vote. We tell women: You hire and fire the president of the United States. If you don’t like the job that this president is doing, then you fire him/her by not hiring the person who’s going to continue the same policies. You also hire the next president and you have to hold him/her accountable to do the right things for our country and fix the problems that directly impact you, your families and your communities. Vote for the person who’s going to take care of you and your family.

We also tell groups to tell women “You can just vote for the President and skip the rest.” Many immigrants or multicultural women are confused by the ballots, initiatives and are afraid to vote for the wrong person. So they end up not voting at all. We emphasize to keep it simple and vote only for the people or issues you care about.

Emphasizing that younger children help their parents register and inform them about the nominees, issues, etc. and bring them to the polls really helps. Having the encouragement, support and education from their trusted family members makes a huge difference.

Telling women to remind all their friends, families and groups to vote makes a big difference. Women are big networkers and hugely influential in their communities. When the mother votes, everyone votes.

What are some anti-suffrage tactics being used today to prevent certain groups from voting and what should someone do if they suspect their voting rights are being threatened?
We are hearing about people being purged from the polls or hearing Robo calls that can scare them. We encourage that people go to the polls with someone else in case they run into any voter intimidation tactics and they can insist on their rights. Oftentimes immigrants don’t want to raise a fuss or create a problem, but they have to know that they must assert their right to vote. The League of Women Voters publishes an easy voter’s guide that simplifies the ballots and does it in seven different languages. Other groups publish voter’s rights guides so people know to insist on voting in their balloting area.

The important thing is to go to the polls, be patient, wait in line and complain if you think you are being treated unfairly. Many people are going to out of state polling areas to monitor, watch and ensure that fair practices are taking place. Ask for help.

Some women think they shouldn’t vote because they don’t have the authority to vote — don’t have enough information and education needed to cast a vote on a given issue, let alone the highest office in the country. What do you say to women who hold these beliefs?
Vote only for the things you know about. If you only want to vote for the president, then do it. You don’t have to vote for everything and don’t feel guilty if you don’t know the issues. There are plenty of people who know less about the ballot than we do, but they vote because their husbands, church, or associations tell them to. So we tell them to go ahead and vote and ignore the rest of the issues and problems. Feel good about voting and knowing your vote does make a difference.

How did you find yourself launching EngageHer.org and later the documentary? What and/or who was your catalyst?
Having come from a corporate and technology world where I worked primarily with white male decision makers, I always wanted to change and get more women and multicultural women to step up and become leaders. When I saw the numbers about voting participation and how abysmal they were, I knew that I wanted to find out why and then make a documentary to tell the stories of why these women weren’t voting. Unlike the corporate world where there are a ton of issues to keep us from ascending the corporate ladder, voting is an activity anyone can do with virtually no barriers.

I started by finding a filmmaker and teaming up with her to create the documentary which defied all odds and timing. We were told it would take $200,000 and two years and we did it in nine months with zero outside funds, a lot of help, volunteers and supporters. Along the way, all these women wanted to join us because we were awakening a social consciousness within them and making them think about why their mothers, grandmothers and parents didn’t vote when they came to this country or when they grew up. As a result, we decided to launch an online organization called EngageHer.org to educate, activate and motivate women of all races and colors to join us and collectively use the Internet to make a difference. We have young, old, first to fifth generation immigrants, all types of women who want to join us and make a difference. It has been an overwhelmingly positive and movement whose time has come.

Do you remember the first time you voted for president? What was your context?

I first voted in 1972 when Nixon ran for re-election against George McGovern. Coming from the whole Vietnam War demonstrations, Third World Liberation, etc. you can imagine which way I voted. It was a tumultuous time. In addition, my parents both came from China and never voted, never talked about voting and never stressed the importance of civic engagement. It was not until I went to UC Berkeley in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War’s escalation that my social and political consciousness took a big awakening.

Any last words on the right to vote?
If you are happier off today than you were in 2000 when there was no Iraq war, gas cost less than $2.00, No Child Left Behind didn’t exist and we had a federal surplus, then you know who to vote for. If you are worse off, then you know who to vote for. However, if you sit out the vote, then you just voted….automatically. You voted to continue the status quo. Because change is going to require a lot of votes in one direction or the other.

