Well, as I write, the sun is actually out! It has been a while! This month, I interviewed Davis Hammet, who many may know from his work with the organization Planting Peace and Topeka’s Equality House. He has since created a nonprofit organization called Loud Light, which “engages, educates, and empowers individuals from underrepresented populations” (www.loudlight.org/mission/). Hammet has focused especially on young voters in Kansas who might not normally cast a ballot. Thank you, Davis, for all of the work that you’re doing! I think that we can see some of those changes in motion after looking at some of the newly elected individuals in Kansas.
Where are you from, and with the incredible first name of Davis, are you named for anyone?
I’m from Destin, Florida. It’s the northern part referred to as the Redneck Riviera. My mother just had a thing for adding the letter S to the end of names. My brothers are Brooks and Evans.
How did you come to be in Kansas?
In 2012, I was working in New York City as the director of operations for Planting Peace. Aaron, the president, started talking about how a house was for sale across the street from the notorious Westboro Baptist Church hate group. We got it and moved to Kansas (I didn’t even know where this place was on a map) to create the rainbow-colored Equality House. From there, I started working on LGBTQ rights and fell in love with the state.
What made you decide to transition to your new career as the founder and director of the nonprofit Loud Light?
I’ve been an activist my entire life on various issues and was getting engaged across the board in Kansas. The 2014 election results felt detached from the reality of Kansas voters, so I looked into election data and found that Kansas was suppressing tens of thousands of votes and had one of the lowest youth turnout rates in the nation. LGBTQ rights, like so many issues, are overwhelmingly supported by the public, but key constituencies of the public, especially youth, voluntarily forfeit their power by staying home from the polls. This means our government lags years or decades behind the public will. I decided working to turnout the youth vote in Kansas was the most important thing I could do for our future. In 2017, we expanded from just youth registration and turnout to doing weekly legislative recap videos and in-depth explainer videos.
When someone tells me they voted for the first time in their life because of Loud Light. Along those lines, I’ve also watched college students come to the Statehouse for the first time, visit their legislators, and even give testimony on bills. Seeing a young person gain a sense of power and influence over not just their own future, but the community’s future is something amazing.
What has been the most challenging from this change?
Raising money. I’m good with the intense groundwork, sleepless nights of video editing, and administrative work, but fundraising is difficult the first few years of starting a nonprofit. I’m still a little surprised we made it through the first two years. Another big challenge was [former Secretary of State] Kris Kobach’s voter suppression law that required a documentary birth certificate to register, but that was struck down as unconstitutional.
What is the big takeaway from this last election?
Our voting population is starting to look more like our actual population. That’s translating into a more diverse government. A diversity of both demographic traits and ideas. We have a long way to go to realize accurate representation, but we’re headed in the right direction.
How do you think we can we get young people interested in politics?
First, don’t bullshit. Your vote isn’t going to have an impact on the U.S. president in Kansas, but it could decide your state representative or city councilperson. Those state and local positions decide if your water is clean, if that pothole gets filled, how high your college tuition is, and even if your landlord can kick you out for being LGBTQ.
Second, give them access to power. Where your vote matters most is also where you can easily access the people you’re voting for. Having a conversation with your elected official about an issue changes the perspective. You realize they’re normal people. Some are brilliant, some … aren’t, and the perception changes from thinking of politics as something you vote for once every few years to something you continuously engage with to shape the future.
Third, remove barriers. Things like voter registration deadlines overwhelmingly impact young people, and there are easy solutions, like allowing them to register at the polling place on Election Day. The most difficult thing is just getting them to cast that first ballot.
What must we as LGBTQIA citizens do to prepare for the next election?
Right now is the state legislative session in Missouri and Kansas. Call your legislators now, meet with them, let them know about your life and concerns as they prepare to make the votes that impact us. Get all your LGBTQ and ally friends registered, and let candidates know that y’all will be voting based on these issues. Work to build long-term community political power so that it becomes clear that being anti-LGBTQ is a nonstarter.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
What? 404 cannot compute. Really though, I enjoy writing music, visiting family, cooking, and hanging out around a fire.
OK, now a fun question. What would be your dream ticket for the 2020 presidential election?
Funny enough, I’m not really into federal politics. I just want to see candidates that communicate big ideas in accessible ways and inspire young voters.