CHICAGO – The young Latina juggles a pen, her phone and a small notebook in her hands as she searches for the words that’ll underscore her point. On a small raised stage at the front of the room sit the esteemed media maven Maria Hinojosa; Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of Pew’s Latino division; Professor Cristina Mora from Berkeley; Humboldt Park native Michael Rodriguez, who’ll be teaching at Northwestern in the fall; and Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of LatinoRebels.com and now the political editor of Hinojosa’s Futuro Media Group. The panel is the first in a daylong symposium titled “2016 and the Latino Vote,” hosted by DePaul’s department of Latin American and Latino studies and Futuro Media. Professor Lourdes Torres, the department chair, darts between questioners, microphone in hand. About 70 attendees sit in the medium-sized conference room at DePaul’s student center in Lincoln Park, and full-length windows look out onto a sunny spring morning along Sheffield Avenue. A line of tables facing the windows is covered with donuts, bagels, muffins, Danishes, plastic plates and utensils, napkins, disposable mugs, and tall dispensers filled with coffee, decaf and hot water for tea.
The thrust of the symposium seems to focus on whether the Latino vote in 2016 has enough power to make a difference in the election. The program features activists, journalists, academics, an alderman (Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th ward) and even a celebrity (actor and producer Cristela Alonzo), discussing a range of issues from civic engagement and building black-brown coalitions, to Hispandering. The first panel discussion, “Deconstructing the Myth of Numbers,” is about statistics. There’s a 15-year gap in age, more or less, between the people in the audience and those on stage, though in many instances the divide stretches to 20 or 30 years.
The girl, a student in Hinojosa’s course on intersectionality and psychological well-being, is explaining why young people such as herself have lost faith in the perennial cracks at reforming America’s political system. She uses the words “I” and “we” interchangeably. When she mentions offhand that she won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton in the looming general election, applause erupts among the students, though its epicenter is unmistakably in the first two rows, where a visiting class from Clemente High School is seated. It’ll be the biggest applause line of the morning. And the panelists are stunned.
Hillary has a problem, and her problem is the Democratic Party’s problem: How are they going to excite young voters, and particularly young voters of color? Now that we’re being told Bernie Sanders has no path to the nomination, Democratic strategists and status-quo pragmatists are hoping young people will take the immense energy that has exalted the Sanders campaign and inject it into the scheme for Hillary. That ain’t happening, but not because young people are naïve, impetuous or are being fed lies about Hillary’s record, as Democratic operatives the likes of Dolores Huerta would have us believe. On the contrary, young people won’t vote for Hillary because “we just don’t trust her,” as a young black Bernie supporter recently explained on CNN. “We don’t trust what she says, and we don’t like what she’s done. And for those combined reasons, we won’t vote for Hillary Clinton.”
The more young people learn about Hillary, the less likely they are to vote for her. Her betrayal of female workers during her time on the board of directors at Walmart, her betrayal of children, families, people of color and immigrants during her time as first lady, her pro-Wall Street years in the Senate, and her betrayal of the United States’ neighbors in Latin America during her tenure as secretary of state. Hillary indeed has plenty of experience in government. Unfortunately for her, it mostly involves her taking neoliberal positions. There’s nothing wrong with Hillary being a neoliberal and not a “true” progressive, but at least tell me the truth.
Three beliefs pervade the push to elect Hillary: first, that Hillary is a real progressive so you should have no problem voting for her; second, that Hillary is more progressive than Donald Trump; and third, that Hillary is your only chance to save you from Trump. Young voters, however, refuse to accept democracy as a choice between two lackluster candidates — not while Bernie Sanders is still fighting for the Democratic nomination, and Dr. Jill Stein is still being floated as a third-party option.
Third parties are the third rail in American politics. Anyone who says they’re voting for a third party receives an eye-roll, a sigh, or a talking-to. Voting for a third-party candidate in a presidential election is deemed either sabotage, dangerous, useless, subversive or sinful. Ralph Nader and the election of 2000 are inevitably mentioned. The 2.7 percent of the popular vote Nader garnered as the Green Party candidate is widely blamed for giving the Oval Office to Bush II over Al Gore (never mind the historic Supreme Court decision, the fact that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, or that a quarter-million Democrats voted for Bush in Florida alone). For her part, Dr. Stein believes voters should disabuse themselves of the “myth” about third-party candidates acting as “spoilers”:
Blaming Nader or other third-party candidates is a strategy to intimidate people into a politics of fear that tells you to vote against what you fear instead of voting for what you believe. But in fact, the politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of.
