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OCA-Greater Philadelphia: Teamwork and Community-Building

by Anna Perng on Saturday, August 25, 2012

OCA-GP’s presentation to seniors (Coffee Cup Branch of Philadelphia Senior Center)

On August 25, 2012, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of OCA, a national organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans, organized a day of activities focused on empowering Asian Americans to vote.

OCA-Greater Philadelphia teamed up with the Coffee Cup Branch of Philadelphia Senior Center, a resource for recreation, group meals, health & wellness education and other supportive services for adults 55 and older, to present a Voter Registration and Civics Workshop. Speaking in Mandarin and Cantonese, OCA-GP General Counsel Tsiwen Law and Coffee Cup Branch director Philip Lai discussed policy issues important to seniors in the upcoming General Election, provided an overview of the new Pennsylvania law requiring every voter to provide a valid photo ID to vote, and then provided a detailed overview of the voting process

 

Kathy Wah Lee, who traveled from NYC, registers a senior to vote.

After the workshop concluded, six bilingual volunteers registered 38 seniors to vote. Two of those volunteers, Amala Lane and Kathy Wah Lee, traveled at 7 AM all the way from New York City in order to volunteer their bilingual skills! After answering seniors’ questions and troubleshooting with them on ID and other concerns, OCA-GP volunteers Matt Chea, Elliot Kim, and Becca Bub served the seniors lunch.

Following the morning program, OCA-GP volunteers headed to Chinese Christian Church and Center. OCA-GP was greeted by White House Champion of Change Harry Leong and twenty five members of the Philadelphia Suns, a vibrant grassroots organization that seeks to foster community by encouraging sportsmanship and volunteerism, and to instill values of leadership among the various ages through team-wide events. Harry and his volunteers had just finished folding 200 bilingual Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and Asian Pacific American Bar Association – PA (APABA-PA) brochures about the new Pennsylvania voter ID law.

OCA-GP trained the Philadelphia Suns volunteers on voter registration. Under the supervision of Harry Leong, Philip Lai, Amala Lane, Elliot Kim, and Kathy Wah Lee, the Suns then split up into two groups covering major high-traffic areas in Philadelphia Chinatown: 10th and Race Streets, and 10th and Arch Streets. These young volunteers registered voters, distributed voter ID pamphlets, and canvassed local businesses, asking the businesses to display OCA-GP’s Mandarin and English posters on voting and the voter ID law.

 

Philadelphia Suns and Harry Leong

Incredibly, the Suns volunteers are not yet voter age. Yet, they registered a dozen voters in an hour and distributed hundreds of brochures and posters on the new voter ID law. When asked what they learned from their experience, one Suns volunteer said, “I never realized how difficult it is to get people to stop and listen, never mind register to vote. It’s really hard work. The next time I see someone on the street, trying to register people, I will be nice and say ‘hello.’” Another Suns volunteer said, “A couple of people asked me, ‘Why should I vote?’ and I said, ‘I’m not going to tell you why. I’m just here to help you register to vote,’” noting that these adults appeared to take for granted their right, per Pennsylvania’s constitution, to vote.

Every adult reading this note should be inspired by the example set by Mr. Leong and the Philadelphia Suns. Mr. Leong and the Suns have established a 40 year-strong grassroots organization in Philadelphia Chinatown. Whether it’s their 35-year tradition of doing street clean-ups or their mobilization of the community to take a stand on casinos, the Suns’ track record speaks for itself.

Not content to rest on their laurels, these young Suns volunteers expressed an interest in doing more on civic engagement, particularly in helping seniors register to vote. OCA-GP will gladly plan another workshop for next month. Additionally, OCA-GP is proud to donate a $500 college scholarship in honor of the Suns 40th Anniversary. If you would ensure that the Suns can continue to positively impact generations of Asian Americans to come, please consider making a contribution (http://phillysuns.org/40th-anniversary-sponsorships/).

Before the day was over, APABA-PA President Jennifer Lin and OCA-GP General Counsel Tsiwen Law had canvassed a division in Philadelphia Chinatown. They identified an elderly Asian American voter in need of an alternate ballot. They also identified a retired Asian American voter that needed bilingual assistance in obtaining a corrected PA driver’s license from PennDOT. Mr. Law will be assisting those voters in the coming week. Although canvassing is difficult work, there is no doubt that for these Asian American voters, it made a difference for them to be engaged by Asian American volunteers.

If you walk through Philadelphia Chinatown in the coming weeks, you should see our posters in Mandarin and English, advising people people about available voting resources, particularly bilingual resources offered by AALDEF and APABA-PA. The cooperation and teamwork between our organizations will continue in the weeks and months to come as work toward equal access and equal opportunity for all.

To get involved and to get active, please contact info@ocagp.org for information on upcoming volunteer opportunities. We need your help!

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