Vote for your children, yourself, your families and your future.

Posted by Celina – October 25, 2008, at 12:21AM | in Activism , Election , Interviews , Personal Is Political , Politics , Women of Color , Work

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On Friday, Oct. 17 the Women’s Media Center http://www.womensmediacenter.com posted this exclusive article I wrote for them. I hope you enjoy it and forward it to any friends or organizations you think would benefit from it.  As a member of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices program, I will be publishing articles and providing interviews to media outlets about the importance and impact of women of color to our society.  Mable

How Can 30+ Million Women Be Invisible?   by Mable F. Yee

October 17, 2008

At great consequence to our nation, appallingly high numbers of women of color have not felt compelled to go to the polls in the past. The author set out to find out why and what to do about it.

This election cycle, media pundits and analysts have blanketed the coverage ad nausea with discussions of the black versus the white vote. They occasionally address the brown vote. But the conversation remains largely superficial: What happened to the women?

How come no one ever hears about the Asian American women and other women of color who happen to number over 30 million registered voters in the United States today?   Perhaps it’s the startling revelation that in the 2004 elections 70 percent of Asian Americans, 69 percent of Latinas and 40 percent of African American registered women voters FAILED to vote.

Think back about the 2000 elections and how the United States Supreme Court stopped the recount and declared Bush the winner by 537 votes.  What kind of impact could these women of color have had on our 2000 elections if even 2 percent more women turned out to vote?

After learning about the high percentage of women of color who failed to turn out to vote, I spent nine months exploring the complex reasons why this large portion of our population doesn’t vote.  After many interviews, we were able to produce a documentary called “Engage Her.”  The reasons we discovered are complex and fall into three distinct areas: cultural, social and political.

We found cultural constrains among women emigrating from countries where there was no democracy, where they lived under dictatorial leadership or tyrannical despots that seized political power by force.  They learned to distrust the government and never developed a sense of civic engagement or individual power exercised through voting.

On the social level, many women traditionally didn’t vote in their homeland countries or even when they emigrated to the United States. Their parents may never have voted and therefore didn’t reinforce the civic duty to vote.

Beyond the immigrant community, political habits and gender politics also affect women. They told us their husbands oftentimes discouraged them from voting by saying that their votes wouldn’t count and that they shouldn’t even try.

For each of these categories, there are far more reasons to be explored. But for some women whom we learned about in our interviews, the reason was amazingly simple: no one asked them to vote.

In order to engage this electorate, the most important thing to recognize is that women of color and ethnicities are not monolithic cultures.  Take the Latinas for example. Latinos or Hispanic is a convenient label the government puts on people who grow up with a Spanish heritage.  Yet Puerto Ricans differ greatly from Peruvians or Mexicans. While they may speak Spanish as a common denominator, their cultural differences can be quite vast.  Asian American/Pacific Islanders is an even more complex group of cultures.  We’re talking upwards of 26 different ethnic cultures including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Malaysian and so forth.  Unlike Latinos, they don’t even share the same language in any unifying fashion.   Is it any wonder that the AAPI communities are so diverse and difficult to coordinate as a large voting bloc?

Why is this important and why should we care?  In most families, women are the caretakers, nurturers and the major decision maker in the household.  If the women vote, they will influence their husbands, children, sisters and communities—and future generations as well.  More often than not, women of color occupy the lower half of the socio economic scale, so issues of survival, putting food on the table, educating their children and finding adequate housing is uppermost in their minds. They are also concerned with the environment and such social justice issues as immigration and reproductive rights.

But when politicians and media commentators talk about the “$700 billion bailout for Wall Street” or the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, how relevant is the presentation of such issues to helping these women solve their everyday concerns?  Do they care more about whether Sarah Palin shoots moose from helicopters or making sure their children get adequate education from the failing public school system?

