From a test run of the project at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Building. Credit: Project Your Vote

On Sunday night, a 60-foot projection of a Black woman in a 60s-style dress gleamed from the walls of the René C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland, near a ballot drop box. She held a sign recreated from the 1963 March on Washington. In slow motion, she and other projected performers rose from a crouched position to standing, their outfits transformed into modern wear, and their signs changed from messages like “We demand voting rights now!” to “We demand an end to police brutality now!” 

It’s all part of a project called Project Your Vote that local artists hope will serve as beacons, helping lead voters to drop boxes before Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline. 

Voters drop off their ballots at the county administration building Sunday evening. Credit: Sarah Belle Lin
Collage of images from a test run of the project at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Building. Credit: Project Your Vote

“I set out to create a visual that connects the history and struggle of voting to the present day,” said Packard Jennings, the Oakland-born artist who conceived the project for the Center of Artistic Activism as part of its Unstoppable Voters Project. “You can’t think about voting in Oakland without acknowledging that it’s a historically Black city with a history of resistance to oppression and police brutality.”

The artists behind Project Your Vote know that confusion and paranoia reign this election season. During The Oaklandside’s visit downtown Sunday night with Jennings and crewmember Jessica Tully, an Oakland-based artist in the hip-hop scene, multiple voters shared their concerns about whether a ballot drop box on 12th Street was legitimate. (It is. See the bottom of this post for a map of all boxes in Oakland, and know that you can use any drop box across Alameda County.)

One bystander warily watched a group of people standing around near the dropbox and asked them to consider whether they might be giving off an unintentionally intimidating impression, pointing to instances of voter suppression in other states.

Still, many people used the drop box over the course of the night without issue, the Project Your Vote digital images casting a glow from across the street. “With all the chaos and issues that have arised in the past four years, I haven’t realized that my voice, and me deciding what side I stand for, was very important,” said Emilio Diaz-Robles, who used the 12th Street drop box. “I want to be part of what helps create growth, improvement, and equality.”

Project Your Vote artists Jessica Tully (left) and Packard Jennings stand with the signs used for the Project Your Vote project. Credit: Sarah Belle Lin
Tully and Jennings. Credit: Sarah Belle Lin

“It’s really important to vote as a young voter. I feel like a lot of younger people don’t vote, which causes a real lack of effective change,” said Oakland resident Anessa Santos, who also dropped her ballot there Sunday evening.

The projection also displays the number to 866-OUR-VOTE, an election hotline that helps voters find ballot boxes and voting locations and explains how to vote safely during the pandemic. 

The Project Your Vote artists plan to project the images at Frank Ogawa Plaza on Tuesday night, after voting centers close at 8 p.m. You can follow their journey on Instagram. The videos used in the projections are freely available to download here.

Correction: We previously misspelled the last name of Emilio Diaz-Robles. We regret the error.

Sarah Belle Lin is an independent journalist and photographer based in the East Bay.