DeJuana Thompson has dedicated her life to ensuring that marginalized communities have every tool they need to participate in the political process. She created “Woke Vote,” a program specifically designed to engage, mobilize and turnout an unprecedented percentage of African American millennial and faith based voters in Alabama. Since its inception, the program has made over 100,000 contacts to help nominate a Democrat from Alabama, Doug Jones, to the U.S. Senate for the first time in 25 years. She is also the founding partner and Principal of Think Rubix, a social innovation consultancy dedicated to implementing policy change. Prior to joining Think Rubix, Thompson served as National Deputy Director for Community Engagement and the National African American Engagement Director for the Democratic National Committee.
When did you first become interested in politics?
I have always been an organizer. I think growing up in a church where we focused on outreach and service, coupled with a passion for my Black community – something just clicked. I started interning with the Birmingham City Council office while in college and I learned how important the political process. I also learned how disconnected it can be from community. I want to bridge the gap.
What led you to found Woke Vote?
Woke Vote was really born out of both frustration and optimism. I felt there was something missing in how black voters, specifically in the South, were being engaged both politically and socially in this country. I felt there were root issues of discrimination and disenfranchisement which have systemically impacted our community and at times suppressed our vote and silenced our voice. But I knew the power of the people in the communities I’ve organized for over 19 years. I believed if we built programming led by people on the ground that didn’t focus on candidates or parties but instead focused on building strong leaders and increasing access to power – our communities could save themselves. We don’t just organize for elections – Woke Vote exists for the long term activation, mobilization and engagement of Black communities.
What challenges have you seen with voter suppression in Alabama, and how have you worked to change that?
Wow, there have been so many. From a lack of early voting opportunities, to voter roll purges, the presence of sheriffs in the doors of polling precincts, to polling location changes, even something as simple as not having a polling location on major HBCU campus’s – voter suppression and voter intimidation has been visible as far back as I can remember. We combat that by preparing our voters with the tools they need to vote confidently. We have created a tool that gives a voter every detail they need about the total process of voting. It can be found here: Vote.wokevote.us. We have also done numerous trainings with community leaders and members, organizations, churches, schools, small businesses, etc!
What has been your experience leading the charge as a Black woman in this space?
I love being a Black woman period. But it is not without its challenges particularly in the political field. I’m constantly concerned with the disparity of resources, commitment and accountability to run effective programming in the communities I serve. I’m sometimes questioned about “how passionately” I communicate versus “how critical” my analysis is. This country is still inherently patriarchal so I find there are still many spaces, even in the progressive movement, where my leadership and ability is challenged just on the basis of my gender. It can be tough but being a Black woman has also prepared me for these moments and these spaces. I navigate them with courage, intellect and grace.
What is one of the most rewarding successes you’ve had in a community grassroots effort?
Watching my Woke Vote fellows start their own official chapter of Woke Vote on their college campus. They wrote the charter, recruited the necessary amount of students and got the funding all with the training they learned from the fellowship. When I asked Kam why she did it, she said, “because I wanted to make a difference like you.” You really can’t ask for much more than that.
What’s your advice to young women who want to pursue a career in political activism?
Be bold. Know there is space for your leadership and your voice. Find an incredible mentor and learn from their knowledge and experience. Don’t be afraid to break the mold, do it your own unique way!
What would you tell people who are wary of political engagement and voting because they don’t believe their voices are really heard?
Your vote is your political power. Don’t ever give away your power! No one deserves to make every decision that will impact your life without your opinion or without your input. Voting is one of the ways we build power for ourselves and our community. Be critical, be upset, take action – but vote like your life depends on it because it does!