We continue to ignore or fail to engage this large population of voters and household decision makers at great risk to our democracy.  In the U.S. population today, minorities represent 34 percent, but that will grow to a majority within a few generations. By 2042, Latinos are projected to account for 30 percent overall, African Americans 14 percent and Asian American/Pacific Islanders more than 9 percent.

Still, when the mainstream media do get around to the issue of women’s needs they generally survey non-minority women. They rarely talk about women of color unless it is a report that is specifically focused on them.  Because most of the traditional media just “doesn’t get it,” women of color become further marginalized and disenfranchised.

We women of color need to be “Invisible No More” and work together with all women to demand that attention be paid to the issues that are of paramount concern to our families, children and communities.  That means identifying key concerns, seeking solutions to our problems within our communities and compelling the media and politicians to take notice.  Our influence in terms of consumer buying power, increasing representation in the work force and demand for services will only escalate in the decades ahead.  We need to be “at the table” to demand our fair share of both government investment and media attention.

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The best part about attending the screenings of our new documentary, Engage Her: Getting minority women to lead and vote, is the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of audiences.  On Wednesday, October 15 we had 4 different screenings in a diverse group of settings. It was screened at De Anza community college, at a Silicon Valley business women’s network meeting, St. Peter’s Christian Methodist Episcopal  Church and at a jointly sponsored screening by the Equal Rights Advocates, Women’s Foundation of California and Pacific, Gas and Electric.  I was able to attend two of the screenings and answer questions from the audience about the film and the issues that it raises. I was also amazed at the diversity, reach and appeal for our film from the grassroot communities, community colleges to the corridors of Corporate America.

Most importantly, I find that I have to prepare for each screening’s post discussion in a different fashion. I’m constantly framing the issues that are of utmost importance to my audience and tying the power of voting as the answer for addressing many of these issues.  For example, at the college campuses, the students constantly hear people saying “You need to register to vote” or “It’s your duty to vote”.  After a while, the call falls onto deaf ears and the kids become numb because there’s no specific benefit tied to the action of voting.  Instead, I have to look at those issues that are going to severely impact these students. I have to explain to them if the next President who goes into the White House doesn’t make decisions nor support issues they care about, what the dire effects would be.

For example, students don’t realize that the recent analysis of the $700 Billion bailout is indicating that all taxpayers may be paying a $200,000 tax bill over the years ahead to paydown this bailout.  That’s an eye opening comment when students realize that they personally are going to be  be hit with this enormous burden.  They will have to  bail out investment bankers and financial institutions that were allowed to operate in an unregulated fashion making incredibly bad business decisions.  They are going to be stuck having to pay for these irresponsible mistakes. That $200,000 tax bills translates into a longer time for the students to pay off their own student loans, or impacts their down payment and mortgage payments for the first home they dreamed of owning after they graduated from college and started working.

You can see it in their eyes in the audience when they hear this statement and they shake their heads in disbelief. Nobody’s really “connected the dots” for them. Nobody’s telling them that the repercussions of a government that is not doing their job and regulating critical business institutions will seriously & negatively impact their daily lives and their future dreams. We need to wake them up to this reality and explain to them that voting gives the students the ability to put into our White House, Congress and Senate responsible leaders who will help re-build our country and set us all back into the right path. When the issues are framed in a manner that relates directly to their daily lives, people get fired up and walk out of our screenings determined to vote and tell all their friends, families and communities the real reason why they need to vote.

That is our job. All of our jobs. We all need to be informed on the issues, translate the actions of elected officials into the effect they are having on our daily lives. It is astounding to me that nobody is demanding that  this current administration be held accountable for the damage and destruction of our core democratic ideals and the erosion of our economy that they inherited with a surplus in 2000. It is time for all Americans to rise up, vote and demand action to solve the problems that affect us all so drastically. We all need to reach out to other family, friends and even strangers to discuss these issues. We need to make everyone aware of the direct translation of how their votes will empower putting someone into the White House who can change our downward path and most importantly hold them accountable for the next four years moving forward.  Mable

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Exciting news! We are having our film broadcast on a widely watched Mandarin news channel program called Dialogue 360  hosted and produced by Jay Stone Shih tomorrow night. On Thursday and Friday, October 16 & 17 our entire documentary will be broadcast in two segments. This is historic to be able to have a full documentary screened on a half hour news channel. Dialogue 360 is watched by a huge audience of Chinese Mandarin speakers and our film will be shown with subtitles.

