By Christopher B. Leone – past Communications Director for AIGA Arizona
I first met actor Edward James Olmos on the second floor of the Arizona Capitol Museum. He was sitting on a bench along a wall, admiring the more than 40 nonpartisan posters being displayed at the Museum. The posters form the cornerstone of AIGA’s National Get Out the Vote Campaign.
Olmos came to Arizona to support the Campaign and Mi Familia Vota’s voter registration drive. The main event that day would be a Facebook Live chat with Olmos about the importance of voting. Afterward, we would photograph him next to the posters.
I sat down next to him and began to explain how the chat would proceed. I mentioned that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton would join him during the first part of the chat. He stopped me and wanted to know what political party the Mayor was from.
“He is a Democrat,” I said.
“Do we have someone from the Republican Party joining us?” Olmos asked.
I said that I had invited Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, a Republican, but had not heard back from her staff, and did not think she was coming.
Olmos was bothered by my answer. Even though it was clear we were there to talk about the importance of voting, not about party platforms, he felt that a different perception could have been drawn.
“It looks partisan,” he said.
For a moment, I felt that we had betrayed the understanding that this would be a nonpartisan event. I told Olmos I planned to inform the audience at the beginning of the chat that we had invited the Arizona Secretary of State. He grumbled, “OK,” and reminded me that this event is supposed to be nonpartisan.
Thirty minutes later, everyone was gathered in the Old Senate Chamber on the third floor of the museum, ready to start the chat. The Mayor had shown up as promised and several Spanish-language media outlets were there.
Moments after I announced that the Arizona Secretary of State had been invited, but could not make it, in walks Michelle Reagan – no doubt the second-highest ranking official in the state keeps her whereabouts deliberately vague. Reagan’s attendance was a welcomed surprise that put our event back on firm, nonpartisan ground. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw a smile come over Olmos’s face.
Installed happily next to the Mayor and Secretary of State, Olmos said, “I’ll get them [voters] to the polls. You get them to vote for you.”
Olmos has participated in ‘get out the vote’ events for almost 40 years. In 1978, Olmos was doing a play called “Zoot Suit” in Los Angeles when Willie Velásquez, who launched the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (www.svrep.org), asked Olmos to help him. Since then, Olmos has continued to lend his name and support to nonpartisan efforts that encourage everyone to register and vote.
“The more people that vote…the better it’s going to be for the country,” Olmos said to the Facebook Live audience.
However, for Olmos, local elections are the most important.
“They [local officials] are the ones that really run our government. They’re the ones that really help our communities be what they are.”
During the second part of the chat, Olmos took questions from AIGA Arizona President Liz Magura and Francisco Heredia with Mi Familia Vota as well as the Facebook Live audience – a transcript of the Q&A is below.
One highlight from the Q&A followed a question from Heredia about what Olmos had planned for the next six weeks leading up to the election.
“What we’re doing right now [Facebook Live chat] is a tremendous connection to the outside world,” Olmos said. “But when you’re looking at someone, eye to eye, and you’re talking to them, the relationship is much stronger.”
Olmos then mentioned a family he had met that morning while stopping for coffee: a mother and father with their daughter and her baby. Olmos asked all three of them if they planned to vote. The mother and father said yes, but the daughter said no.
“Wow,” Olmos said. “The decision is yours, but I hope you realize that the future of her life [the baby] depends on you.”
He then pointed out that her mom and dad understood that their vote was important to her.
“You should try to think about your daughter and them,” Olmos said.
Another highlight came when Magura asked Olmos how he empowers people to vote while staying nonpartisan.
“Making sure they understand that their voice is speaking not only for themselves, but actually almost like 10,000 people,” Olmos said.
“The last time we voted in a presidential campaign, it changed the course of lives,” Olmos added. “I think that right now, we’re on the verge of something that could change the course of our lives.”
This year was the first time Olmos worked with AIGA, the oldest and largest professional association for design. Since 2000, AIGA has called upon its members across the United States and internationally to design posters that inspire everyday residents to get out and vote. The posters are nonpartisan and form the main component of AIGA’s Get Out the Vote effort.
The month before, Olmos attended a similar AIGA Get Out the Vote event in Los Angeles produced by Agustín Garza, a National Board Member for AIGA and an accomplished designer. The event showcased the Get Out the Vote poster that Garza and Olmos had collaborated on together: the poster is a photo of a determined-looking Olmos in a leather jacket, wearing wire-rimmed glasses, standing next to the words, “este año tu voto es cosa seria.” This year your vote is a serious matter.
The poster is displayed at LA bus stops, and a video version of it has become a public service announcement, broadcast daily on local Spanish-language television networks, like Azteca, Telemundo, and Univision.