Merging culture and organizing is becoming commonplace in civic engagement. With only 40 days until the general election, organizations like the New Georgia Project and All Voting is Local flexed their creative muscles with the interactive livestream #TwitchtheVote on National Black Voters Day and National Voter Registration Day in collaboration with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote and the esports platform Esposure.
“We are laser focused on increasing turnout amongst young people and people of color in the state of Georgia,” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, in an interview with Prism. Ufot stressed the importance of connecting with important subcultures within communities, such as gaming. “We endeavor to leave [no] stone unturned and our goal is to meet people wherever they are.”
As a platform, Twitch has seen its share of events raising awareness and funds for various causes. #TwitchtheVote takes civic events to a new level, forging a relatively uncharted lane for voter turnout and engagement. Known for its sneaker designs, Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Union Los Angeles donated 50 pairs of Union Jordan 4’s to giveaway during the stream to people who pledged to register to vote and bring their community along with them.
“We talk about youth of color but also youth of culture,” said Ufot. “Sneaker culture is also a dynamic subculture in Black and brown communities that we want to tap into.”
Last Friday for National Black Voter Day, WNBA player Ariel Powers hosted an edition of #TwitchtheVote on her powerzsurge Twitch channel featuring gamers playing NBA 2K21 with moderators engaging chat participants around voter registration. Later on Tuesday night, Chris Gibbs, owner and designer at Union Los Angeles, joined the stream during National Voter Registration Day, saying he was motivated to get involved with #TwitchtheVote and help inspire people to action. “I can make those products available to inspire those [who]are working hard every day to get out the vote and make the changes that I want to see in my own community and country,” said Gibbs.
Professional NBA 2K players joined the stream to play a few pick up games and talk about the importance of voting. “We just wanna help in any way we can to bring awareness to our community about voting,” said Brent “Lord Beezus” Aasgaard.
Aasgaard, a member of Jazz Gaming, was joined by Glenn “GlennRatty” Wilkerson, a member of Heat Check Gaming. During the Tuesday night stream, Aasgaard and Wilkerson talked about how important it is having people talk to their communities about the power of voting. “If you wanna make change, you gotta somehow be a part of it,” said Wilkerson.
In an interview with Prism, Aasgaard said that events like #TwitchtheVote are a good way to engage different demographics. “I think it’s a great use of the platform,” said Aasgaard.
At a time when many events have gone digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. #TwitchtheVote offers a new way of engaging the community. “Gaming unites so many people … It’s just such a wide audience you can reach [so] why not use the platform to try to speak to people or maybe just inform people on something they’re not as educated about?” said Aasgaard.
Civic engagement of major league athletes has at times been met with calls to just “play the game.” When asked if professional esports gamers should be concerned about staying in their lane, similar to the pushback received by major league athletes, Aasgaard said that people shouldn’t allow others to silence them. “If someone puts in the time to learn about something, then there’s no reason that they should allow or feel worried about someone trying to tell them that they don’t need to speak on stuff,” said Aasgaard.
Danny Martin, founder and CEO of Esposure, said he appreciated opportunities like #TwitchtheVote to merge voting and engage youth in their element with something like gaming. Martin sees esports and platforms like Esposure as a critical component in helping organizations build more dynamic engagement with the people around them.
“I think so many individuals have that ability to speak their mind but now it’s that that barrier to communication is knocked down,” said Martin.
Ultimately, Aasgaard sees events such as #TwitchtheVote as an opportunity to leverage his platform, noting that “Influencing people to have an impact, or, let [their] voices be heard, is very important.”
“One of the coolest things about seeing this event is that people are talking about the benefits of voting … you know why they vote and how it’s important,” said Martin. “In this element, this is how you get someone to feel comfortable [talking about voting] because you meet them where they’re at.”