There’s a story behind the making of the translation. It was a global project where we found a Chinese woman, Wu Nan who helped us quickly translate our document into Mandarin. I found her through a personal friend and famous blogger, Xiao Qiang who is the editor of China Digital Times one of the most widely read news portals on China related events. Xiao is also an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley so he recommended his former journalism student Wu Nan who returned to Beijing and we made the connection.

After the show is broadcast in English with mandarin subtitles, you will still be able to view it on their website archives.  Tell any friends who speak Chinese/Mandarin to watch.  Mable

Here’s the press release about this important broadcast and hope you tune in.


Engage Her Announces Broadcast of Documentary in Mandarin

Publicly Acclaimed Documentary Motivates Women & Minorities to Take Political Action

October 14, 2008 (Berkeley, CA) – “Engage Her: Getting Minority Women to Lead and Vote”, a 48-minute documentary produced to inspire women minorities to participate in the political process, will be broadcast on the Dialogue 360 show in Mandarin. Jay Stone Shih is the producer and news anchor of this highly regarded program. The half-hour news show is carried on cable to millions of Mandarin-speaking viewers. The documentary will be broadcast in two segments, on October 16, and October 17, 2008 from 10:30-11:00 p.m. It is broadcast on Channel 38 or Comcast Channel 21 in Northern California.

Mable F. Yee, CEO & co-founder of the social action start-up EngageHer.org , hailed the broadcast as an historic outreach to the huge population of Chinese-speaking voters. The Chinese is the largest single community in the national Asian American Pacific Islander population. The film, co-produced by Yee and Director Maria Victoria Ponce, interviews leading minority women, including Germaine Wong, Chairperson of Chinese for Affirmative Action; Janis Hirohama, League of Women Voters California President; Lillian Galedo, Executive Director of Filipinos for Affirmative Action; Dr. Gwendolyn Mok, Associate Professor at San Jose State University; Margaret Ouye, Internment camp detainee; Congresswoman Barbara Lee; social activist Dolores Huerta and non-voters. The film shares their personal stories and explores the complex reasons why nearly 70 percent of Asian Americans and Latinas, and 40 percent of African American women, failed to vote in the 2004 elections. The movie trailer is available at www.engageher.org.

Getting the 30+ million minority women in the U.S. engaged in voting and leadership spurred Yee and Mina Wilson, a community activist and education consultant, to form EngageHer.org.

Yee says the organization was born out of the need to bring a voice to minority women, who are invisible in the media and lack adequate representation in our government, “These are the women whose children and families are most impacted by our inadequate education, health, and work policies, and yet our issues and concerns are not addressed. It’s as if we don’t exist.”

“We will use Engage Her as a platform to educate and activate women, minorities and communities to step up and influence our nation’s policies. Without our involvement, we lack a real democracy and our issues continue to be ignored,” Yee adds. “By creating a film that shows women discussing the cultural, social and political barriers that prevent or influence their voting behavior, is crucial to accelerating the process of engaging this huge block of voters and future leaders. To have our film translated with Chinese subtitles allows us to engage this population of voters in their own language so that they can better understand the reasons and need to participate in the voting and political process.”

In addition to the documentary, Engage Her is partnering with scores of national and regional minority, women and leadership organizations, including Mobilize Immigrant Voters, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Votolatino.org, Colorofchange.org, Momsrising.org, League of Women Voters, The White House Project, Women’s Media Center, Democracy for America and more. They will be collaborating to develop new initiatives to address their key issues of concern: Education, Health, the Economy, the Environment and Social Justice.

“We’ve had enough of candidates coming every four years to solicit our vote, and then disappearing until the next election without addressing the real issues that exist within our communities” says Mina Wilson, Vice President.