We can list all the reasons people are told to silence themselves and vote for a lesser evil candidate: we were afraid of jobs going overseas, the climate meltdown, expanding wars, the attack on our civil liberties and on immigrant rights, expansion of the prison state, etc. Look around. This is exactly what we’ve gotten — much of it under a Democratic White House with two Democratic houses of Congress.
Take the Wall Street bailout. Obama did that with a majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress in 2009. That’s when that all occurred. So the politics of fear delivers what we’re afraid of. The lesser evil is not the solution. It merely paves the way to the greater evil. It ensures that the Democratic Party base gets demoralized and doesn’t come out to vote. So the greater evil wins. We’ve seen this time and again.
Back at the DePaul conference on the Latino vote, the young people in the room are virtually unanimous in their agreement with this rationale. They aren’t willing to vote for Hillary, even it means four years of President Trump. There’s no difference anyway. Trump wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico; Hillary wants to deport anyone who crosses that border illegally. Trump is a cutthroat businessman on Wall Street, where Hillary has close ties with cutthroat businessmen. Trump is an Islamophobe who wants to ban Arab Muslims from entering the United States, whereas Hillary is a hawk who wants to bomb Arab Muslim countries. Trump’s vitriol has ruffled more than a few feathers internationally, but Hillary has antagonized most of Latin America with all the “hard choices” she has had to make in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Haiti, or how in “dealing with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or Honduras’s Manuel Zelaya,” as Nikolas Kozloff writes, “leaders are referred to as petulant children holding naïve ideas about the world.” Optics aside, Hillary is Trump, only with an expert PR team and the full force of the United States’ propagandistic media machine behind her. Trump has promised to do some terrible things, but Hillary has already done some terrible things.
“If you think that it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you’re not in touch with the status quo,” actor Susan Sarandon told a disconcerted Chris Hayes during a recent interview. It’s a keen quip, for Hollywood or anywhere else. When Hillary competed against Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008, she was rejected by the party’s base largely due to the perception that she was to the right of the charismatic senator from Illinois. But progressives quickly became disillusioned by the Obama presidency, which seemed to be a continuation of the Bush, fils administration, which was itself mostly a continuation of the Clinton presidency, which had carried on much of the policies launched in the preceding Reagan-Bush years. (An Obama Democrat is a Clinton Democrat, which is really just a Reagan Democrat.) Yet now that progressives and the Democratic base are seeking fulfillment of the promises made in the soaring summer of ’08, the Democratic establishment, in its callousness toward the needs and wishes of the people, expect to pass off the very same candidate who was presumptive last time as well but who was ultimately rejected by the voters. Hillary hasn’t changed in the last eight years (except for her rhetoric). If Hillary wasn’t progressive enough back in 2008, then she definitely isn’t progressive enough in 2016.
What has changed is the people, especially younger people. Thanks to the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, young people are now more “woke” than they were eight years ago. They’re demanding greater, more substantive changes be made to the system. Their evolution is also due to the achievements made by the Obama administration, which have given young voters not only a glimpse at what’s possible, but also a better understanding of the systemic obstacles to effecting the kinds of changes they believed they were initiating in 2008. The system can’t be reformed, not to the extent that progressives want. And no one wishing to effectively change the system should consider any prescriptions offered by the establishment, which by its very nature is intent on maintaining the status quo. Hillary Clinton is a status-quo candidate, with a patina of change. No candidate is more pro-establishment than her. In fact, Hillary isn’t merely pro-establishment; she is the establishment.
Despite all of this, the panelists at the conference were surprised to see a roomful of students cheering a denunciation of the presumptive Democratic nominee — especially in a year when the presumptive Republican nominee has made enemies among women, blacks, Latinos, LGBTs, Muslims and the apparatchiks in his own party. That the academics and journalists on stage last Thursday didn’t understand what they were witnessing was apparent by how uneasy the applause made them. To them, the air had been sucked out of the room, but to the young people in the audience, it was if someone had lit the match that would ignite the long-awaited “revolution” Bernie keeps mentioning. The panelists simply didn’t know what was happening, and I’ll venture to say they still don’t know.
No group in the United States is opposed to a Trump presidency more than young people. What they want even less, however, is four more years of Obama and his mainstream Democratic policies — much less a woman whose positions consistently fall to the right of Obama and the base. Young voters aren’t willing to give up on Bernie’s relatively revolutionary platform, only to settle for Hillary’s reactionary, incrementalist agenda. They don’t want to sellout now to maybe try again in four years. They recognize the scam. They see how the media hypes up a bogeyman in order to trick progressives into falling back in line and endorsing the establishment. But they won’t be mislead any longer. They’re saying no to Hillary again this year… even if it means Trump.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and journalist. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.