October 08, 2020
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Basma Alawi I am Basma Alawi, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, mother of two.
Rosa Gomez Hi, I’m Rosa Gomez. I’m a second year student studying political science and journalism.
Basma Alawi We left in January of 2010. Not many family members knew that we were leaving and seeking refuge and we dissnt they didn’t share that because of their safety.
So we moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
Rosa Gomez I’m from Minnesota. My dad is an immigrant from Honduras. Currently I’m living in Wisconsin where I go to school.
Basma Alawi This will be my first presidential election that I am voting at. It’s exciting in the same time, it’s, it’s really scary feeling. I think everyone talking about what’s after November,
Rosa Gomez I am a first-time voter because I just wasn’t old enough. It’ll be my first presidential election where I am of age vote.
Basma Alawi For me, if the mother’s vote the whole house, the whole family will vote because she will make sure everyone listens to her.
Rosa Gomez People don’t really vote alone. Like, you’re going to go with your kids, you’re going to go with your husband or your sister or someone.
Basma Alawi My two girls, they gonna come with me when I’m voting this year. We’re going to do early voting.
Rosa Gomez When I returned my absentee ballot, like we stuck a couple in the mail at the same time, like all my roommates and I just did it at once, you know? So, you’re not doing it alone. It’s more than one vote.
Basma Alawi If I am not voting of other communities, not voting, who’s just going to be voting.
We want everyone to vote so we could get the representation that’s reflect us. I was told a saying by my boss, she said, Basma, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. And, if we either going to be at the table or in the menu, and I don’t think anyone would like to be in the menu.
Shuka Kalantari I’m Shuka Kalantari, the senior producer of the science of happiness filling in for Dacher Keltner. Today, we’re looking at the act of voting and what that has to do with our happiness. Our guests are Basma Alawi and Rosa Gomez. This year, there’ll be voting in a us presidential election for the first time.
Rosa wasn’t old enough to vote before and Basma was still in the process of getting her citizenship during the 2016 election. They’re both working now to get others in their community to vote, as well. Later, we’ll also explore how voting is linked to better health and success in life.
Shuka Kalantari Basma and Rosa, thanks for joining.
Rosa Gomez Thank you for having us.
Basma Alawi Thank you so much.
Shuka Kalantari So Basma, you work with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, focusing on getting immigrants registered to vote. And Rosa, you volunteer with a nonprofit NextGen America, focusing on getting university students registered to vote. What motivates the two of you to put so much energy into getting other people to vote?
Rosa Gomez A really motivating factor has been my dad, like immigration is something that I’m really passionate about. I was on the phone with my sibling the other day, we were talking about a photo that we saw where we were both kids. I barely even remember this. And our parents took us to, it was a rally or a protest for immigration.
We kept talking and I was in first grade when my dad became a us citizen. And then I was thinking again, and like a few years later I was volunteering at a naturalization ceremony at my high school. Like, these are just things that keep coming up in my life because I’m just really passionate about them, obviously, because they affect me, but they are just really important values in my life, but it is also very aspiring to be able to work with like-minded individuals who, you know, when you’re the same age, you’re experiencing a lot of the same things.
We’re going through a lot of the same emotions and things happening in life. And, kind of being able to feel like, hey, I’m not alone here. Like in my generation trying to make a better place. I just think it’s really, I don’t know. It’s really refreshing. And I think that’s probably a feeling that carries out throughout your life.
Shuka Kalantari Basma, what about you?
Basma Alawi I think my main reason why I started doing this work. Because when I ended up as a refugee in the United States, and by the way, refugees don’t choose the country or the city or the state that they will be resettled at, and when I arrived, I saw that the community, some community members were welcoming and really trying to make sure that our needs met, um, understand who we are and where we are, we are coming from. And I faced some, also some kind of discrimination against me as a refugee against others because of the way I look because of the way I talk.
It just led me to say, hey, it’s enough. I think if I’m not going to speak about it, it’s going to continue to others. I want my daughters who are going to grow up to be Muslim women of color, hijabi or not, that’s your choice, but I want them to feel welcome. I want them to make sure that this is their home .
