On the verge of change
While there are 58 million Latinos in the U.S., their political participation remains low overall. How can we change that?
The political reality of the United States has put the establishment against the ropes, with demands for an immediate change in the way things are done and cries for the great minority populations of this country to be counted, considered, and, finally, to be given the necessary motivation to go out and vote — for whomever they want.
It is useless being 58 million residents in the country if our voices are not heard. And it is not so much about choosing a representative that looks like us, but about exercising our irrefutable right to express ourselves regarding the changes we want to see materialize in Washington, in our states, and in our cities.
Hispanics remain one of the least represented groups in national politics with only 1 percent of elected officials in the U.S., according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), taking into account records from between 1996 and 2016. Even though the number of Latinos in the government has increased to 61 percent in the last 20 years, their representation in politics has not grown as expected.
Of 58 million Hispanics, only 6,176 are elected public officials (taking into account school boards, mayors, commissioners, judges, senators, governors, and legislators).
However, several groups at the national level have had it with the Trump administration’s positions against minority communities and are focused on retaking a Democratic majority in Congress is a fundamental need.
AL DÍA had the opportunity to speak with Erica Bernal-Martínez, Deputy Executive Director of NALEO, and with Dan Sena, Executive Director of the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), two organizations on opposite sides of the country whose work and final goal remains the same: to give Latinos the platform to use their strength.
NALEO is an educational fund established in 1981. Since its inception, its mission has been to give a voice to the Latino community in the U.S. political process through various efforts, such as the promotion of civic participation and the right to citizenship, as well as the training of elected and appointed Latino officials who, once they secure their public positions, obtain the necessary tools for the professional development of their political projects.
Meanwhile, the DCCC is an organization that aims to help Democratic candidates achieve victory in campaigns for the House of Representatives at the national level, working to recover the majority in that body. Currently, the organization is in a process of active change and its strategies are based on a “battlefield” design that seeks to reach communities that have been previously overlooked.
In conversation with both organizations, we want to uncover the landscape before the midterm elections and everything you need to know about these ongoing efforts so that the Latino vote is, finally, decisive.
Donald Trump’s management as president has served as a means of contrast to determine the mistakes made during previous political campaigns and the efforts that still need to materialize when it comes to representing those who continue to suffer in silence.
During the 2016 elections, the Hispanic Caucus of Congress criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy, saying that “she had not hired enough Latino consultants who had experience working with the communities,” thus perpetuating the constant omission of racial minorities within the national political machinery.
For Erica Bernal, the scenario of the 2018 midterm elections is not very different.
“Once again, we come to an electoral period where efforts are falling short when it comes to reaching the Latino vote,” she told AL DÍA. “We’re not doing enough to reach the large population of Latinos in states like California or Texas.”
Of 58 million Latinos, 29 million are eligible to vote. However, and as Bernal assured, “only around 12 or 13 million go out to vote in any election.”
“It is precisely this group that we have to reach and offer them information on how to register, how to vote, where to vote, but also motivate them to do so,” she explained.
According to the studies and surveys carried out by NALEO, the Hispanic citizen is aware of what happens in national politics and his concerns are genuine, but what prevents him from getting involved in the electoral process is the perennial disappointment with the system.
The political situation is clear: the policies and statements of the White House and the Republican Party constantly antagonize the Hispanic community. But perhaps the most appropriate strategy is to transform that feeling into action.
While the electorate is willing to defend itself in some way, the information must be clear and precise, and the candidates must represent the values of each of the communities.
Dan Sena described a program designed by the DCCC, costing between $25 and $30 million, to “ensure that our campaigns for Congress reach out to communities of color and eventually make it easier for them to go out and vote.”
“There is a reason to participate in this democratic cycle that has not been in the past,” he explained. “Clearly, Trump’s White House is working every day to make it more difficult for Latinos and minority communities to participate in the process, and we want to actively work through that.”
Sena exposed the new strategies of the committee, in a campaign that, he assured, is unique in the history of the Democratic Party:
“In this cycle, we are building what is called the battlefield, something that is unprecedented in the last decade here in the United States. It’s the most diverse and largest we have seen with more than 111 races targeted,” he said. “We currently believe that there are 70 to 80 viable congressional races that are fully operational, and 29 of those districts right now have a Latino population of 10 percent or more.”
However, one of the most important barriers is simply that of information. The dizzying pace at which political and legislative changes take place in the country doesn’t facilitate clear and concise information for voters, many of whom simply prefer to abstain from participating.
Initiatives such as VE Y VOTA (888-VEYVOTA) of NALEO, for example, allow people to obtain information in a simple and accessible way regarding the voting locations, dates, and requirements, as well as the candidates in each of the branches of government.
Similarly, the DCCC implements digital and audiovisual campaigns to try to convey to the country the information about the most important campaigns, their candidates and their options when it comes to voting.
For this, the organization has developed a “battlefield” full of diverse candidates that represent minorities as it never has before.
“Really across the country, we have a crop of very diverse Latino and African-American candidates that really gives us a great opportunity to reintroduce the Democratic Party across the country.”
Since the last elections, the growth of Latino representation in politics has been exponential, and it is expected to continue increasing after the November elections.
“In this cycle, we expect to see another growth, but the important thing is to realize that, when it comes to leadership, we are seeing people who are quite successful, particularly at the state and local levels,” Bernal explained. “For example, Crisanta Duran in the state of Colorado, the first Latino speaker in the assembly; Anthony Rendón in California; Eric Garcetti; Robert García ... people who are influencing their communities as elected officials.”
And it is fundamental that Latinos have “a place at the table in Washington and in every state in the country,” Sena said. “It’s incredibly important that, as a community, we understand the power of our voice and the importance of getting elected officials to represent the values of our community.”
As the growing Latino population is already the largest minority population in the U.S., in the words of Bernal, “what is at stake is the future of the nation.”
“The importance of our community participating and having an active voice in all policies that are decided at the federal, state and local levels, will be reflected in the growth of the country in general,” she said. “And that should motivate us all, regardless of the party or race with which we identify.”