Diana Nguyen, Declare Yourself, and Getting Out The Vote

May 14, 2008



So how did you get involved in the Declare Yourself project and what do you do there?

Declare Yourself was founded by legendary producer Norman Lear in 2003 as a non-partisan, nonprofit voter registration effort, an extension of his national tour of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. The campaign registered over 1.2 million young voters for the ’04 election, and last summer, the Lear team decided to revive it for the upcoming ’08 election. When DY did a round of PSAs with the folks from Reno 911, two of the pieces were incredibly funny satirical bits aimed at the “Asian Pacific Islander American” vote. I lauded them on my blog and immediately wrote to my friend -- and one of Norman’s closest colleagues -- saying, “I WANT TO WORK WITH YOU GUYS.” A month later, after a bucketload of begging, I was.

I currently work as the associate director of Declare Yourself, and deal mainly with overseeing media and marketing operations, including creative development, PSA production, viral marketing and promotion, celebrity/partner relations, and music outreach. I also represent DY for panels, discussions, news appearances and public events.

The goal of the organization is to get 2 million people in the 18-29 year-old category of voters registered and into the voting booths. Right now you're looking at possibly exceeding that number, and there've been record turnouts in the youth vote for Super Tuesday and the Texas and Ohio primaries. How do you keep that momentum going until the general election?

Keeping up the momentum past the primary season is definitely a challenge because people don’t feel the same urgency they do when they know their state is about to be on center stage. Our strategy is not to disappear when summer hits — even though young people are out of school or on vacation, we still need to be going full force. We’ve partnered with every kind of group -- from amusement parks to concert tours to social networking sites to television networks to celebrity blogs -- so that we can maintain visibility from now until November. I figure if we just keep hammering away at young people, eventually, they’ll hear us. It worked for me when my parents employed that strategy. I ignored everything they said and everything they told me to do until they’d repeated it for the 278th time. Then, suddenly, whatever they were saying pretty much made sense and I hopped to it.

A lot of media partners and artists have been getting on board with their support for Declare Yourself, and at the same time the organization has been making use of social networking tools to communicate its message. Can you talk a little bit about the support you're getting, as well as how tools like Facebook and MySpace are helping to create dialogue. And are there any plans to Twitter?

If Twitter will have us, we’ll definitely Twitter! We are MySpace’s official voter registration partner, and they’ve been so incredible to us. They’re so tapped in to the music, comedy, and celebrity communities, and they’re totally socially-minded. It’s been great to work with a social networking site that values civic engagement and education so much, because not only do their millions of users have the option to find our page, they are constantly being fed our content, information, and entertainment.

All of the social networking sites, including Facebook, are part of the reason why this generation, in this election, is so powerful. Young people are connected — they can mobilize faster and more easily than any generation before them. They spread news like wildfire. They produce content more rapidly than any news or media source. They know that they can bark as loud as any of the old dogs on television, and that the world will hear them (probably via YouTube) — and that is what is getting them so engaged. It’s fantastic to know your power. I think this particular movement, of online mobilization, is just incredible. It will definitely be election-changing.
What are some of the cool things Declare Yourself has coming up in the future, and how can people get involved with the project if they want to help out?

One thing I’m particularly excited about is that we’ll be launching a special Asian American voter initiative called GENERASIAN VOTE, which I will be heading. Additionally, we’ll be on the road registering voters on the Vans Warped Tour all summer, so folks should definitely show up and get involved while they rock. We’ll be on the track with the drivers of Indy as well. Ooh! And we’re touring the original copy of the Declaration of Independence from state to state for the public again — it’s basically the country’s birth certificate, and seeing it in person is kind of a surreal experience. We have tons of contests coming up with our friends at Seventeen Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Lifetime television, all happening now or in the near future. We are doing an incredible project celebrating young veterans for the 4th of July. We’ll also be launching more new rounds of PSAs that will be making their way out into the world every couple of weeks. And we’ll be out in fine form at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, so keep your eyes peeled for us. To help people keep up with everything we’re doing we have a blog AND a vlog, so there’s no excuse to be left in the dark. I’m sure I’m leaving out a ton of things, but that’s a bit of what we’re up to.

If people want to join our cause we have a very active street team, which offers tons of opportunities and incentives to work with us and spread the word for DY on the ground.

From an Asian American perspective -- from someone who's entrenched in the process -- what would you say to young Asian American adults, and especially young Asian American women who don't think their vote may count, and who don't think they can make a difference?

I blog about Asian American culture, and I tend to find that our community doesn’t focus on promoting civic engagement and voting as a priority. The other day, my aunt mentioned that she might not vote, and I said, “…But it’s your right!” and she just shrugged her shoulders.

Thus, my message to Asian American young adults is: Maybe your siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents didn’t try hard to instill the importance of voting into you (like they did “get into an Ivy League school” or “become a doctor”). But you have the power to become an educated voter yourself, and to be part of the change you want to see. We will never be heard in this country unless we speak, and the best way for us to speak our mind in this country is to vote. You can argue that one person doesn’t change an election. And you’re right — what it takes is for one of us to get engaged and then turn around and tell our friends and our family that they need to activate, and for them to turn around and tell their friends and family to activate. As a community, we can show our strength and our importance in this country.

As an Asian American woman, I know that my right to vote in this country is a relatively new one. I’m not going to waste that right, knowing all of the blood, sweat, and tears that were expended in order to gain it. I only hope that my sisters out there realize how much it took to get us here.

Anything you'd like to add about Declare Yourself?

We’re fun! We want to leave no voter behind  — regardless of ethnicity, background, education, occupation, party, gender, whatever — everyone should register and vote.

We make registering really easy by putting the form online. Just print it, sign it, and send it. I can’t see any excuse not to.

For more on Declare Yourself go to http://www.declareyourself.com.