by Colleen Flaherty
Latwala Dixon is an eighth grade math teacher at Richardson Middle School in Lake City, Florida, who until recently hadn’t been very engaged in politics.
“I am a registered voter, but I did not know a whole lot about voter registration. Even though I voted, I knew that being in the position that I’m in, I could really engage a lot more people. I knew that, but I didn’t know what to do,” said Dixon.
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In September, NEA and the NAACP partnered up to give voter rights training to members as a nonpartisan effort to protect the rights of populations targeted by voter suppression tactics. When her local asked for volunteers, she was eager to sign up and learn.
“I did not know how to get involved other than just going door to door, but there’s so much more to it.”
Dixon is particularly invested this year, from the presidential race to her school district’s heated superintendent race. She has been canvassing around Lake City, talking to strangers and friends alike.
“Ms. Dixon cannot tell anyone who to vote for of course, but still, I get out there and ask, are you registered to vote? The friends that I have, people I run across, even on my personal Facebook. Once I asked, how many of you are registered to vote? And then they ‘liked’ the status if they are.”
Some respondents have been positive and enthusiastic, but others nonchalant. Dixon said this is especially discouraging from other people of color in her community.
“Not too long ago, we were not able to vote. So many people died so you could vote. Why would you not want to? What if they take away your rights again? Are you okay with that? I tell a lot of people, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. If you don’t use your right to vote, you will lose it.
“So what you’re only one vote? Your vote counts. What if all of you ‘only one vote’ people got out there and voted? It would be a tide changer.”
Limiting the right to vote has been a large concern for Florida voters with the new voter ID and voter purge laws creating obstacles for some to vote. Even though Dixon has been a registered voter since she was 18, she still had to jump through hoops to make sure her vote counted in November.
“It’s much more difficult now to get a driver’s license. I’ve been driving since I was 15. I’ve had an ID card since I was 12 or 13. I had to go back home three times to get the right things, even though they have my picture at 13, at 16, and at 20. I still had to prove I was me.”
She’s not just limiting her voter engagement efforts to canvassing. As head of her school’s student council and student activities, she’s closely involved in the student council election and reaching out to student’s families. She has made teaching students the importance of participating in our democracy a priority in her classroom.
“I teach my classes the importance of voting. I tell them, if you have anyone over 18 in your household, encourage them to vote.”
She uses school elections to make her point. “I tell my students how important it is for them to vote for student council. We had elections for homecoming two weeks ago, and I explained to them the difference in who won and who came in second place. It was so close, and if you did not vote, your vote and three of your friends’ votes would’ve made a difference on who won and who did not.”
Dixon is feeling rejuvenated and excited about the upcoming election. She said that through talking to people about voting, she has become more passionate about the issues that affect her as an educator and a citizen.
“I have learned so much. I think this is definitely going to be a historic race.”