Lifting Up Family Votes: Grantee Spotlight with Jaynie Parrish and Missa Foy
About us: Progressive Turnout Project is the largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy. Our mission: rally Democrats to vote.
This year, we launched our first-ever Turnout Grants to build relationships with grassroot organizations across the country and help them connect with key voters.
“We selected groups that represented the entire experience of being a voter — from registering new voters, to helping voters cast a ballot for the first time, to empowering voters to activate their friends and family,” said Emily Kowey, our Turnout Grants Manager. Over 200 groups applied for funding, with nine innovative organizations being selected to test and run voter contact programming in key states.
Navajo County Democrats, and their program Northeast Arizona Native Democrats, are one of those inaugural grantees. Founded in 2008, these organizations are doing critical work across Navajo County and other areas of Arizona.
We talked with Jaynie Parrish, Executive Director of Navajo County Democrats, and Missa Foy, Chair of Navajo County Democrats, to discuss their critical work turning out the vote on the county’s three large reservations.
Between the 2018 primary and the 2022 primary, Democrats in Navajo and Apache County had a 9% turnout increase, thanks to the work of NCD and others. Often, they are the only team on the ground empowering voters to lead their families to the polls and creating community.
This Turnout Grant supports their Family Votes program. Launched in February 2022, Family Votes directly invests in and supports Matriarchs who are grounded in community and advocating for voter engagement. Read more about their innovative program below:
Tell me more about the Family Votes program and Matriarch organizing?
Jaynie: Family Votes is designed around our clanship systems in our tribal communities, particularly the Navajo Nation, White Mountain Apache, and Hopi.
We have our clans and most of us are matrilineal, meaning everything goes through the mother’s line. That’s a real direct connection to everything of who we are as Indigenous folks. I’ve just always known women to be the pivotal figure, not only in the home, but in the community. That’s just a given. And so I think that that concept translates to a lot of our other communities too.
We wanted to partner with these women, most who are 50 plus, and have been doing this work for decades. They’re seasoned and have a very important role in this community, and we wanted to formalize their work, which we did in 2020 by creating the Family Votes program. This year, we have 200 plus matriarchs who have been trained and are working in the community this cycle. Each will be connecting with around 20 voters.
If you could tell people one thing about Navajo County Dems, what would it be?
Missa: Everyone brings with them whatever skills and talents they used before politics. And we put all those skills and talents together to really increase voter turnout. In 2020, we did this by three to five percentage points more than other communities across the state. I think that’s because we’re year-round, because we’re talking to women to get their families together. Because our team knows their communities.
Jaynie: It’s the people, it’s our organizers, because they come with a wide variety of backgrounds, they’re from the community.
What has surprised you the most about the Matriarch Organizing Program?
Missa: I think it’s really important to have local organizers. For example, The White Mountain Apache Community is very different from the Navajo Community culturally, and their interactions with folks outside the community are very different. So it’s been really hard to build high quality relationships and those communities have been really hard to organize.
But when we hired Lydia Dosela, she came into the community as a well known figure and she has recruited over 50 matriarchs, the women and White Mountain Apache nation who we otherwise would not have had access to. She just had the magic and was really able to open up that community. And now moving forward, now that we have organizers in this community, we’re seeing more interest from candidates. We brought out statewide candidates for the first time to the White Mountain Apache Fair Parade. Senator Mark Kelly is having a rally there in the next week or two. And that’s really because we’ve been able to make connections and start a very strong organizing program there.
What has been your favorite part of your job with Navajo County Democrats?
Jaynie: For me again, it goes back to the people, every time we have a team call or something amazing happens, like Lydia recruits over 50 people, or that our volunteer Casey drove an hour to drop off signs — These little miracles and positive moments that happen, that’s always keeping me fueled and motivated.
Missa: We’re proving that being embedded in year-round work and investing in community relationships works. We will never work exactly like the candidate campaigns do, because we take the time to work slowly, spending 15 minutes at a door and an hour on a phone call, making sure the community member has the information they need. The model we’ve created works here because it is created by the folks here.