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Can yogis make a difference in this year’s election? When we come together as members of the 50 million-strong well-being community, we become a powerful constituency, according to Kerri Kelly, founder and president of the well-being activist group CTZNWELL, which recently launched the #voteWELL platform to mobilize yogis and other healthy lifestyle devotees to vote in November. In the below Q&A, Kelly explains how the well-being community can help shape and change our country’s future this election season, and take our yoga all the way to the voting booth.
YJ: What inspired you to launch CTZNWELL?
Kelly: I was the executive director of Off the Matt Into the World, a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging yoga and activism, and I got to witness firsthand people waking up on the mat, doing courageous things, and stepping into the way of service, which planted the seeds of this movement.
After the 2012 election, we recognized an opportunity to organize this massive community of well-being, including yogis, people who identify with spiritual practices, people who are passionate about healthy eating, how we are growing our food, taking care of farmers, protecting the environment. It’s a powerful constituency. We can stretch our practice into the way we care for each other and the way we vote. This moment is obviously a precarious one that will determine the course of well-being in our country.
YJ: Why is this moment and this election more precarious than others?
Kelly: The bad news is we are definitely experiencing a crisis in our country: the income or inequality gap, the rate of mass incarceration, the rising rates of diabetes and obesity are all evidence that we are not well. Whom we elect — whether it’s on a local or a national level — is going to inform our future course, whether we move toward or away from well-being. It’s also a very divisive election — the two sides could not be further apart. It doesn’t matter whether you are left or right, conservative or progressive, Democrat or GOP, I don’t think anyone can argue that we are really far apart in this country, and that perhaps we’re not entirely aligned around the well-being of our country. The good news is that movements are emerging all over the place: Black Lives Matter, Migrant Rights, Fight for $15 (for minimum wage), the well-being movement.
YJ: So what exactly is the well-being movement?
Kelly: There are over 50 million people in the U.S. who have a lifestyle of health and sustainability (or who are passionate about personal wellness, organic food, and sustainable products), according to LOHAS. They spend money on well-being, which is a $300 billion industry. They’re acting from a place of value — buying organic, hybrid cars, fair trade clothing. These people are not only aligned in values, they are also behaving and investing from these values. Who’s to say that couldn’t extend into politics, into the system in which we take care of each other collectively?
Our campaign is not about candidates or parties. It’s about how we get organized around our values, how we show up for the issues that matter — we are really trying to inspire and mobilize this community to see themselves as part of this well-being movement, so they know they are one of many powerful emerging constituents and that our vote really counts. We vote not only for our own well-being, but for everyone’s — we pay attention to how the collective can be more well.
YJ: How can the well-being movement make a difference this fall?
Kelly: Often, we think well-being looks like what we see in a magazine or an ad … it’s actually a culture of many different communities. We want to organize around who we are becoming, not who we are already. We want to organize people who have access to well-being to be advocates for everyone. The vision is one where everyone is well. We are bridging different communities for more inclusivity, or else we perpetuate the very exclusivity we are trying to work against. How can we translate our privilege into something that works for the well-being of all people? Well-being in this country costs money, and it’s a pretty high price point. It takes time, access, and money to be able to benefit from being well — we believe it should be a human right, not a privilege. We want to democratize well-being. We want the 50 million people who are passionate about well-being to collectively advocate on behalf of the whole. #voteWELL is aggregating the voices and votes of this community to build power and turn out the vote in 2016.
YJ: How are yogis particularly powerful in this election?
Kelly: One of the things we are encouraging yogis to do is acknowledge that their practice is not separate from politics — their practice is inherently political. When we hit the mat, we affirm that we are not separate … our well-being is intrinsically tied to each other. Political engagement is a natural extension of our practice. When we say, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free,” how do we walk that talk and model that in every aspect of our lives?
YJ: Are you supporting any particular candidates?
Kelly: We are nonpartisan but we cannot be neutral. It’s important to us not to tell people what to do … we want to give people tools to contemplate what matters most to them, to find their voice and vote around that.We want to provide a safe space for people to engage in the decisions we have to make this November. We won’t endorse a candidate, but we will encourage provocative dialogue about who’s on the ticket and how they reflect on the issues. It’s a community-based approach to voting. We believe voting is collective care; it’s how we take care of each other.
YJ: How can the well-being community use #voteWELL to make their voices heard?
Kelly: We are encouraging everyone to Pledge to Vote as a demonstration of our collective power and intention to show up in November. We’re also supporting local leaders in bringing their communities together around this election. This includes classroom toolkits for yoga teachers, small circle curriculums around issues, debate watching, and voting. And, finally, we want to encourage everyone to speak up and out about what matters in this election.
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