Spitfire’s special sauce is its people. They are tremendously talented and committed. We know they would never brag about themselves, so we are going to do it for them. This occasional series gives you a chance to get to know the people of Spitfire better. Enjoy.
Empowering voters and new citizens: Spitfire’s commitment to civil rights runs deep.
Jackeline Stewart has always been passionate about voicing the priorities of people from historically-marginalized communities, especially those that share her Afro-Latina heritage. There’s never been a shortage of work to do, given the shameful disenfranchisement people of color and immigrants have always faced in the United States. But in the Trump era, that work has become more than a passion for Jackeline.
“In the past, we were all fighting to be heard,” she says. “Now it’s about survival. I feel like what I’m doing is in some small way pushing the causes I care about forward, and it’s made me double down on my personal commitment.”
Jackeline’s contributions to protecting and empowering communities of color are anything but small. A director at Spitfire, she works on projects like a voter education campaign led by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) called Reclaim Your Vote.
Mobilized largely in response to the Trump administration’s escalation of voter intimidation, Reclaim Your Vote gives voters the tools and information they need to register to vote. It also encourages them not to deregister, which some people of color are doing out of rising fear. Voter suppression isn’t new, especially in heavily gerrymandered areas, but the administration’s large-scale efforts to collect personal information — combined with misinformation directed at voters — is undermining citizens’ right to vote.
“We didn’t want this to be just another get-out-the-vote campaign, because at this time everything is different,” Jackeline says. “It was important to come up with messaging that really spoke to voters and let them know that with organizations like LDF leading the way, they do not have to be afraid.”
Spitfire and LDF crafted images and messaging that reflect the identities of people of color — particularly older adults who tend to be the most impacted by voter intimidation tactics — to empower them to register to vote or stay registered. In addition to offering informational resources, the site links visitors directly to bilingual voter registration tools, which they can use to register for the first time or confirm their current registration.
But the way Jackeline sees it, there’s even more to it than making sure citizens are registered to vote.
“I want the message out there that we are not afraid — these communities are not afraid,” she says. “We’re not backing down and, to me, that’s just as important as getting more voters registered.”
The campaign extends beyond the website. In October, LDF joined forces with Voto Latino for a tweet storm to help strengthen ties between Black and Latino communities. Especially at a time when efforts to drive a wedge between the two communities are more prevalent than ever, this unity is essential. According to Jackeline, the tweet storm symbolized the kind of change necessary to confront voter intimidation tactics. By partnering on the tweet storm, the organizations demonstrated how groups that haven’t necessarily worked together in the past can unite for their mutual benefit.
“People in power try to create fissures within communities that do not have institutional power as a way to strengthen themselves and weaken others,” she says. “Black and Latino communities are often pitted against each other, which does a disservice to them both. Bringing these communities together strengthens our ability to really make a difference.”
This message of unity also applies to her work with the New Americans Campaign, a coalition of nonprofit partners working to help lawful permanent residents become citizens. Through workshops, online tools and other educational resources, the campaign makes it easier for people to start and complete the process of becoming an American citizen.
“We want to tell people that it’s not as difficult as you think — you can protect yourself and your family from the threat of deportation, which looms larger every day with this administration,” Jackeline says.
Much of the work Jackeline does, especially for LDF’s various initiatives, makes excellent use of her rapid-response communication skills, which have been central to every job in her career so far. She is always on call for LDF, and says Spitfire’s depth of knowledge about LDF and its clients makes them uniquely suited to the task.
When misinformation is rampant, it’s particularly important to handle rapid-response projects appropriately. She noted that Spitfire has a well-earned reputation for cutting through the noise and being disciplined about staying on message, rather than constantly playing defense against the opposition.
Jackeline is motivated every day by the chance to work on some of the issues she cares about most — and the opportunity to collaborate with personal heroes like reproductive justice advocate Dr. Willie Parker. In fact, she says that working on his book launch was one of the most satisfying projects in her entire communications career.
But she still has some dream projects on her bucket list. She’d like to work with Black Lives Matter and on the issue of police brutality in a more direct way than she has so far. She also wants to continue finding ways to connect Black and Latino communities.
“Because of my particular make-up — I was born in the Republic of Panama and came to the United States when I was three years old — that is a personal mission,” Jackeline says. “It’s really exciting any time I can bring the two communities together to make meaningful change.”