Arthur Blank is getting more involved in the political process. The 79-year-old philanthropist has supported educational projects to promote civil rights and racial justice. Now, he’s backing a new initiative to use the star power of his professional sport teams to help register young voters.
With the support of his AMB Sports and Entertainment organization, which owns the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC teams, Blank is helping to launch a voter education initiative called Democracy Class Atlanta.
The new initiative has the support of Atlanta Public Schools and the New Georgia Project, which was founded nine years ago by voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.
In announcing the program, Blank said that “every voice and every vote matters and the right to vote is simply sacred. By leveraging our voices and our collection of assets at the Blank Family of Businesses, we are committed to educating, inspiring and celebrating a culture of year-round civic education, especially among our young people, who are the promise of our future.”
The initiative reunites Blank with another prominent Jewish philanthropist, 74-year-old Jeff Ayeroff, who is active in the progressive Jewish religious and political community in Los Angeles. The veteran recording executive was one of the founders of the popular nonprofit Rock the Vote campaign 31 years ago.
During last year’s presidential election, Rock the Vote worked with the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC on voter registration campaigns. This year’s initiative builds on those longstanding efforts.
The non-partisan, nonprofit campaign will provide lesson plans for all 11th and 12th grade teachers in the Atlanta Public Schools. Students will be encouraged to pre-register to vote, sign up as poll workers, and pledge to promote the importance of voting to others.
Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, points out that there is “no better way to carry on the legacy” of the civil rights movement in Atlanta than for students to participate in Democracy Class Atlanta. “Because of this program, Atlanta Public School student leaders,” he said, “will lead an effort to educate, empower and organize our students to engage in the democratic process.”
The first stage of the program was capped by a rally on Sept. 28th, National Voter Registration Day, at the Home Depot Backyard in Blank’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Students from 11 participating Atlanta high schools attended.
The event brought together professional athletes and recording artists to promote voter registration efforts in advance of Atlanta’s mayoral election on Nov. 2 and the mid-term congressional and state-wide elections next year. Among those appearing on video for the event were Selena Gomez, Lil Baby, J. Cole, Monica, and Storm Reid.
Carolyn DeWitt, the president and executive director of Rock the Vote who helped coordinate the rally, underscored how important celebrities can be in an age dominated by social media and the internet.
“Our work has always been to reach young people where they are through what young people regard as trusted messengers,” she said. “It’s evolved with the changing landscape of media and technology and social media influencers, musicians and professional sports athletes.
”The partnership with Rock the Vote mirrors recent efforts at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which earlier this year received a $25 million gift from the Home Depot co-founder. Like Blank and Ayeroff, the center’s President and CEO, Jill Savitt, is Jewish. She is a human rights advocate who joined the center from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington two years ago.
In addition to effectively doubling the size of the facility, Blank’s gift will help to enhance the center’s educational programs. Among these is what Savitt calls an advocacy academy to re-energize civic engagement by young people.
“If you want long-term systemic change, you actually have to influence the political process,” she said. “To do that there are all kinds of strategies like organizing media, direct lobbying of influential people and decision makers, and shaping the debate. This idea of an advocacy academy would teach those skills using the stories we tell in our center as case studies.”
The youth vote (those 18 to 29 years old) was seen as one of the most important factors in last year’s presidential and senate races in Georgia. According to political researchers at Tufts University, Georgia led the nation in young voter registrations. There was a 33 percent increase in new voters in that age bracket.
At election time in Georgia, as in most of America, the youth turned out in record numbers. Tufts estimates that 50 percent of them voted in this state, 11 percentage points higher than the turnout in 2016.
Rock the Vote’s Carolyn DeWitt sees Blank’s new initiative as the forerunner of what could become a much larger and much more effective national program.
“When the organization was founded 31 years ago, young people weren’t really considered an important voting block or an important constituency,” she said. “But one of the revolutionary components of this organization is, frankly, that it has trailblazed this idea of organizing youth and mobilizing them to increase their civic power.”
- Bob Bahr
- Arthur Blank
- AMB Sports and Entertainment group
- Rock the Vote
- Jeff Ayeroff
- Young Voters
- educational projects
- Civil Rights
- racial justice
- Atlanta falcons
- Atlanta United FC
- Atlanta Public Schools
- New Georgia Project
- Stacey Abrams
- Blank Family of Businesses
- year-round civic education
- Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education
- Poll workers
- student leaders
- National Voter Registration Day
- Home Depot Backyard
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- High School
- voter registration
- Mayoral Election
- mid-term congressional
- state-wide elections
- Selena Gomez
- Lil Baby
- J. Cole
- Storm Reid
- Carolyn DeWitt
- social media
- National Center for Civil and Human Rights
- Jill Savitt
- human rights advocate
- Holocaust Memorial Museum
- educational programs
- advocacy academy
- civic engagement
- Case Studies
- political process
- organizing media
- direct lobbying of influential people and decision makers
- shaping the debate
- Youth Vote
- presidential race
- Senate race
- Tufts University
- voter education initiative
- Democracy Class Atlanta