How to Get Young Latinos to Vote

Nov 7, 2014
10:13 AM

It was a rough week for Democrats… Let me rephrase that: It’s been a rough week for progressives. The thing they’ve been saying could happen this year actually happened, and after what will have been eight long, impotent years, the Republicans are set to regain control of Congress. Not your father’s Republican Party, mind you. Not even George W.’s Republican Party. This is the new and even-more-deluded Tea Party-controlled GOP, a cabal that couldn’t hate the brown face sitting at the president’s desk more if Obama joined ISIS and couldn’t fear him more if he contracted the Ebola virus.

Naturally the Republicans are spinning the election results as a referendum on the Obama administration. During his press conference on Thursday, a visibly chipper House Speaker Boehner reassured the American people that he and his fellow Republicans had received their mandate to repeal Obamacare. Boehner also warned the president not to “poison the well” by acting unilaterally on the immigration issue, referring to Obama’s promise to take executive action after the election to curb the number of deportations.

Given they’ve been ranting about it for the past few years, and considering the Tea Party has made every moderate Republican —and even a few conservative ones— afraid of being primaried by some backcountry crackpot promising to impeach the president, disband the EPA, give every American fetus citizenship, etc., you can be sure that the incoming Republican Congress will carry out every threat they’ve made since Election Night 2008. As well they should. Good for them.

As for the rest of the country, the probably 60 percent of eligible voters who thought of more important ways to spend their Tuesday—well, you deserve the government you didn’t bother voting for.

I say that specifically to Latinos and young people who, after so much griping, decided not to decide for yet another midterm season. The youth vote, which was so pivotal in 2012, dropped from 19 percent of total voters to just 13 percent, according to CNN and Fox News exit polls. The same Fox News exit poll showed that, although Latinos made up 11 percent of eligible voters for the first time in the nation’s history, they only made up 8 percent of actual voters this year. (The same thing happened in the 2010 midterm, when Latinos were 10 percent of eligible voters but less than 7 percent of those who voted.)

Of course we won’t know what the real turnout rates were until the numbers are released, but no one’s expecting them to smell pretty. I mentioned last week that the “Don’t vote” mentality has become in vogue among my generation. Combine that with Latinos’ voter turnout record, and one could safely bet that young Latino voters have got to be the least electoral group of people in America. It’s really a shame, because young Latino voters also happen to be one of the country’s most liberal voting demographics.

There are plenty of causes behind the nonvoting of young Latinos, but being a young Latino myself and talking to as many young Latinos as I do, the overarching mood driving the voter apathy seems to spawn from not a tiny bit of left-libertarianism. Now I don’t know if this radical tinge comes from being young (the Chomsky effect) or from being Latino (the Che effect). It’s likely both, though it’s also the case that young Latinos, as members of an historically oppressed minority, view voting as an ineffectual way of reforming the system. In the end many young Latinos, like many young people, have generally lost faith in government, including in the so-called liberal Democrats, who young Latinos believe to be centrist at best and, at worst, just plain corrupt.

So young Latino voters stayed home, as they usually do in off-elections. And when they and the rest of their generation stays home on Election Day, things turn out disastrous for the Democratic Party—and, I would argue, for the country as a whole.

To give you just one example, Senator Udall of Colorado, who supported the DREAM Act and was one of a few senators pressing the president to take executive action on the immigration issue, lost his re-election bid against a House Republican who voted to end DACA, Obama’s executive policy that protects DREAMers from deportation. While the numbers are not yet in, it would appear as though a few last-minute, half-hearted gestures toward compassion allowed Congressman Gardner to split the Latino vote in Colorado. “Gardner did a much better job confusing the community,” said the executive director of a Latino civic participation group in an interview with MSNBC, before admitting that Udall had seemingly shied away from the issue almost entirely.

Gardner wouldn’t have stood a chance of splitting the Latino vote had young Latino voters marched on the polls in any real numbers. But they didn’t, so here we are.

As hard as I try, I can’t for the life of me understand how young liberal Latinos —my fellow comrades-in-arms— could believe nonvoting to be an effective tool for smashing the status quo. Especially when we’ve seen voting work wonders for the Tea Party crowd. A tiny but passionate part of the electorate has managed to pull the Republican Party further to the right, which has in turn pulled the Democratic Party to the right (for some reason), which has ultimately led to a Republican-controlled Congress the members of which sound like they’re fixin’ to secede. And all of this was accomplished via a grassroots movement that attached itself to government.

If progressives want to get excited about voting again, they have to feel excited voting. Activism is great (don’t stop the marches and protests!) but the left needs to get involved in politics as the Tea Party has. Real liberals need to be active at every level of government, ensuring that only those candidates who will truly represent liberal causes end up on the ballot. And once they’re names are on the ballot, for the love of Zapata, Latinos and young people need to get off their nalgas and vote for the candidates. Progressive politicians aren’t going to elect themselves—not even in Chicago.

And now with a Republican Congress, it’s time for every real progressive in Congress to pull a Ted Cruz and be obnoxious about his or her principles. I fully expect every member of the Progressive Caucus who claims to be to the left of the Democratic Party to start acting and sounding like it. Start pushing for progressive bills. None of them stand a chance of passing, but let the country get a good long look at what it is you stand for, just like Cruz and the gang have done on the far right.

That means you, too, Senator Sanders. If you plan on running for president as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016, here’s where you get to add to your liberal bona fides. Let’s see a minimum wage bill. Let’s see a universal health care bill. Let’s see an equal pay bill. Let’s see a DREAM Act bill that includes parents and other members of the immigrant community. Let’s see a bill ending the embargo on Cuba. Let’s see a marijuana bill. Let’s see an electoral reform bill. Let’s see a repeal of the Second Amendment bill.

Disillusioned with the democratic process and the Democratic Party, Latinos and young people chose to stay home this year on Election Day—a decision that’ll hurt them more than many of them realize. Latinos and young people are hoping their desperate nonvoting tactic will force the Democrats to tend to more progressive issues, while the Democrats seem to be battling for the moderate middle. Both sides are in a staredown, each hoping that the other blinks first. Meanwhile an increasingly reactionary party now controls two out of three branches of government.

And liberals consider themselves the intelligent ones.


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.