With all that being said about half the people who are eligible to vote in the U S don’t actually vote.
How do you explain the importance of voting when you’re talking with your friends?
Rosa Gomez I think to be able to say that you don’t feel like you need to vote is a privilege, right? Because the things that are being decided in the government in elections are not going to influence your life. So I think when I talk with my friends, I kinda open up a more personal side where, you know, I talk about my dad and how he’s an immigrant. I talk about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I talk about very personal things where voting and things that are decided in our elections, values that are on the line in our elections, have the ability to drastically change my life, you know? And it kind of comes down to, do you care about me?
Do you care about people like me? Are you willing to vote to show that like, I’m your friend and that you care about me and my rights.
Shuka Kalantari How do you think that the work that you do getting people to vote on campus affects your kind of connection to like this greater community?
Rosa Gomez From doing this work and from talking about politics, I have made some of my closest friends and I think that’s what a lot of us get out of it.
Yes, we are, you know, doing the good work, like getting people out to vote. Yes, we’re making a difference in our community, but we’re also creating a community, like, we’re creating a community of people with shared values. And for me, when I see something like that, I am inspired and it makes me happy and it just, it brings my heart a lot of joy to know that there are people out there that have incredible values and that are going to be putting in so much work just because they care about other people.
And for me, that is what makes me happy. That is what empowers me and inspires me to keep going. And that is why I have some of the most amazing friends that I have now is because of the work that I have done.
Shuka Kalantari Thank you. And Basma, what about you? I mean, there’s been some literature about how civic engagement can really help immigrant communities feel more connected with the country they’re in. How has it affected you personally to be doing this kind of work?
Basma Alawi I think it’s just like, as much as politics divide people, I can say it does bring people together because I mean, in the end, people care about their faith, they care about your values, and I see now during the election, really, like we were during the debate, I love that kind of action, but we had a WhatsApp party as much as we can do during COVID. But, we were like a group of organizers, maybe 20 to 30, watching the debate and texting each other. So I think it definitely bring people together. It definitely, it creates community, especially during COVID people were so disconnected.
I think before I start to be civically engaged before that, I always felt I’m a visitor one day, things going to get better, and I’m going back to see my family and stay with them. I think after I started being more civically engaged and learn about the process, I felt more rooted to here. I felt more that I really need to make a difference.
Shuka Kalantari Getting out the vote, doing things like this can sort of be this double-edged sword it’s satisfying, but it’s also potentially super stressful.
What is your stress level been like uring this process? And then how do you kind of cope and reset to take care of your own wellbeing throughout?
Rosa Gomez I mean, honestly my stress levels have been really high. They have been really high. I feel like for a lot of us, we feel like, kind of the entire way of the election, like kind of rests on our shoulder.
Like we are responsible for getting people registered, like returning absentee. Like I feel like we’re responsible for a lot. Like you have to commit yourself as an ally to these groups. And part of that is a lifelong commitment to education. And I feel like the more that you learn, there’s a lot of injustices that you kind of absorb.
And I think it’s really easy to feel like you are responsible for fixing every issue, every injustice in the world, like it is up to you to fix it. And I think it’s really important to have the mindset. This is something that I have to think about a lot that at the end of the day I am one person I can do the best that I can, but I am one person. And what really helps me manage my stress levels through all of this is to know that it starts in my community.
It starts with the people around me, me that I am influencing, and I hopefully am inspiring to do better.
Shuka Kalantari So much of what you’re talking about has been studied. This idea of what motivates us, what predicts whether or not we’ll be voting is this sort of unselfish concern for others wellbeing. And it sounds to me like you’re saying like this concern is what helps propel you.
Rosa Gomez For sure. I spoke at a rally a couple of weeks ago, obviously about voting. And one thing that I spoke about is to vote with a very unprivileged lens, you know, vote like your skin is not white. Vote like you’re not straight and cisgender vote like you’re not afforded permanent residency in this country vote with in a very unselfish way.
Vote in line with vulnerable and marginalized communities.
Shuka Kalantari So I want to turn to you Basma and ask you that same question. What is your stress level like and how do you cope?