By bringing minority women’s voices to the table, EngageHer.org plans to achieve political representation and hold elected officials accountable for their actions. The nonprofit organization is harnessing the speed, scale, and reach of the Internet to rapidly engage members and leverage its members to demand change.

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As I watch the debates and listen to the media talking about the campaign, I can’t help but notice how there’s such a huge disjoint.  While the media headlines talk about $700 Billion bailouts for catastrophic business decisions and practices that is taking our economy to its heels, where is the attention paid to the reality of the people in their homes?  As a mother, the purchaser of the family goods and the decision maker of the household, I go shopping everyday.  It’s unbelievable to see how all the prices of commodities, foods, gas, heating bills, basic services have increased dramatically. As I fill up my gas tank and it costs $78 because the price of gas has risen precipitously, the loaf of bread that I never thought about costs $4.49… I hate to even think about my winter heating bills that we  will have to face.

Where is the relief for all of us, the voters, the middle class, the lower socio economic class that is struggling to make ends meet?  Everyday while I’m out talking to women, men, voters, non-voters about what the upcoming elections, or talking to parents while I drop off my kindergarteners, we’re all astonished at the spiraling costs of daily living costs.  While Wall street and the bankers are being bailed out with our future tax money, who is helping us out?

I hear people talking every day about how they have to make conscientious decisions of what they’ve got to cut back in order to pay their monthly bills.  We’re talking the basics here. Not whether or not they had to forego expensive vacations and drove somewhere this summer because they couldn’t afford expensive airfare.  We’re talking the basics.  Like, having to delay paying their energy bills so they can make their mortgage payments or having to cut back on the types of food they buy at the grocery store and keeping to the basic items. Even though they know  that organic foods are better for their families, they simply can’t afford the $2.49 head of romaine lettuce for their family salads and lettuce for their kids’s sandwiches.

I can’t help but think about these politicians who probably never have to fill up and pay for a tank of gas, or pay for expensive healthcare premiums, or buy their groceries, or buy clothes and shoes for their children, or take care of their aging and elderly parents.  For people, especially women who are the major caretakers in our society, we’re being squeezed,,,,,hard. Where is our relief from the effects of the recesssion that the politicians are loathe to talk about, but we all know we are living in our day to day lives?

In order for us to get help from our elected officials, we need to help ourselves.  We all can do that by looking at the issues we care about, inspecting the track records of the politicians that represent us and how they’ve voted on issues that are important to us. You can’t listen to the rhetoric and the campaign promises they all make. If you look at their track records and see how they’ve voted, you’ll have a far better indicator of what they will be doing on our behalf in the years moving forward.

There has never been a more critical and historic election than the one on November 4.  Our economy is in tatters, our children aren’t getting the education we were all promised and are taxed for, people are being foreclosed and evicted from their homes, record unemployment and people losing jobs by the thousands across our country and we face two wars overseas. Young voters who can vote for the first time and the young people under 30 will have a major impact on this election because they are registering in huge numbers across the country.  Moving forward from this election, they will become the significant group of voters who will make the huge impact on elections as they grow and mature in future election cycles. As the baby boomers age, this group of voters will exercise their clout and determine the issues in the years ahead.

It is critical that all people, women, men, young first time eligible voters, occasional voters, non-voters  make sure they get out there and vote for the people who will go to the White House, the Congress and the Senate to represent and vote for laws that will help provide us relief and services in our daily lives. For the communities of color, infrequent voters or first time voters you can’t sit back and think you’re vote doesn’t count.  It does…in a big way. It’s the one important thing  that we all can do to exercise our power and authority, by voting the next set of elected officials, from the President, Congress representative, Senator all the way down to your local officials who are going to make a difference for us. We can’t sit back and complain any more.  We have to do something, and that something is to vote.

Let’s all make a difference this time and make sure you go out and tell 10 more people they’ve got to vote and help make the change we all need.  Get activated, care about our future join and help us convince more people to that together, we can all create the solutions we so desperately need.  Take care….Mable

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