“I have a radical proposition,” wrote Eric Liu in 2016. “Let’s bring back the joy of voting.”

I know what you’re thinking. Joy? In our political climate of stress and fear and anger?

“It helps to remember a time in America when voting was fun,” he continues. “When it meant much more than a grim burden. That time is called most of American history. From the Revolution through the civil rights era, the United States had a culture of voting that was robustly, raucously participatory. It was about festivals, street theater, open-air debates, toasting and fasting, parades and bonfires.”

Of course, voting was initially restricted to white men. But with each painfully earned expansion of the franchise, a creative culture of voting took hold.

During the 19th century, immigrants and urban political machines fueled this spirit of communal campaign participation. During Reconstruction, new black citizens celebrated in Jubilee Day parades that linked emancipation to the right to vote.

But now, decades of continued cultural oppression and mind- and body-numbing television and the Internet have killed much of that joyful culture of voting. The couch has replaced the commons and the screen has made most citizens spectators.

Why bother voting? Because there’s no such thing as not voting, as Eric shares in his TED Talk. In a democracy, not voting is voting – for all that you may detest and oppose.

What we need now is an electoral culture that’s about being together.

In person. In loud and passionate ways. That means instead of “eat your vegetables” or “do your duty,” voting should feel more like “join the club.” Or better yet, “Join the celebration.”

Catalyzing joy

So, in 2016, our team here at Citizen University launched a project called the Joy of Voting with our friends at the Knight Foundation.

We invited artists, activists, designers and educators in Wichita, Akron, Miami and Philadelphia to come up with projects that foster a local culture of voting.

  • In Miami that meant neighborhood block parties with DJs for people standing in line at early voting locations.
  • In Akron it meant local actors performing political plays in the bed of a pickup truck that goes from neighborhood to neighborhood.
  • In Philadelphia, it was a festival of music and food from around the world to celebrate the first vote of newly naturalized citizens.
  • In Wichita, it’s creating mixtapes in the North End and live graffiti-art to get out the vote.

Over the course of a few years, Citizen University supported nearly 60 projects in eight cities around the country that served as examples of what interactive, inclusive, and joyful elections can look like.

Infuse some joy into your voting culture

Here are a few tips for creating your own joy of voting project.

Make it local.

Tie it to the culture of the city and community where you are. Consider what is a special or unique about where you live, and how you can leverage that to put on a creative, locally-rooted Joy of Voting project.

Make it joyful.

There are a lot of get-out-the-vote efforts, voter education projects, and organizations telling people how important it is to vote. But this is different, it's creative, community-based, and artistic. With the goal of giving people a reason to want to vote, you are inventing new rituals of civic life filled with spirit, fun, and purpose.

Do it together.

The most successful projects invite collaboration — with other artists or organizers, with local business, schools, or organizations, and with the public by being open and welcoming. Create opportunities for people to join together, get to know each other, and do something collectively, whether it’s silly, powerful, or both.

Make it legit.

Make sure to research and follow all county and state election laws about how close you are allowed to be to a polling location, what you are allowed to say and give away, and what the regulations are around candidate involvement, registering voters, or handling ballots. The Joy of Voting should be a non-partisan activity, aimed at promoting turnout and involvement, not any particular candidate or issue.

Tell people.

The Joy of Voting isn’t only about individual projects, it’s about telling the story of what a celebratory participatory culture of voting could look like by creating it. So tell local media about your project. Invite friends and community leaders. And share your Joy of Voting project on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #JoyofVoting.

Don't stop here.

Voting is just one way to engage and embrace your civic power. Serve, learn, join, gather, and argue in every aspect of civic life as you help spread the belief that democracy depends on us!

To get there, we have to create a culture of voting that people of all parties want to be part of and experience together. We have to give citizens a sense of purpose and play. And joy.

So yes, let’s have a revolution. Let’s vote one into being. And while we’re at it, let’s have some fun together.