Welcome to the Tohono O’odham Nation (boldface mine):
So not long after the 2016 election, when the executive office of the Tohono O’odham Nation, where Cazares-Kelly is a high school teacher, stopped funding the voter education program she’d been part of, she, Cohen, and a small group of allies filled the void. They formed Indivisible Tohono, inspired by the national resistance organization, and made plans to jump-start small-d democracy among the roughly 13,000 tribal residents on the Connecticut-size reservation. Meeting once or twice a month in members’ homes or at gas stations, they’ve led workshops to train voter registrars, held candidate forums, and recruited members to fill local offices.
Awesome! But the Democratic Party?
“We discovered that there are 24 vacant precinct committee-people spots and not a single one was filled,” Cazares-Kelly told me. “Not only did we not have a seat at the table; we didn’t know what tables we were not being invited to.”
…On paper, Native American voters make up a small but essential part of any winning coalition. In the state’s 1st Congressional District, where indigenous residents form a quarter of the population, they helped put Democratic candidates over the top in three of the last four elections. Statewide, there are about 55,000 eligible but unregistered voters living in tribal zip codes—about half the margin of victory for President Donald Trump in 2016. But when it comes to Native voters, says Travis Lane, who runs the voter education initiative at the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, “we just don’t have the bodies to do this work.” There is no Mi Familia Vota (the preeminent Hispanic voter mobilization group) or NextGen America (which is focused on college students) staking out rodeos with armies of paid, clipboard-toting canvassers. Instead, it’s people like Cazares-Kelly and Ignacio, giving up their weeknights and holding banana bread bake-offs and bingo nights to cover the cost of travel.
In fairness, there are a lot of structural impediments. There is a justifiable distrust and alienation from the U.S. political system. Voters are very spread out compared to many urban, or even suburban areas. And the peculiarities of reservation life, such as a lack of street addresses, require a lot of paperwork to get registered. But the Democratic Party, which needs these voters, isn’t helping matters at all:
The local Democratic Party hasn’t always been responsive either. Cazares-Kelly recalled what a party representative once told her when she asked about voter registration efforts: “‘I didn’t know that you needed to do voter outreach on your reservation—I thought people had to register to vote when they applied for food stamps.’” She paused a beat to let it sink in. “That’s problematic in so many ways!”
If you are that clueless, never mind bigoted, about your constituents, then you need to do more outreach. In person. What’s tragic is that someone like billionaire Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars in a quest to get Trump impeached, could do so much good in getting out the vote with a fraction of that money: pay a few tribal coordinators to navigate the paperwork, and provide some financial support to the various voter registration and turnout groups. Of course, the DNC (and DCCC and DSCC) would never engage in this kind of infrastructure building. If Democrats win, it will be in spite of the professional Democrats, not because of them. They aren’t going to save us, so we have to save ourselves.