When Mike Lo Vuolo, political affairs director for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, was growing up, he remembers watching his immigrant grandparents struggle.
“In the workplace, in the rents they paid, in the food they couldn’t afford to buy it seemed like every part of their lives was a hardship,” Lo Voulo said. “Worst yet, they didn’t have a way to change it. Politicians had control over them, and since they didn’t have the right to vote until after they were citizens, they couldn’t pick the politicians.
“In essence, they couldn’t control their own lives.”
Remembering back to the lesson he learned from his grandparents, Lo Vuolo has not missed voting in a single local, state or national election since he first turned 18 years old.
“I saw that struggle, and I vowed to always exercise my vote as a way to change it and a responsibility to myself and my community,” he said.
Naturally, Lo Vuolo wasn’t happy when he saw that only 130,235 people, or 11 percent of registered voters, cast their ballot in the Saturday, May 12 elections.
“I’m pissed off,” he said. “These people need to wake up and realize what power their vote holds. They don’t get it, they don’t care and I’m tired of it.”
One piece of news that Lo Vuolo was happy about was that among the five precincts that Stonewall considers to be “heavily populated with the GLBT community,” voter turnout was higher. From the pool of 11,493 registered voters in the Oak Lawn Area, 1,739 participated in the election. This represented a 15.9 percent turnout.
“That provides a little hope, but it is still not enough.” Lo Vuolo said. “Look at my favorite example, the African-American community’s struggle for civil rights. If Rosa Parks had gotten on that bus alone, we all know what would have happened. But she had thousands of people behind her, and it changed the world. If our community bands together now, we can also change the world for the better,”
Lo Vuolo says that not every one has to be as extreme as him in political activism, but there is simply no excuse for not casting a ballot and supporting a cause.
“We spend hours researching the right doctors to go to, watching reality television and redecorating our houses. We can take 10 minutes to go to the polls and let our voice be heard,” he said.
Joseph Hernandez, an openly gay District 3 City Council candidate who advanced to a runoff May 12, agrees.
“I think the turnout could have been better,” he said. “The GLBT community has a history of being active and vocal, and I think the percentages from them in this election were just dismal.”
Hernandez says that he went door to door in his district to try to increase voter turnout.
“A large part of the houses were successful. People seemed to care, but one of the things you have to deal with as you knock is when you encounter someone who is not engaged in the process and doesn’t want to bother. That happens more than I would like,” Hernandez said. “But the good news is that you have the opportunity to education them about the issues. You can make them realize how much they are affected by the government.”
That’s the same strategy that Lo Vuolo is taking. This year, he looked up all of his close friends in Dallas on the election Web site to make sure they were registered. Then he sent out e-mails every two days indicating who had and hadn’t voted trying to “embarrass them to the polls.”
“The sad part is not one of my friends early voted, and only one admitted to me going to polls on Election Day itself,” he said.
Lo Vuolo also helped with Stonewall in organizing a party at Sue Ellen’s where voters were driven to the polls during early voting in between hamburgers, hotdogs and entertainment.
“It really chapped my ass. Only 34 people went with us to vote, and we were even giving out free food,” he said. “There were more people on the balcony at JR’s during happy hour than went to vote.”
But Lo Vuolo isn’t giving up hope.
“It’s estimated that there are over 80,000 GLBT residents in Dallas County. If only half of them got up and voted, we would have a huge power,” he said. “The bottom line is that our biggest voice is our vote. If we want a GLBT friendly community, than we have to do our part to make it that way.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 18, 2007