Activist Spotlight: Ava Mazzye

“Tomorrow is election day which means that I’m going to have nightmares tonight about voter registration.”

Ava Mazzye, class of 2020, first became involved with Election@Bard during her freshman year at Bard. Now a senior with years of experience directing the organization, she can reflect on how both she and the work have evolved. 

Election@Bard is an initiative funded by the Center for Civic Engagement and the Andrew Goodman Foundation that facilitates voter registration, provides information about candidates and elections, and fights for voting rights protection. According the the CCE website, the initiative has been led by Bard’s Vote Everywhere Ambassadors as a part of Bard’s Vote Everywhere team, for which Mazzye is the Team Leader. Election@Bard is active beyond just registering students to vote throughout the year, by hosting  forums and events encouraging and facilitating civic engagement.

Mazzye met Erin Cannan (Vice President for Student Affairs, Dean of Civic Engagement and Deputy Director of the CCE) and Jonathan Becker (Vice President for Academic Affairs and Director of the CCE) through one of Bard’s Engaged Liberal Arts and Sciences courses during her first year at Bard. 

“They clearly needed some more folks to rope in for election activities and other stuff,” Mazzye said. “And they had me plan my first event on campus that was election related or anything was called ‘Elect Her,’ and it was a training for women who were interested in someday running for elected office.”

From there, Mazzye took the helm of Election@Bard and has since worked to create what she calls a “system of sustainable leadership.” This has required Mazzye to compile tools that can be used by future Eletion@Bard teams, such as yearly calendars outlining when certain annual events happen, and “events in a box” with poster and email templates that make it easy to repeat programming. Beyond organizational work, Mazzye said that finding the right people is most crucial in building a sustainable initiative.

“Also tapping into people on campus that you see a lot of potential in,” Mazzye said. “I think the hiring process is one of the most important parts for student leaders who are leaving […] it’s been really helpful for me to find people who are clearly highly motivated but don’t really know what direction they’re going in yet, and kind of being able to find those folks and pull them in, give them a real interest and they’re able to kind of stick with the same issue for their whole time at Bard. I think that’s a really cool experience to get to have.”

Mazzye said that this organizational and leadership strategy was born out of a common tendency for student leaders to take on all responsibility within a group. 

“I think it’s really easy sometimes to get caught up in doing everything yourself, and I still catch myself doing that,” Mazzye said. “And the way I try to mitigate the damage that comes with doing everything yourself is bringing people on board from different years who are in totally experiences in their time in undergraduate.”

Bringing a mix of first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors to the Election@Bard team, Mazzye established an internship program that has become both an organizing tool and an opportunity for professional development.

“We established an internship program, which has been really fun to run and has taught me a lot about how to move forward in my professional career while overseeing other people,” Mazzye said. “Delegating is a really tough skill to learn but it’s really important. And the only way you can really sustain that kind of group is if you clearly appreciate what they’re doing for you.”

With a broader institutional structure and professional development opportunities, Election@Bard has taught Mazzye many lessons she is hoping to take into future organizing work.

“So it’s cool to be able to see what this kind of thing will look like as a long term […] career choice,” Mazzye said. “For me I kind of see this as a practice round for when I go back to my own home and I’m able to start organizing there, […] now that I’ve had my practice organizing run, I can go home and I can really jump in. And even if those institutions aren’t exactly the same, you’re going to start to see parallels and start to understand how networks of power work and what people expect of you when you’re asking things from them and all these things. It’s all these real life skills that are either going to come into play in work or in organizing in the future.”

Mazzye also said that working with Election@Bard has taught her lessons about different forms of collaboration.

“The other cool thing about […] how Election@Bard does kind of work both inside and outside the realms of Bard, is that […] the understanding of collaboration is kind of different,” Mazzye said. “When you’re thinking about clubs here, it’s all very horizontal; and when you’re working kind of below Andrew Goodman foundation and below CCE, […] you start to kind of understand the vertical hierarchy that organizing and collaborating with different groups can have, and I think that’s really helpful for non profit work in the future, too.”

Mazzye’s role on election day is both orchestrating volunteers and absorbing information in hopes of solving problems when they arise. For the initiative itself, the role of Election@Bard on election day is to bring students basic information to help them navigate a complicated electoral process. 

“We’re at the kline bus stop tabling all day and we normally have tons of snacks which makes people want to check us out, which is exciting” Mazzye said. “We’ve got the sample ballots and a lot of what we do is[…] telling people basic stuff like where they’re registered to vote, who’s on the ballot, where they’re polling place is.”

Election@Bard also works to fight for reforms that would make election day a less stressful experience. But as Mazzye said, the reform work is often postponed in favor of making sure election day goes smoothly.

“Sometimes it’s heartbreaking because you can’t get to that reform part until you’re fulfilling everything that needs to be done in the moment,” Mazzye said. You can’t really start working on reform until you have the election day plan set in stone.”

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