Fuel our democracy: Starbucks helps partners, customers prepare to vote

Update: On Sept. 8, Starbucks launched FuelOurDemocracy.com, a site to help customers make their plan to register and to vote.

Before you’ve known DJ Mitchell-Jones for long, she will inevitably ask you a question: “Are you registered to vote?”

“Yes? Great!,” she’ll say if you are, or, “No? Can I help you?” she’ll respond. She’s so passionate about the importance of getting involved, she's always ready with information to help.

Mitchell-Jones, a Starbucks store manager in Miami Gardens, Florida, has been having these conversations with her family, friends and colleagues for years. She wants everyone to know how much voting matters.

“People have died so I could have the right to vote. For me, if I don’t exercise my rights, what did they sacrifice for?” she said.

Miami Gardens store manager DJ Jones

This week, Starbucks announced a plan to support its partners on their journey to register to vote, and to make sure no partner has to choose between working their shift or voting on or before election day. Managers and nearly 200,000 Starbucks partners will be having conversations to help ensure that they have the tools and time necessary to cast their vote.

The company is also launching two websites to help Starbucks partners and customers make their plan to register and to vote.

“The upcoming election is a reminder that we, as citizens, play an active role in our society by simply getting involved and voting,” wrote Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer of Starbucks, in a letter to the company this week. “Who you vote for is a very personal decision that you make as a citizen. It is one way for you to be heard. It is how democracy works.”

It’s not political, he said, but rather to help ensure that the voice of each Starbucks partner is heard through their vote.  

‘It’s my driving force’

Plenty of Starbucks partners like Mitchell-Jones have been hard at work for years, promoting civic engagement in their communities. When she moved to Florida to help open the Miami Gardens Community Store in October 2017, one of 18 community stores now open with a hundred planned, she spoke with regional leaders about the best ways the store could support and empower the community. The conversation turned to low voter turnout, particularly among minorities. A month later, she saw this in action as she watched the results come in for a local election. In some areas, only a quarter of eligible voters participated at all – sometimes even fewer.

Mitchell-Jones, a Starbucks store manager in Miami Gardens

“We complain about what’s happening in our communities, but so, so many people in our communities don’t vote,” Mitchell-Jones said. “After [that election], I jumped in with both feet. It’s my driving force. This store has become a hub of information and access.”

Before COVID-19, her café was a veritable town hall, with regular events aimed at boosting civic engagement. Now she’s working on ways to make those virtual, she said.

This month, she met with members of her team, many of whom are young people voting for the first or one of the first times. She helped them access nonpartisan resources on how and where to register to vote, locate their polling place and its hours of operation and even helped them print sample ballots.

“Honestly, when I was a kid, I didn’t pay attention to voting information in school, and couldn’t tell you whether it was ever truly explained to me prior to me being voting age,” she said. “And after you’re out of school, where is that information going to come from? No one’s going to sit you down.”

Mitchell-Jones is so passionate about voting and the census and civic participation that people tell her all the time she should run for office – something she thinks about. She doesn’t take anything about democracy for granted.

“When you think about what John Lewis and other leaders in our communities and in our history have done to get us the right to even participate?” she said.

‘Make your voice heard’

Along with making sure Starbucks partners have the time and resources they need to register and cast their votes, the company announced it will continue to advocate at all levels of government for Americans to have safe and accessible ways to vote (including making sure polling places are appropriately staffed). Starbucks will also offer a link to resources and information on how and where partners and customers can register to vote through the Starbucks App, and will partner with Civic Alliance, a non-partisan coalition of businesses helping their employees find volunteer opportunities supporting the election, such as poll workers.

Saunjah Brantley, a 6-year Starbucks partner who recently joined the company’s Inclusion and Diversity organization in Seattle as director of the Policy & Practice Center of Excellence, is now a precinct committee officer in her neighborhood helping inform her neighbors and get them prepared to vote in state and federal elections.

“We can make small, but impactful actions in our respective spheres of influence. I can do something, and you can do something – everyone can do something – and when you add all of these actions together, we can make a powerful statement together,” Brantley said.

She recently hosted an online “Voting Matters” panel discussion for Starbucks employees sponsored by the company’s Black Partner Network which covered a range of topics on voting history, access and how to get involved.

“Regardless of your political affiliation, you have the right to make your voice heard through the voting process,” she told Starbucks employees.

Along with voting, Brantley encouraged Starbucks partners to consider going to a local government meeting with a topic of interest on the agenda, volunteering for their local polling precinct or joining a phone bank to call people across the country to remind them to register to vote and to cast their ballot.

Tee shirts and voting ballots sit on the desk of Miami Gardens store manager DJ Jones

“You don’t have to run for senator tomorrow. You don’t even have to run a big community event. Just pick one thing that’s meaningful,” Brantley said. “COVID has forced us to think differently about how we connect and get information out, so you can do a lot of this right in the comfort of your home.”

Brantley credits her family for her passion. From a young age, she was instilled with the importance of finding ways to make her voice heard – and finding ways to help others know how their voices can be heard as well.

“I can’t talk about the power of using your voice without talking about my mom. She inspired my siblings and me and raised all of us to be engaged citizens. She wanted her children to not just think about themselves but to always think of how we can help others,” Brantley said. “When it comes to voting, she has always felt it is the least that we can do to honor people who fought – who were attacked by dogs and hosed down and, in some cases, even lost their lives to give us that right. Voting honors the legacy of those who fought for the right for us, and honors the legacy of our family, which is to use our voices on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of others.”

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