Kids Forward’s Race to the Polls
Empowering Voters of Color
|Wenona Wolf (l-r) and Chet Agni are leading Kids Forward’s
initiative to encourage voters to engage candidates on issues
involving race and disparities during the November 6th campaign.
the Polls, which is working to engage people on policy issues so that they can impact the agendas of political candidates. But instead of proscribing policies, Kids
Forward is listening to policy issues.
“This year, kind of in part due to our evolution and what we feel is most important, we decided that we wanted to do something a little bit different and a little bolder,”
Wolf said. “We chose to do our electoral advocacy work around racial justice. Another big reason is we don’t know how many other people are doing this exact
work. So we did a lot of research trying to find other organizations in other states, across the country and here in Wisconsin who are doing electoral advocacy
campaigns around race. And there weren’t many doing a campaign of this nature, getting people to talk about race. But there are a lot of organizations, predominantly
led by people of color that have long been doing this work and advocating their issues. We kind of envision Race to the Polls as something we can help lift up
messages and just get people talking and drawing people to the issues that all of these other great organizations in communities of color have long been doing.”
And they are them encouraging people to engage candidates with their issues and policy solutions.
“I think the bulk of it is going to be education and conversation around racial issues and having voters hold these candidates accountable to speak directly to some
of these issues,” Wolf said. “I think regardless of your party, candidates have gotten away with not talking about this. Especially in Wisconsin where it is
predominantly white, we think this can happen. We want our candidates to answer questions and to be able to talk about policy solutions related to our Native
American communities, our Hmong communities, our Black communities, our Latino communities and all communities of color. We also want them engaged in those
communities of color. We believe we can do this by getting voters engaged and educated and holding those leaders accountable.”
Race to the Polls takes voter empowerment to another level.
“We want to provide a platform for people to voice those concerns themselves,” said Chet Agni, Kids Forward’s communications and development associate. “I
think people in communities of color know what their lives and problems are. In terms of education, I don’t think we mean educating on issues. It’s more providing
resources for people in terms of here’s who is running, here’s how you can vote, here’s what voting means in Wisconsin, and here’s the rules and regulations such
as voter ID. But also just saying that here’s data that we have found in various reports and from various sources that show that we have these problems. We have
problems with racial disparities. We have differing outcomes for health and wellbeing for most of our communities of color compared to our white population in
Wisconsin. What does that mean to you? Whether you’re a white voter or a person of color, why should that matter to you? What do you think about that? What do you
want from your candidates or elected representatives to do something about that? What solutions do you want to see from them?”
Kids Forward is a statewide agency with limited resources. And so the best way to promote Race to the Polls is through social media.
“Our plan right now is just getting the word out about this campaign, creating additional campaigns, and connecting with people on social media,” Wolf said. “I think
that is where everyone is and it’s also a great place to hear, listen and see how communities of color are responding to elections, responding to candidates. We also
want to create spaces where people can have these bigger conversations about what issues we should be looking at. We have plans for using Twitter chats and
Facebook Live to reach out to people in Madison and throughout Wisconsin who are working directly on some of these issues. And I also think behind the scenes,
Kids Forward is working with other organizations and meeting with them to see how we can lift one another up or what we can do to amplify organizations of color
and the issues that are affecting them. One example is we’ve been talking to WISDOM about the campaign and some of the great work that they are doing on racial
justice and related to incarceration. We are figuring out what we can do to lift up their message and then direct voters to some of their work and say, ‘Look at these
issues. Here’s what they are saying is important and that voters and candidates should be paying attention to. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters runs an
amazing program called Native Vote where they actually go out in the field and talk to people in tribal communities and make sure they are voting and talk about the
issues that are important with them. We hope to reach out to them and see what we can do to work together and really get communities of color engaged in this
process and have their voice heard by voters and candidates and asking voters to amplify their voices and hold leaders accountable.”
Kids Forward is hoping to start a statewide conversation around race and disparity as it relates to the election.
“Two other methods that we do have already are on our website, which is racetothepolls.org,” Agni said. “We have a pledge to vote in November’s midterm
elections that people can send to voters. It’s also a pledge to vote for candidates who are committed to racial justice and prioritize racial justice. We hope people
will take the pledge and then share it with their friends and families and have these conversations with people in their lives. We also have a share your story feature
where people can give their name and say why they care about racial justice, why it is important to them and why they think that voting and thinking about racial
justice when they go to the polls is important. We’re hoping that we see people in the community, especially people in communities of color, voicing their concerns
and sharing their stories using this digital platform. We think it is going to be very valuable internally just to learn, but also to have people allow us to share it with
As a statewide organization, Kids Forward sees that it isn’t just about Madison and Milwaukee.
“I think we also have this misconception that people of color only live in Madison and Milwaukee,” Agni said. “We know that is not true. We know that there are
people and communities of color throughout the state doing a variety of jobs, making their livelihood. And candidates need to know that too and they need to speak to
issues facing those people of color in every part of the state. People of color don’t just live in urban areas. They live in rural areas and they need different things than
people of color who live in urban areas. We’re hoping that our candidates have a more comprehensive view based on the work that we’re doing, based on voters
“We want people in Superior, Bayfield and La Crosse to be asking these tough questions and not just people in Milwaukee and Madison,” Wolf added. “Race should
be a priority for every single person in this state. What we have seen in the past year in our country has really started to affect and frighten people. What we are doing
at the border and other policies engaged more people and I think more people want to get to the polls and say, ‘We don’t really believe that in our state and we’re
going to start changing things locally and statewide because we don’t want anyone treated like that.’”
Kids Forward is encouraged by the feedback they have received so far.
“I was really excited the first or second day when someone from Elk Mound, Wisconsin signed the pledge,” Wolf said. “It’s a tiny village in northwestern Wisconsin. I
am excited as we really roll out this campaign and amp it up and more people will be engaged.”
Kids forward hopes to create a stampede to the polls of engaged voters of color asking questions and expecting answers. Informed voters — and candidates — are
what make democracy work.
For more information about Race to the Polls, visit: Website: https://racetothepolls.org; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RaceToThePolls; Twitter: https://twitter.
com/RaceToThePolls; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/racetothepolls
By Jonathan Gramling
Since it was founded in 1881 as the Wisconsin Conference on Charities and Corrections, the
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families — or WCCF — has been focused on research and
data collection to impact policy analysis, development and recommendations to better conditions
for children and families. On some levels, it was an “ivory tower” institution committed to having
a real-world impact on the everyday lives of children.
When the organization changed its name to Kids Forward in 2017, it also signaled an expansion
of how they impact the lives of children and families.
“We realized that we needed to be more of a presence in the community,” said Wenona Wolf, Kids
Forward’s communication and development manager. “A lot of the problems that we have,
whether they be in our community or state or nation, are people being in place making decisions
that aren’t reflecting community needs. And we realized that we had to do better. And so, we kind
of evolved into an organization that is still doing the great policy analysis and policy research
and looking at data, but we also have another half of the organization that is out in the community
and listening to people, sitting on committees and hearing about what is most important to
community members. We are trying to find that perfect balance.”
With the November 6th election coming up, Kids Forward developed an initiative called Race to