Building a Pipeline for Progress
A Conversation with Cymone Bolding
As the co-executive director of Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, Cymone Bolding uses her background as a passionate community organizer to focus on protecting and expanding access to the ballot as well as ensuring fair and open elections and a truly fair democracy. Based in Phoenix, Cymone is responsible for the vision, development and sustainability of Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, a member-led organization committed to advocating for families. As a 2019 America Votes Community Power Builder, Cymone talks to America Votes about her organizing background, passion for defending democracy and work building a leadership pipeline in Arizona’s black community.
America Votes: How did you find yourself doing the work you do today with Our Voice Our Vote Arizona?
Cymone Bolding: Back in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was fatally shot, I began organizing for a march in downtown Phoenix. At that point I realized many of the challenges concerning people that look like me were intersectional. Following that event, we helped organize one of the largest rallies talking about justice and police reform. That sparked the organizer in me. Following that experience, I joined a working group in 2013 called the Rise of South Phoenix. We were a group of advocates seeking to engage voters in the community to fight for issues and candidates that would stand for things important to us and the community.
After that, I started working on a wide range of electoral races — school board, city council, state legislature — and stayed engaged and involved. It was just something that I was passionate about. I realized very quickly as I was navigating through grassroots organizations and in different pockets that there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in the movement, although legislation was being passed that directly impacted black Americans. I saw a gap that needed to be filled. I wanted to make sure that we were building a leadership pipeline within the black community so that we had a seat at the table, too.
AV: Can you tell us more about Our Voice Our Vote Arizona?
CB: We started about two years ago as a working group and turned into an official organization in 2017. This was the work that we had already been doing; we just got organized. In 2018, Our Voice Our Vote Arizona became the state’s largest black American-led voter program, and we played a significant role in building organizational infrastructure and engaging the New American Majority during the election cycle. We ended up establishing ourselves as a partner with the capacity and sophistication to run a large voter outreach program in the state to ensure we could affect policy that impacted our community once these elected officials made it to office.
AV: What’s one of the issues you work on right now that’s especially important for the communities you’re fighting for?
CB: During the election cycle last year, as an organization, we knocked on nearly 100,000 doors. We also engaged a large volunteer base through community canvasses, electoral rallies and text messaging programs. Our main goal was to mobilize and engage our community for moments like this to create key policy change at the State Capitol. We’re in the middle of the legislative session right now, and our priority is protecting voting rights. Currently, there are several bills that will do things from purging voters from the rolls to adding restrictions to how you can turn in your mail-in ballot. We’ve even seen bills that would make it illegal for community members to be paid to register people to vote. Protecting our communities’ right to have their voices heard is definitely an issue we are dialed in on.
AV: What are some of the efforts Our Voice Our Vote Arizona has going on ahead of the 2020 elections?
CB: We really want to make sure as we’re planning for 2020, that we are building an infrastructure that is ready to play in every major race, from the presidential election to school board. What that looks like to us is making sure that we are building a leadership pipeline to ensure that everyone within our organization is ready to talk about policy and how policies have impacted our communities’ lives. We are excited to see our canvassers grow into organizers and our organizers grow to become field directors and campaign managers.
Additionally, we’ll continue to push for policy change. Some of what that looks like is talking about clean elections and automatic voter registration. We’re building infrastructure for 2020 but also making sure we’re supporting measures that will have a direct positive impact on our community.
We also have a census that’s coming up, so we are also trying to ensure we are fighting for the present but realizing the census will have long-term implications. We are excited about making sure our community gets out and gets counted.
AV: What makes you the most excited about being an America Votes Community Power Builder?
CB: Being recognized for the work is always bittersweet. There are so many incredible people in the trenches doing the work that it always feels self-serving to be the face of it at any capacity. However, being put on a national platform allows me to lift up real conversations about what’s at stake in Arizona. As progressives, we’ve been on the defensive for a long time, but now we’re exploring ways we can rally together to discuss our strengths on the ground so we can be more intentional about our long-term strategies and defining what success looks like. I’m excited about this idea of coming together as allies across racial lines to build a just and equitable democracy.
I’m proud to be among leaders across the country. I’d like to lift up America Votes for prioritizing a platform for people doing the work to get together to talk about best practices and share thoughts and ideas. That’s how we build, and I’m excited to be a part of it.