Conversation with Jehmu Greene kicks off campuswide ‘Right to Vote’ series Sept. 22

The Center for Civic Leadership wants to make sure you’re ready to rock the vote

With less than two months until Election Day, the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) wants to make sure Rice students are both registered and ready to hit the polls when early voting begins Oct. 13.

Jehmu Greene will speak via Zoom from 6:15-7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 in a conversation titled “Rising to the Moment and the Movement with Your Vote.”

Jehmu Greene will speak via Zoom Sept. 22 in the first event of this semester’s “Right to Vote” series.

This fall, the CCL is sparking campuswide conversations around voting, voting rights and voter suppression in partnership with the Moody Center for the Arts and the Politics, Law and Social Thought program, with support from the Humanities Research Center. The “Right to Vote” series kicks off with a talk by someone who truly knows how to rock the vote.

Jehmu Greene will speak via Zoom from 6:15-7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 in a conversation titled “Rising to the Moment and the Movement with Your Vote.” The former president of Rock the Vote — which registered 1.4 million young voters under Greene’s leadership — is a founding board member and national trainer of Vote Run Lead, which has trained over 35,000 women to run for political office since its inception in 2004.

Greene hopes to encourage those who join her Sept. 22 conversation — especially students — to appreciate how far the country has come as well as how vital the work of young people is to continuing that progress, especially in the voting booth.

“I will link this moment that we’re in, where we’re in the midst of a pandemic and greater awareness around social justice issues, to the founding of our country and the role that young people today are playing — in many ways — as new founders,” Greene said.

Her talk will reference the award-winning Broadway show “Hamilton,” she said, specifically as a means of reminding students that young people just like them laid the foundations for America and how that power still rests in the hands of the youth today.

In past election cycles, Greene said she’s seen high levels of youth engagement that didn’t always translate to voting numbers at the polls.

“Suppressed 2020: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary short film about voter suppression in the 2018 midterm election in Georgia, will be screened virtually Oct. 2, 3 and 4.

“Suppressed 2020: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary short film about voter suppression in the 2018 midterm election in Georgia, will be screened virtually Oct. 2, 3 and 4.

But 2020, she said, is different from any other presidential election year in innumerable ways — including the speed with which awareness and impact now travels. Just look, she said, at the impact of the current social justice movement that’s spread across the globe.

“The election in November is the defining moment of this movement and probably of their lifetimes,” Greene said. “As someone who is much older than the average college student right now, I can definitively say that it’s the defining moment of my life. I hope to be able to translate to them what this opportunity really means.”

And to those who may feel cynical or disengaged from the voting process, Greene is again encouraging. For one, the upheaval of 2020 has allowed us to reexamine systems and pieces of our culture that were previously too dogmatic, too ingrained — in other words, primed for serious, society-wide introspection.

“That just gives me goosebumps when I think about it,” Greene said. “And I think that lens can be applied across every spectrum. How do we take this opportunity, this pause, this reset, this shutdown and come out of it bigger and better?”

And from the standpoint of democracy, she said, this means “we’ve never been closer to the promise of America than we are now in 2020.”

Greene’s Sept. 22 talk is among other pieces of programming taking place across campus this semester designed to encourage student voting. “Suppressed 2020: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary short film about voter suppression in the 2018 midterm election in Georgia, will be screened virtually Oct. 2, 3 and 4. And a mini book club will convene online Oct. 12, 14 and 16 to discuss “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”

a mini book club will convene online Oct. 12, 14 and 16 to discuss “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”

A mini book club will convene online Oct. 12, 14 and 16 to discuss “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”

The CCL also spent weeks ahead of the fall semester prepping faculty on how to integrate mentions of voting and voting rights into their classes — especially those which would typically not delve into discussions of how one registers to vote.

Jessica Khalaf, associate director or programs for the CCL, led a faculty roundtable on “Voter Awareness in Your Curriculum” Aug. 7 that brought together professors and lecturers across the university to discuss the benefits of bringing issue education, voter resources and policy considerations into their courses.

To follow that, Danika Brown, the CCL’s director of curriculum and fellowships, partnered with Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence to offer an Aug. 14 workshop that brought in Rice students who spoke about the value of such integration and the application of their academic work to issues they feel passionate about.

Both the roundtable and workshop were well attended, in a show of faculty support for student civic engagement.

“I believe the Rice community’s support of a Right to Vote series demonstrates our recognition of how essential democratic processes and values are to the well-being of our society,” Brown said. “Most importantly, it indicates the core belief in our community that every single voice matters and must be heard.

Through Civic Duty Rice, the CCL is also sponsoring this year’s Houston Youth Voters Conference, a four-part webinar series addressing voter suppression (Sept. 26), the impacts of COVID-19 in Houston and beyond (Oct. 10), voter empowerment (Oct. 24) and student activism (Nov. 7).

The Houston Youth Voters Conference aims to increase civic education and uplift marginalized communities as a united youth front.

The Houston Youth Voters Conference aims to increase civic education and uplift marginalized communities as a united youth front.

Organized by students from Rice, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, the University of Houston-Downtown and Houston Community College, the Houston Youth Voters Conference aims to increase civic education and uplift marginalized communities as a united youth front. As with Greene’s talk, the webinars are free and open to the public.

And then there’s the new Rice Votes website, a hub created by the CCL for the Rice community that supports voter registration, voter education and voter mobilization by offering an array of resources about when, where and how to register and cast a ballot — in Harris County and elsewhere.

Rice Votes also helps students and other Rice community members learn how to encourage others to vote and how to become a more informed and active citizen through the election process.

“The CCL is proud to help amplify the voices and support the mobilization of our students in not only ensuring all members of the Rice community have access to registration and polls, but that they are helping other communities get access and inspire each other to use their voice through voting,” Brown said.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.