Two groups in the birding community — one you’ve surely heard of and the other brand new — are working to get birdwatchers to participate in the 2020 election.
Last week, on National Voter Registration Day, the National Audubon Society said in emails to members and in social media posts, “Birds can’t vote, but as one of the millions of Americans who care about them — you can.”
Audubon’s email also said: “In addition to the presidential race, there are countless state and local elections happening nationwide this year that will have a big impact on our communities and our birds. These decision makers have an important influence on the ways that laws are written and enacted at every level of government.”
Audubon also encouraged members to “triple your vote” by asking three friends to “pledge to vote for the birds this fall.”
Auk the Vote
The new organization, called Auk the Vote, formed recently among birders in the San Francisco area. It is “a grassroots project to get birders, wherever they live in the country, to volunteer with get-out-the-vote efforts,” says David Robinson, one of the organizers.
The name, of course, is a play on the name of the longstanding music-community organization Rock the Vote. The name Auk the Vote is clever and also serious, Robinson says, “because the Great Auk was hunted to extinction, and we don’t want other birds going that way.”
Robinson, a high-school English teacher who has been birding for the past 45 years, says: “This election will be critical in determining the future of many of the species we know and love. We desperately need a president and a Congress who will respect and protect birds, wildlife, and the planet.”
The idea for Auk the Vote arose after a meeting of Golden Gate Audubon’s conservation committee, he says. He and committee chair Laura Cremin felt that for conservation goals to be achieved, birders not only need to vote, but they need to help get out the vote among people who might not be birders but who support environmental causes. This is especially true in swing states, he notes.
“We birders are totally passionate about birding, but birders and more broadly, environmentalists, don’t have the greatest voting records,” he says. “We have not as a constituency turned out very consistently. People will put so much energy and passion and time into birding activities, but there has not been a kind of tradition of trying to turn out other birders and environmentalists to vote for candidates who are supporting birds and the environment or fighting climate change.”
Robinson and his friends created the website aukthevote.org, a central hub for all matters relating to birds and the 2020 election. The site includes a long list of ways the Trump administration has endangered birds and rolled back longstanding environmental protections, from trying to gut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the nation’s oldest conservation law — a move currently halted by the courts — to withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, even though National Audubon Society research shows that 64 percent of North American species risk extinction from climate change.
Auk the Vote’s website offers a calendar of ways for birders to take part in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts, with multiple volunteer opportunities each day between now and the November 3 election. Auk the Vote also can host online GOTV parties for local bird clubs or groups of birding friends, mixing phone calling or letter writing with activities like bird trivia contests.
“We have something for everyone, whether you’re as sociable as a Bushtit or as solitary as a Great Gray Owl,” Robinson adds. “Make phone calls to potential voters from a friendly group Zoom room, or write postcards in the quiet of your own home. The important thing is that we all get involved.”
The group plans phone bank GOTV events on each Saturday in October with special guests: artist Jenny Odell, authors Jennifer Ackerman and Jonathan Franzen, and the American Birding Association’s Nate Swick, who is also an author and a podcast host.
‘Every birder must vote’
“We need to restore the role of science in policymaking and the integrity of environmental agencies,” Robinson says. “We need people in office who will fight climate change and protect our wild lands. That means every birder must vote, get their friends to vote, and join efforts to get pro-environment swing-state voters to vote. If we don’t act now, the birds we love and the habitats they rely on will be irrevocably lost.
“At the national level — the presidency, Senate, and to some extent the House — this election is going to come down to turnout because most people have made up their minds,” he adds. “This is not a big election about swaying undecideds. And so if you know people who love birds, who love nature, whether it’s in their urban neighborhood or whether it’s a beautiful state park, it doesn’t matter, if you know people who care about this, this is the time to talk with them about it. Do you want to see this stuff passed on to the future? Because it’s under more assault than it ever has been.”