In June 2021, a new complicated voting system called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) was introduced in New York City’s electorate for primary voting. Under the new system, voters rank up to five candidates in order of preference, instead of casting a ballot for just one. Ranked Choice Voting portends to give voters more direct electoral choice and more power. Data on the system in other states found that it also brings more diverse voices out to vote and to run for office and ensures that whoever gets elected receives a greater percentage of support.
Beyond a new voting system that could potentially confuse voters, NYC also had a civic engagement problem— not enough people were taking an interest in elections.
Urban Word (a poet society - best known for appointing Amanda Gorman as the National Youth Poet Laureate who performed during the Presidential Inauguration) worked with F.Y. Eye to commission Harlem-based teen poet Fanta Ballo to create a new piece encouraging her community – especially young voters of color- to show up on election day in honor of Juneteenth.
This PSA was part of a unique effort to center community voices. Acknowledging the disconnect and distrust many people feel when it comes to engaging in local elections, the focus of this campaign connected Ranked Choice Voting, and its benefits, to the broader history surrounding the struggle for African American rights across the US. In this regard, Fanta Ballo was filmed within her Harlem neighborhood reciting a spoken word poem she created specifically for the campaign around the themes of Juneteenth, equality, accessibility, and the continued fight for basic human rights. Shot quickly without permits, guerilla-style, on the streets of NYC; the final video is a testament to the enduring power of using your right to vote as a way of creating positive change. The final product proves the power of youth advocacy, and the strength of utilizing younger voices to speak on behalf of themselves and their communities.
To extend the life of the campaign, and the message as well, Fanta recited her poem live in Harlem accompanied by her lyrics which were projected and streamed onto a building behind her. Again, using a variety of low-budget and guerrilla-style advertising tactics, this public intervention connected the goals of the campaign directly back to the community being addressed by it. The light projections continued throughout the night with a variety of other Ranked Choice Voting PSAs created by local artists from Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood.
This collaborative working process is a key element of how F.Y. Eye functions as a nonprofit media agency. By connecting our clients at DemocracyNYC with artists and activists from within the community being served, we are able to bring a level of authenticity to campaigns that might otherwise miss the mark or speak to audiences in a way that further alienates them from the specific cause being served. The final result is a clear and forceful call for NYC voters to stand up and take advantage of their right to vote—a right that has historically been kept from so many, and that is a vital part of creating real-world change across our city.
In June 2021, NYC saw its highest voter turnout in 3 decades with more than a 29% increase. New Yorkers turned out in higher numbers than ever before, ranked and elected more diverse candidates, elected historic slates to the city council and determined which of 13 mayoral candidates had the best support city-wide. All in one election.
This campaign run was unprecedented with deep investments in language access and accessibility resources, and direct outreach partnerships with community groups, faith-based organizations, Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBEs), and other stakeholders.