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Grassroots civic groups make national politics local

This article was originally published by The Daily Northwestern.

In anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, local civic groups are gearing up for a busy year of campaigning on national issues. 

While November’s vote is still months away, local political parties and issue groups are implementing strategies to empower local voters, gather volunteers and influence national policy.  

“The truth of the matter is that every vote will matter,” said Mary Keefe Kelly, the League of Women Voters of Evanston’s treasurer. “Local groups drive home the fact that all politics are ultimately local.” 

The Evanston chapter of the League of Women Voters, a group dedicated to voter education and advocacy, spearheaded the Voter Participation Action Coalition, made up of Evanston organizations dedicated to mobilizing local voters. 

The group plans to meet with both county and city clerk offices and develop plans to increase voter registration and turnout in 2024.

LWVE also plans to partner with the Cook County and other League of Women Voters chapters in Illinois to organize voter registration opportunities. In collaboration with the Illinois statewide chapter, LWVE contributed to the Illinois Voter Guide, an online, nonpartisan informational guide for voters.

“There’s 30% of eligible voters who don’t even vote. Can you imagine if all the local groups were working on their areas?” Kelly said. “It could be a miracle.” 

Political parties based in Evanston are also engaging local communities toward national causes. 

In the build-up to the election, the Democratic Party of Evanston intends to focus its efforts on mobilizing local Democrats to engage with neighboring communities, bussing volunteers to Wisconsin for door-knocking campaigns, for example, according to board member Jane Neumann. 

“Local political groups are the ones that most thoroughly understand the sentiments of the local community both in terms of its citizens and its advocates,” Neumann said.

Evanston has historically high levels of Democratic volunteerism and a friendly rivalry with other blue communities in cities like Berkeley, California, and Oak Park, Illinois, Neumann said. DPOE plans to assemble teams of volunteers for the Democratic National Convention hosted in Chicago this summer. 

Directed by the national Democratic party, DPOE is tasked with “generating local enthusiasm” leading up to the convention and assembling teams of local volunteers to assist with everything from directing attendees from the airport to facilitating convention activities, Neumann said. 

Evanston Township Republicans and the Evanston Republican Organization did not respond to a request for comment. But, the Republican National Convention, set for July, will take place just over the Wisconsin border in Milwaukee.

Other local activists see the Democratic convention — and the national attention it will bring toward the Chicago area — as an opportunity to raise awareness. Along with other reproductive advocacy groups, the members of Chicago for Abortion Rights plan to demonstrate on Aug. 18, the night before the Democratic convention. The group is demanding the repeal of the Hyde Amendment — which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions and other reproductive health priorities.

The demonstration was designed to “pressure Democrats in an election year to do more for abortion access,” CFAR advocate Anne Rumberger said. 

“I think that the role of a lot of grassroots organizations is to push our Democratic politicians in more progressive directions,” Rumberger said. “What local organizations are great at is identifying local needs … using their power to educate and build a base around an issue and then pressuring elected officials to deliver on the demands of the movement.”