Basma Alawi Definitely. It’s overwhelming. It’s stressful. Uh, some days I cannot even breathe, right, because there’s too many, so many things to catch on, but I can tell you like this what’s heals me because that’s actually what helps me really continuing this kind of work.
One of the stories actually really personal story to me, which is my husband and my sister who, since I started engaging in politics and in advocacy and doing all of this work, they keep telling me, Stop, it’s too much. Like how many people you’re going to be able to change. Really? You are hurting yourself. But in this election, they are both doing phone banking.
So it’s, it’s actually, they are doing the work, uh, my husband, as soon as he come back from work, he takes my other computer and he goes to his room and do the work. Um, and looking at these other community members who I never see them talking about politics, but because one, it couldn’t be one person’s passion who influenced all the people around.
And it’s always important to communicate our value with others because as passionate as we could be about it, it will transfer. And now that’s why you see my husband in the other room doing phone banking, my sister’s texting, what kind of response she’s getting, she’s getting her friend to do the same thing and they are in other States and doing calls for Florida.
So for me, it’s a healing moment.
Shuka Kalantari Thank you both so much for taking the time to join me on the science of happiness today. I really enjoyed talking with both of you.
Rosa Gomez Thank you.
Basma Alawi Thank you so much.
Shuka Kalantari How has being civically engaged early in life, linked to better health and higher income later in life?
Parissa Ballard So we thought about voting activism and volunteering, and then we wanted to know how do those relate with different forms of wellbeing.
Shuka Kalantari More up next.
Parissa Ballard As a developmental psychologist, it’s really clear to me that the world needs young people to be engaged with social issues. And that all aspects of young people’s lives are interconnected.
Shuka Kalantari Parissa Ballard is an assistant professor in family and community medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Parissa Ballard So, right, how are young people engage with their communities is connected with every other aspect of young people’s lives.
Shuka Kalantari Parissa wanted to know how voting and other acts of civic engagement were linked to people’s well-being later in life.
Parissa Ballard The big question of this study was does civic engagement during adolescence and young adulthood promote health, education and income level over the course of adulthood.
Shuka Kalantari She and her team analyzed data from 9,000 people who researchers had been following since the late nineties when they were around 15 years old.
Parissa Ballard So we, yeah, he examined these three different forms of civic engagement, voting, volunteering, and activism, and how they were related with these five outcomes, mental health, risky health behaviors, and physical health, and then income and education.
Shuka Kalantari At the outset of the study, they group people together based on similar demographics, like their race, education, and socioeconomic status.
Parissa Ballard And we also match them on their health background, social connections, for example, to neighbors and teachers and parents and things like school performance.
Shuka Kalantari Then they looked at data from when they were about 18 to 23 years old to see if they had voted, volunteered, or did some form of activism.
Parissa Ballard And then the outcome data would be from about six to eight years after that.
So then they would have been in their mid to late twenties.
Shuka Kalantari Parissa’s team found that people who voted when they were young adults later reported better mental health than people who hadn’t voted. They were also less likely to do things that were bad for their physical health, like drinking or something.
Parissa Ballard We found that all three forms of civic engagement, voting, volunteering, and activism were positively associated with later income and education level.
Shuka Kalantari The study couldn’t directly explain why this connection exists, but Parissa has her own idea.
Parissa Ballard I think a lot of times when you cast a vote, it’s something that you do when you might feel a part of your community, like you’re making your voice heard because it’s something you care about. So if you think about voting and volunteering that might connect you with other people who do similar things. It might open up your eyes to opportunities. It might make you think about your future differently. So it’s kind of potentially a way to increase social connectedness for young people to provide them with opportunities and to allow them to define and enact their values.
Shuka Kalantari I’m Shuka Kalantari, senior producer of the Science of Happiness filling in for Dacher Keltner this week. We’d love to hear from you about your hopes for the future of the U.S., regardless of the outcome of the election. How would you like to see us become a more inclusive, cohesive, and compassionate society?
Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, age, and location. And we may feature you in our online magazine. Greater Good. Our podcast is a coproduction of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science center and PRX production assistance from Jennie Cataldo and Ben Manilla of BMP audio. Our associate producer is Haley Gray.
Our executive producer is Jane Park. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh.