How Organizer Uyen Khuong Is Using Post-Its To Get Out The Vote
Activist Uyen “Winn” Khuong remembers when, as a little girl living in Vietnam, her uncles and father first explained American democracy to her. “They said, ‘Apparently, over there, you can say whatever you want. You can talk badly about the president, and you won’t be killed.’”
The first Americans Khuong remembers seeing were American soldiers. Her first conscious memory is of the sound of a bomb and the ground shaking. She remembers her grandmother scooping her up to hide under the kitchen counter during attacks in the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. In 1977, Khuong’s mother was killed in what her family believes was an organized hit job during the conflict following the Fall of Saigon. Her uncles (close friends of her family) all helped Americans in the fight against communism in the Vietnam war, and all ended up in Vietnamese prison.
In 1979, at the age of 7, Khuong immigrated to the U.S. with her dad and two sisters, as one of the “boat people,” the nearly 350 people who were rescued from a fishing boat by a Scottish cargo ship.
Khuong was overwhelmed by the opportunity she had as an immigrant to be civically engaged. When her third-grade teacher had each of her students write a letter to President Reagan, Khuong waited by the mailbox for more than a year for a response. Finally, in July, long after the school year had ended, her letter came. She held onto that letter for years, until she eventually lost it in a move in 2014.
“Some staff member probably wrote it,” she said, reflecting on that important missive. “It had a picture of President Reagan on a horse at the ranch…It made me realize I could write my representative and be heard. I’ve always written my representative.”
But it wasn’t until right before the 2016 election, as a mom of three teens in New Jersey, that Khuong says she realized she could do more to help Americans exercise their democratic rights. A friend invited her to join the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, which in turn inspired her to found the online group Action Together New Jersey just before the election. Action Together New Jersey is a voter-education organization that started as an offshoot of the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation and has about 18,000 members. The group is 100 percent volunteer-based.
“It turns out I’m an accidental organizer,” Khuong told Supermajority News. “I don’t have any training in it. I have three kids who are teens, and I’ve been busy raising them for 18 years now. I don’t know if there’s a school for organizing, but maybe since I’m a mom, I know what needs to be done.”
The mission of Action Together New Jersey is to inform voters while amplifying other organizations’ work, such as the NAACP and Moms Rising. One of the first campaigns the organization took on came from Khuong’s research into the benefits of the mail-in ballot.
“None of my neighbors knew about it; less than 5 percent of voters were voting by mail, she said, of her state. “Voters who voted by mail voted more consistently than election-day voters.”
In February 2018 —inspired by Postcards to Voters, the group that writes handwritten notes to targeted voters encouraging them to vote — Khuong started a group attached to Action Together New Jersey, now known as “the Sticky-Note Squad.” The group started sending non-partisan information cards to New Jersey voters, attached to which were sticky notes with information on how voters could vote by mail and why they should. That first year, the group reached 292,000 voters and had people from 12 other states helping them. They’ve reached about 400,000 voters since 2018.
“This year, I pivoted to saying, “vote from home to keep us safe,” she said of Action Together’s 2020 get out the vote campaign. “As you know, New Jersey was the [COVID-19] hotspot next to New York, so it really was good timing for the message.”
Although volunteers can’t sit around a Panera or Starbucks table writing sticky notes together, they still set up Zoom parties where they all chat remotely while addressing sticky-notes to New Jersey voters. New Jersey volunteers are also looking to states such as Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, and other states with key elections, to see how they can help.
“I definitely say that I’m a daughter of Democracy,” Khuong said. “I will register everybody that’s qualified to vote—I don’t care [about] their party. I really think that’s our way out of hyper-partisanship. I have a huge problem with people destroying our Democracy from within.”