Cook Out The Vote turns elections into celebrations. A citizen’s right to vote is the essential counterweight against authoritarianism, and we’ve made exercising that right a chore. It should not be this way. To transform voting, Cook Out The Vote brings together food, culture, and community to enhance voter experience, help small businesses, and strengthen the networks crucial to the vitality of our civic institutions.
Cook Out The Vote addresses the systemic problem of voting as a process and experience. We are at as many poll sites as possible, because, just like with voting, showing up matters. You cannot change things if you don’t show up. We show up everywhere we can to help those exercising their sacred franchise, and bring a little joy to voting.
Cook Out The Vote is born from my dissatisfaction with the current voting process, including absurdly long lines at various locations throughout the United States. But I saw a glimpse of what voting could be while working in North Carolina in the 2020 election. At a poll site in a community center surrounded by a giant parking lot, people had set up a little DJ booth, and were spinning summertime classics. At one point a kid got up with a cello and began to play for the crowd. During an election defined by division and rancor, here the people owned their poll site and created an open, safe, and social space. I began speaking with community members, and they explained that they had taken initiative to push back against the tension and negativity that was core in that last election, and take over the poll site in a positive way.
I saw that politicians will not save us; law enforcement will not save us; there are no magical solutions to the attacks on our democracy. Only if we create the positive rituals and experiences surrounding those institutions—around voting—can we hope to protect them, enhance them, and make them work for the people.
How do we do that?
The most enduring institutions all combine the same ingredients: ritual, food, music, and community. For funerals, marriages, bat mitzvahs, thread ceremonies, and birthday parties, we come together to mark the moments most important and personal to our lives. Voting is no different, but we do not adorn it with the proper fanfare. For too many, it has been turned into a burden. Indeed, many laws are currently being passed to specifically make voting as onerous, complicated, difficult, and downright dangerous as possible. For example, Georgia’s SB202, which has passed in early 2021, is plainly designed to restrict voting. The law goes so far as to criminalize giving food or water to anyone standing on line to vote. If a person falls to the ground, it would be a crime to give her aid in the form of water. No succor for those who hunger and thirst while they wait. It is wrong and inhumane. This is the new Jim Crow.
Georgia is not the only state passing voting restrictions in the wake of the 2020 election. There is only one way to defeat this trend: confront it directly and appropriately. In that spirit, we fight against this calculated disenfranchisement with celebration, food, and song. Community overcomes exclusion. Love wins over hate.
Key to creating those institutions are local businesses. Restaurants, musicians, artists, and comedians, all of whom have been hurt by coronavirus, are vital allies in our mission. The funds we raise go directly to paying those artists and small businesses, showcasing their talents to help support and coordinate voting.
So what’s the plan?
Cook Out The Vote links our communities together around to protecting and strengthening voting as an institution. We raise funds for events put on throughout voting periods—both festival-style celebrations and smaller guerrilla events. We bring together the local community by showcasing local restaurants, musicians, entertainers, and artists. We offer free samples of food to the community as a thank you. We collect information about voter experience, especially wait times, to create better data for policy folks to use to identify and solve problems in the voting process. We advocate for easier, better, simpler, more open, more fun voting for all.
What do we do now?
In the near term, we are raising funds to host events in NYC, starting in Brooklyn this June for the NYC mayoral primaries. Our inaugural events will have food, crafts, and music, outside selected poll sites, to add some joy to the voting process. We hope to expand into the rest of New York for the general election, and beyond for 2022. We hope you will join us!