Edna Ishayik

Edna Ishayik, Director of Civic Engagement Initiatives at Civic Nation

“It took me three years to process, and I realized that we had created a system that recruits people who are megalomaniacs, but cripplingly insecure. When people begin to lose faith in leaders, they begin to disengage from the political process. And these even more flawed leaders, who are then under less scrutiny, try to get away with more. It’s a cosmic downward spiral.”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Meet Edna Ishayik. Pronouns: She/Her/Hers. Edna is the director of civic engagement initiatives at the DC-based non-profit, Civic Nation, where she oversees three projects. With Election Day fast approaching, one of her three projects — #VoteTogether — is her alpha and her omega. When she’s not planning 60+ Election Day parties, Edna has been known to draw upon her background as a freelance food and travel journalist to host an annual pizza making contest. You can follow her here

What Does She Do?

At this point, Edna is a staff of one for her three projects, so she’s literally doing everything from setting up calls to transcribing tape to setting strategy and speaking to the media.

“I had an intern once. That was nice…”

#VoteTogether has a simple and powerful mission. By making voting fun, voter turnout can be increased. Over the summer New York Magazine captured its essence. When voting was a celebration in the mid-19th century, turnout could top 80% of eligible voters. Ironically, one of the few places where this spirit has survived intact has been Puerto Rico — which has been the subject of many scholarly studies around civic engagement. (Fun fact: Marco Rubio won the Republican primacy with 75% of the vote.)

Working with local partners, #VoteTogether fosters strictly non-partisan community-driven celebrations at polling locations that invite the whole neighborhood to bring joy and togetherness to the voting experience. Last year’s pilot — initially funded by the Knight Foundation — was held across 9 polling stations. Civic Nation found that these festivities increased turnout by 4%. This year #VoteTogether has expanded to 60+ sites, mostly across Virginia, but also including Cincinnati and Miami. Next year’s goal is ambitious, to say the least — a cool 1,000 celebrations across the country — reaching somewhere between 100 and 150 voters at each site.

How Did She Get Into This Work?

As an undergraduate Edna attended Douglass College — a women’s college within Rutger’s University which has since been shuttered. By her own admission, she was a “typical Gen X Slacker.” But at Douglass, she was encouraged to lead. In particular, the outgoing student body president chose Edna as her successor. Recalls Edna, “I never would have run. It just goes to show you, if someone is asked — even if you don’t see yourself as a leader… And it completely changed my life.” Following graduation, Edna was recruited to work on a Congressional campaign. While her candidate won her primary – and Edna received plaudits for her work – she ended up losing… by a hair. While Edna can now laugh off the less than one-point loss, it continues to animate her: “I feel like the next eight years — the rest of my life — has been like vengeance for that. What do I have to do to make up for that?”

Following this race, Edna found herself occupying just about every campaign role possible — fundraiser, field director, even campaign manager for smaller races. But so crushed was she by the Eliot Spitzer scandal that she took a step back from politics:

“It took me three years to process, and I realized that we had created a system that recruits people who are megalomaniacs, but cripplingly insecure. When people begin to lose faith in leaders, they begin to disengage from the political process. And these even more flawed leaders, who are then under less scrutiny, try to get away with more. It’s a cosmic downward spiral.”

Her insight – and her road back to politics via civic engagement- was that “you can find ways to improve participation on multiple levels that don’t require [candidates] to be better.

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

When Edna was working to elect Brian Ellner as Manhattan Borough President, the campaign shared an office with a candidate for Public Advocate — Andrew Rasiej. Andrew actually hosted Brian’s kickoff event at his apartment. She stayed in touch and later attended Civic Hall’s opening night. When she was ready to return to politics — first hosting a salon, “More Perfect,” then joining Civic Nation — she knew, “when I had an opportunity and was back in this realm, I have to join Civic Hall.”

What Project Is She Working On?

While #VoteTogether is currently Edna’s highest priority, she runs two other civic engagement projects for Civic Nation: a K-12 civics program and the Action Civics Initiative, an ongoing, broad-based research project looking at civic engagement.

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

Right now Edna is CONSUMED with Vote Together for our upcoming Election Day:

“Really what I need is people willing to go to Virginia to knock on doors this fall.”

To that end, you can sign up, or if you’re already otherwise engaged, consider donating.

Then, there’s 2018, when #VoteTogether mushrooms to 1,000 events. Edna will be looking for folks to host these parties – anywhere across the country.