Standing Rock phone bank activates Georgia voters ahead of Senate run-off elections
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Lakota People's Law Project
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has renewed its successful get-out-the-vote partnership with the nonprofit Lakota People’s Law Project, which has hired 15 tribal members to call Georgia residents before the state’s Senate run-off election on January 5.
Phyllis Young, a Standing Rock grandmother and organizer for the Lakota People’s Law Project, said that the two entities are looking to replicate the success of a phone bank they ran together from the reservation in October and November by once again activating Native American voters, other voters of color and those who care about environmental concerns to participate in the electoral process.
“Our effort in the general election was a giant success,” Young said. “We hired a team and created a model that showed they can make a difference. We had to take this opportunity to get our people back to work helping voters participate in Georgia, too.”
On a chilly day in the middle of October, Honorata Defender rode across the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, from her hometown of McLaughlin, South Dakota to Fort Yates, North Dakota. She wasn’t sure what to expect. She’d heard that her tribal government was ready to open a phone bank at a local gymnasium and reach out to voters for the upcoming election in November.
Defender, like so many on the reservation, wanted to help. She’d participated when a similar effort worked wonders in her community just two years ago.
“I’d worked on Standing Rock’s get-out-the-vote effort in 2018, helping to distribute ID cards and form voting plans with tribal members who could’ve been disenfranchised by the newly passed voter ID law in North Dakota,” she says. “Since that voting campaign wound up being very successful, I was so excited to see if we could make a difference in 2020 as well.”
Defender’s experience paid off. Within a week, she’d been hired to help with campaign logistics in addition to her duties in the call center. There, she joined a group of about 25 Standing Rock tribal members trained to use smart phones, iPads and a state-of-the-art call system to reach out to voters all over the Dakotas and in swing states like Arizona, North Carolina and Florida.
The group’s callers — which followed strict safety protocols in the gym but ultimately had to relocate to their homes as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in the Dakotas — dialed more than a quarter million numbers and had more than 11,000 conversations with potential voters.
The majority of those conversations happened with fellow Native Americans, largely from tribal nations such as the Navajo in Arizona. In the end, Arizona elected a Democratic Senator and went blue in the presidential election for the first time in decades. Data shows that those results were consistent with the ballots of 97 percent of the state’s tribal voters.
Young explained that the nonprofit aspect of the phone bank means that callers did not advocate for any one candidate or political party. The group’s aim for Georgia will be the same as it was in November: activate voters who care about protecting Native American interests and clean water and air.
“We’ve already made more than 5,000 calls into Georgia the past few days,” said Young. “Our goal is to get as many people to the polls as humanly possible. We’ve already seen in the past month how voters of color — and particularly, Native voters — can change the game nationwide. We’re just getting started. We’ve got thousands more calls to make. We want to make sure every voice is heard, because this election has consequences for all of us.”
The Lakota people's Law Project is part of the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, an interfaith law and policy center.