Trap the Vote, an innovative new program in Marin, encourages Black and Brown young people to vote and educates them about the political process. Started by four community activists, the organization aims to empower this rising generation by giving them a voice.
Paul Austin, Berry Accius, Amber Allen-Peirson, and Bishlam Bullock recently joined forces to create the multi-faceted, non-partisan movement, which includes a Youth Squad, Zoom events and large voter-registration parties.
“We need to train young people,” Austin says. “One of them may be the next mayor, congressman or judge.”
The founders of Trap the Vote began by recruiting the Youth Squad, a core group of young Black and Brown leaders, ranging in age from 15 to 20. Squad members register and mobilize voters, canvass, coordinate events and run social media campaigns.
Trap the Vote’s slogan, “Our voice, our power, our vote,” is blended with hip music and bold graphics in short video clips on the group’s Instagram page to enlist new participants for the Youth Squad.
“We put some street, some cred behind it,” Accius says. “We bring the cool back into voting.”
A lively Zoom meeting last week consisted of a two-hour conversation about the election. Public-policy experts discussed the pros and cons of several propositions on the November ballot. Reviewing how and why propositions appear on the ballot gave the young attendees insight into the political process.
“It’s not all about the presidential race,” Bullock says. “Allowing parolees to vote is on the ballot. Affirmative action is on the ballot. We need information about each initiative. The educational component of Trap the Vote is most important.”
The team will hold its first major event, the Trap the Vote Block Party, at Rocky Graham Park in Marin City this Saturday, Sept. 26, from noon to 4pm. The celebration features music, food, giveaways and guest speakers. A main objective is to register Black and Brown voters, but Allen-Peirson, Accius, Bullock and Austin emphasize that everyone is welcome to join the festivities.
“Particularly here in Marin, we need everybody,” Allen-Peirson says. “When there’s an issue that’s Black- and Brown-focused, we are going to need the support of the white community.”
Marin County ranks at the top of California’s list for racial disparity, according to research by Advancement Project California. Black residents make up just three percent of the county’s population, while Latinx comprise 16 percent. White people come in at a whopping 71 percent.
Seeking more political presence for Black and Brown people, Trap the Vote anticipates speaking directly with candidates and elected officials to share the needs of their community.
“We want to have a seat at the table with politicians,” Austin says. “It might not be this year, but hopefully next year, they’ll be calling us.”
The advocates behind Trap the Vote established the Marin group to maintain momentum after the success of recent rallies in Marin City in response to George Floyd’s death and in Tiburon to protest police treatment of Black owners of a Main Street business. They modeled it on Trap the Vote in Sacramento, which was launched by Accius.
Formerly from Marin, Accius now lives in Sacramento where he runs Voice of the Youth, a nonprofit agency for at-risk adolescents and teens. Marin County still has a lot of work to do, he says. He personally experienced racism at Novato High School, which motivated him to become an activist.
“Those moments played an integral part into who I am,” Accius says.
Austin, a long-time Marin City resident, also heads up a nonprofit organization for youths. Play Marin, in its eighth year, provides sports and other extracurricular activities to give kids of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to learn and grow together through play. He became involved in Trap the Vote because he sees a need for young voters to exercise their political powers.
A wellness outreach specialist at Tamalpais High School, Allen-Peirson helped found Trap the Vote to build agency in Black and Brown youth, who are hungry for engagement. The Mill Valley resident says studies find diversity, equity and inclusion are healthy for a community, while lack of access to other races and cultures causes harm.
“I’ve been working for almost a decade in Marin City youth programs and I’m feeling charged about what we’ve accomplished with Trap the Vote,” Allen-Peirson says. “So many kids have responded. I’m impressed, grateful and excited.”
Bullock, now a Vallejo resident, was raised in Marin City and is a third-generation Marinite. The entrepreneur and his wife own the successful Salon B Salon and Stash House in downtown San Rafael. He wants to teach young people that it’s their social responsibility to vote.
“With the Black Lives Matter movement going on, I felt compelled to participate in the election and make change happen,” Bullock says.
The activists urge all citizens to register to vote and cast their ballot on election day. Their goal, however, is to ensure Black and Brown folks, especially the youth, aren’t left out.
“The vote is power,” Accius says. “I’m celebrating November third like it’s my birthday.”
Visit TrapTheVoteNov3rd on Facebook and trap_the_vote on Instagram.
Key Election Dates in Marin County:
Marin County begins mailing vote-by-mail ballots.
(To prevent the spread of Covid-19, all registered voters in California will receive a vote-by-mail ballot.)
Vote-by-mail drop-box locations open from Oct. 6 through Nov. 3, until 8pm.
Online voter registration deadline. Visit registertovote.ca.gov.
Mail-in voter registration must be postmarked by Oct. 19.
Oct. 20 – Nov. 3:
Conditional voter registration and same-day voting begins at the Marin County elections department.
Oct. 31 – Nov. 3:
Polling places open.
Conditional voter registration and same-day voting at polling places.