Worst to First? Lifting up Tennessee Through the Proud Voter Challenge

Angela Garrone, SACE’s Southeast Energy Research Attorney contributed to this blog post. 

Here in the South, we are experiencing an extreme drought in the form of elected officials who understand the importance of clean energy for our country’s future. In just the past year, wind energy development in North Carolina is under attack, and offshore drilling and seismic blasting are, once again, a threat to our coasts. Devastating and unprecedented storms like Irma have swept through Florida, while many elected officials in the state, including the Governor, continue to ignore the reality that is climate change.

Clean energy and environmental justice issues must be a top priority in the South or we risk being left in the dark ages of 20th century energy. But – how do we get there? We have to start by boosting voter turnout in local and statewide elections and organize with others across the Southeast that are ready to start building a clean, just energy future. And where better to start organizing than the state in our region that is falling the furthest behind in voter engagement – Tennessee.

The Volunteer State ranks 50th in voter turnout and 40th in voter registration. In total, there are around 750,000 unregistered minority, single women and under 30 year old potential voters – 750,000 Tennesseans whose voices are effectively silenced because they aren’t taking advantage of the power of the ballot box. Meanwhile, over $74 million a year is being spent by private interests lobbying the state legislature. Big money is overwhelmingly outweighing the voices of citizens in Tennessee.

The good news for Tennessee is that we have nowhere to go but up! It’s time to start making changes and educating others on the issues and how to register to vote. That’s why SACE is joining the Proud Voter Challenge – a voter registration campaign that brings together a non-partisan coalition of individuals, community groups, and organizations in Tennessee that will support citizens through effective voter registration and turnout efforts.

Given its historical commitment to addressing civil rights and a strong progressive presence, Memphis is a perfect place to jumpstart the campaign. Memphis is also ground zero for one of the most important energy issues facing families today -  extreme energy burdens. In Memphis, families are paying double what the rest of the country does on their utility bills.

That’s why the Memphis Has the Power campaign is pushing for larger investments in energy efficiency initiatives for the most impacted residents across the city. We are also pushing the Tennessee Valley Authority to do its part to shift more resources toward energy efficiency programs, as well as working to expand investments in low-cost clean energy resources, like solar, that can help lower energy costs even further. Already leaders in vulnerable communities in Memphis are using funding from a Department of Energy initiative that helps bring community solar projects to communities who need it the most.

Registering more voters and encouraging better voter turnout among more clean energy voters in Memphis is key. The hope is that these citizens will be more engaged in related policy debates that emerge in the months to come. Through Memphis Has the Power, we’re building college campus teams across the city that will educate and empower other students on these issues. In building these teams, we will be collecting voter registrations and securing commitments from young voters to be clean energy voters.

The Challenge is just beginning, and SACE is working now on setting our first goal is to see how many voters we can register by December 1st. As more members join the challenge, The Proud Voter Challenge coalition as a whole will continue to raise our goal. Want to join SACE in this effort? Check it out here and help spread the word: proudvoter.org/sace/

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