"Health Happens Here" was one of the many organizations to attend the event

Health Happens Here was one of the many organizations to attend the event

On October 15th, a group of concerned citizens and volunteers gathered at Oak Ridge Elementary School in an effort to empower the community of South Oak Park. Though many key issues were addressed at this meeting, the overall theme was to encourage community engagement, especially in local elections. Besides the free food and raffle, there were plenty of productive conversations with advocates from a variety of community projects.

This event played host to a diverse range of programs funded by the California Endowment. Ubuntu Green, 916 Ink, La Familia, and Building Healthy Communities were among the many organizations to attend. Passing out fliers, the men and women at each booth talked to community members armed with facts and enthusiasm.

Health Happens Here, for example, raised awareness of the troubling amount of resources spent on prisons and inmates compared to students and education. Their solution isn’t to reduce spending, but to reduce the inmate population and put that money back into education and corrections. This initiative coincides with Proposition 47, which will be decided on by the voters this year.

“Voting precincts that have high voter turnout: their problems get solved,” explained Isaac Gonzalez, consultant for the California Endowment. For many at the event, the number 14 is a haunting figure. That’s the percentage of registered voters in that precinct who actually cast a ballot in the last election. Attendees hope to double that number in time for the upcoming election, relying on information and dedication to call their fellow residents into action. Everyone present was encouraged to fill out a card pledging to vote, and organizers met with them in small groups afterward to discuss the specifics of this year’s ballot initiatives.

“We’ve had a lot of negative press,” said Lisa Linares, member of the South Oak Park Community Association. To members of this community, making a real difference in the lives of real people is something to be taken seriously, by everyone.

“We want to get neighbors out and talk about the positive things that we can do,” Lisa added. It’s up to residents to actively make the system work for their neighborhoods. The message they hope to send this November is that democracy only works if you cast a ballot. Voting may not guarantee the results you want, but if you don’t vote you don’t stand a chance.