Romero Institute is a nonprofit public policy center which works to combines public education, grassroots organizing, policy initiation and high-impact litigation to expose the sources of injustice and implement life-sustaining solutions. In 2005 they started the Lakota People’s Law Project in partnership with tribal leaders in North and South Dakota to win justice for the Lakota people on a range of issues including child welfare, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and legal defense for water protectors.
Their goal was ambitious: increase Native voter turnout in key swing states in order to assert the importance of the Native voice in politics and increase accountability for those seeking or holding elected office. Romero Institute coordinated with tribal leaders to build a campaign that would connect Native voters from Standing Rock to Native voters in targeted swing states, in order to have persuasive conversations about the importance of voting and issues important to Native Americans such as the protection of sacred land and water.
In order to achieve this goal, the campaign would need to contact large numbers of voters, including many who could not be reached by a predictive dialer, particularly small communities and those who rely primarily on cellphones rather than landlines (a majority of voters on reservations). In order to increase the efficiency of contacting these voters, the campaign utilized a brand-new phone banking technology: VPB (Virtual Phone Bank) Connect.
Romero Institute worked with the Standing Rock tribe to hire 30 tribal members and train them as phone bank organizers. They began a social distanced call center in an old high school gym (with callers spaced 6 feet apart and air purifiers in use), with one group of callers using a predictive dialer and another using VPB Connect to make calls to cell phone lists and reservation communities too small to be contacted with the dialer.
When someone associated with the campaign tested positive for COVID, the phonebank team opted to take extra precautions and make calls from home. Callers were able to use the VPB connect software on campaign-provided iPads and continue phone banking remotely for the last few weeks of the campaign. After the presidential race was decided, Romero Institute and Standing Rock extended their phone banking efforts in order to get out the vote for the historic Georgia Senate run-offs as well. Using the remote capabilities of VPB Connect, Standing Rock members recruited an additional 21 volunteers who called Georgia voters from their homes.
Over a quarter million phone calls made for the general election.
Over 11,000 conversations with voters in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and on the Standing Rock Reservation.
Over 42,000 calls and 2,000 conversations with Georgia voters ahead of the January run-off elections.
The votes of Native Americans across the country played a key role in the election of President Joe Biden: Arizona went blue for the first time since 1996, and only the second time in 70 years—a historic feat cinched by Diné voters’ 97 percent turnout for Biden.1 Beyond the presidential race, voters made history in 2020 by electing a record six Native American representatives to the House of Representatives.
In addition to electoral wins, phone bankers reported outstanding experiences and Romero Institute and Standing Rock are committed to replicating their campaign in the future. The fight to make the Native American voice heard in politics has only begun.
Thank you, Lakota People’s Law Project, for assisting us in being a part of history, helping us get out the Native vote in 2020. So many times, we feel like the kid looking into the window from outside—feeling like what happens in this country has nothing to do with us. Thank you, my friends, for allowing us to participate.”
— Janet Thomas | Former Executive Director of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Lakota Law is welcomed here at Standing Rock with open arms. We understand that you’re not here to be the typical ‘white savior.’ By partnering with us to mobilize Native voters, you’re providing the tools necessary for us to take an active approach toward saving ourselves from being forgotten.”
— Honorata Defender | Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Member and Phone Banker