Civic Engagement

“Voting is not just about the Candidates...”

By Minh Nguyen


Minh Nguyen is the Founder and Executive Director of VAYLA New Orleans, a progressive multi-racial community based organization in New Orleans that empowers youth and families through supportive services and organizing for cultural enrichments and positive social change.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my friends, family, and neighbors came together to fight a toxic landfill that would have destroyed our home in New Orleans East.  During our fight to shut down the landfill, I struggled to understand why our community was chosen as the site for a toxic dump and asked the same question to many of our supporters and opponents.  Eleven years later, one answer still resonates the strongest: The site of the landfill was chosen because our community did not exercise our power by voting. VAYLA was born out of that campaign to stop the landfill and since our founding, we’ve continued to work to make our voices heard.  We do this by registering voters, reminding people to vote, facilitating voter education sessions, and working to improve access to the polls.


For years, our efforts to register potential voters was burdened by a discriminatory law that dated back to 1874 requiring naturalized citizens to provide proof of citizenship-- a requirement that was not required of United States born citizens.  With the Southern Poverty Law Center and Fair Elections Legal Network, VAYLA filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Louisiana to combat this statute that violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In June 2016, Governor John Bel Edwards signed legislation to repeal this discriminatory law.  


We’ve continued our voter mobilization efforts to Get-out-the-Vote (GOTV) among first time voters and young people of color in New Orleans East and Asian and Pacific Islanders statewide.  Voter engagement across the state will also be amplified by the Power Coalition, a nonpartisan table that is building statewide infrastructure in Louisiana to shift power to turn back regressive policies and increase voter participation, all through civic engagement.  


In August, VAYLA brought over 20 people on staff from within our voting opportunity zone to strengthen our civic engagement program.  Since this time, they’ve called nearly 20,000 voters and knocked on more than 6,000 doors. By starting GOTV early, we’ve been able to register more voters before today’s registration deadline and will be able to mobilize our voters to take advantage of early voting and engage them in voter education.  Our civic engagement team reflects the current demographic of community stakeholders.  These new staff members have participated in civic engagement training as well as professional development sessions.  The development of these staff as leaders within our community is not only necessary for effective mobilization efforts, but also paramount to VAYLA’s mission of empowering our community members for positive social change.  


Just in case you are not interested in any of the candidates, we implore you to still vote on the six amendments that will be on the ballot during the early voting process and on Election Day, November 8th. Ballot amendments influence taxes, allocation of resources for state and local budgets, as well as determine whether or not the state legislative process will be used to make decisions.


Today is the last day to register to vote in Louisiana.  You can do so by visiting VAYLA’s website at or at your local registrar’s office.  For more information, you can also contact the Secretary of State office at 1-800-883-2805.