What does it take to create a new holiday? As with everything else in a society, it all comes down to communication.
Free The Vote started as a practical way to get people to the polls (read this profile for backstory). When 33 percent of people don’t vote because it conflicts with work or school, the easy solution is to treat Election Day as a holiday — even if it’s not federally mandated.
Starting in a tech community known for progressive policies, we hope to grow a movement to make more flexible Election Days. And that simple message seems to have resonated.
Here’s the current list of companies that are participating fully:
- Biltsharp (Full Day)
- Bluecadet (Full Day)
- Cipher Prime Studios (Full Day)
- Flyclops (Full Day)
- Inverse Paradox (Full Day)
- MOD Worldwide (Full Day)
- PHL Collective (Full Day)
- Thomson Reuters (Full Day)
- Witty Gritty (Full Day)
- Yikes, Inc. (Full Day)
- The Heads Of State (3 p.m. Close)
- Jarvus Innovations (3 p.m. Close)
- P’unk Ave (3 p.m. Close)
- Seer Interactive (3 p.m. Close)
Tellingly, most of these companies are in tech: you reach out to who you know. Alex Hillman of Indy Hall was instrumental in putting us in touch with many of these local decision-makers, and my Cipher Prime cofounder Will Stallwood’s design skills went a long way to giving the movement a recognizable visual identity.
Though some companies did sign up through the website, the majority were petitioned directly, which worked well, as it allowed us to discuss individual concerns:
Consider these further lessons this first year:
- Technically Media, the company that publishes this site Technical.ly and Generocity.org, supported the effort, but cannot close because, you know, Election Day is the most important working day in American journalism, if only for the optics of what a news organization should be. As a solution, they made their goal 100 percent internal voter turnout, and their team has been working toward that goal.
- Smaller businesses feel the pinch for full day, so the partial day was suggested by Young Involved Philadelphia’s Nick Marzano and Geoff DiMasi of South Philly design firm P’unk Ave.
- Some businesses cannot close, so signing up in advance for blocks of time off became an option.
A common refrain was, “Since we have flex-time, why do we need to come on board?” Many companies have already thought through issues of work-life balance and were genuinely curious as to how participating in Free The Vote would be fundamentally different.
I’ve also been surprised by how much the symbolic side of this gesture resonated. This effort is about demonstrating leadership as much as removing practical barriers. Setting aside dedicated voting time — even only two hours — communicates something powerful: Civic participation is a value of this company and we’re living that out. For the companies that have signed on, Election Day isn’t just something to squeeze in between sales calls: it’s a time to celebrate, debate with neighbors and volunteer with get-out-the-vote efforts.
While talking with tech companies has gone relatively smoothly, things haven’t been so smooth for companies with hourly workers. The varying logistics and costs associated have frankly stopped a lot of those conversations before they even begin — which, considering that those workers are the ones most heavily affected by current voting laws, has been a disappointment.
This is why we are petitioning the city to participate. Getting a major municipal government like the City of Philadelphia on board requires time, patience and communication, but support from the highest levels will make it that much easier to provide voting time for service industry workers. To the city’s credit, these talks have been extremely accommodating. While something like a citywide holiday will not happen in 2016, the stakes of this election have served as a rallying cry to get movement on the issue of voter disenfranchisement.
The most important thing right now is visibility. The more companies that loudly and proudly participate, the more of a message it sends to the city, the state and the country that voting isn’t a privilege — it’s a right.
Free The Vote has been our first foray into creating local change. As with all things, it’s a learning process, and we’re open to having conversations with any company that wants to participate but doesn’t know how.
With less than a week remaining till election day, what will your company do to Free The Vote?
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