The Los Angeles Times just did a front page story on the Latino vote. Wow! Wait! The article says Latinos voting is all huff and puff. Well I am so flabergasted that I wanted to respond by saying: You are right, for now.
I have never had a Latino family member or friend tell me they are going to vote to “make a difference” or to increase Latino influence. Never. In fact, voting rarely comes up as a topic of conversation. The answer to why that is is simple, super simple. As my old boss Dean Tipps would say, “Voting is a social behavior.” It is like smoking: you either do or you don’t. Most Latinos don’t vote. (Insert long and expensive study here.)
There are ways to facilitate an increase in Latino voting. This is especially true among Latinos who are more likely than other voters to work multiple jobs and longer hours. I’m a big fan of early voting at ATM-like kiosks at malls, shopping centers, grocery stores, laundry mats or local schools. Hell, I am even down to put a voting machine at a local pot dispensary.
I am also a huge fan of having candidates and ballot measures that are actually worth getting up early on election day for. Put a $20 minimum wage on the ballot, and guess what happens? My male uncles and cousins all call me to ask how to vote. Put a candidate for governor on the ballot that wants 20 students per classroom, free lunch for all students and 15,000 summer jobs for California teenagers, and guess what happens? All my female aunts and cousins call my sister to ask her how to vote. But this won’t happen because the powerbrokers that fund elections are too closely connected to the political status quo and the wealthy corporations that give them their allowance.
But there are things we can control and should do. Most notably, we need leadership of ideas, strategies and goals. It used to be that a life of working to advance an agenda for one’s community meant a life of humble living and limited fame and status. Even if leaders and organizations had respect and recognition in the community they served, only in rare moments did they expand beyond a targeted base. (The United Farm Workers grape boycott comes to mind.)
Today’s activists and civic leaders have limited and inauthentic ties to real communities and people. Most efforts get their stamp of approval, not from the community, but rather from Democratic-establishment foundations, environmental organizations and organized labor. (Insert long and expensive grant proposal here.) The focus is on working together with one another and in unison. But unison seems to be to work on whatever the big donors and foundations want. The problem is that it is human nature to focus on the issues you care about and to see anything else as from the outside or not relevant, even if you don’t necessarily disagree with the focus or message.
I do believe Latinos will vote in huge numbers. But not until there are things on the ballot that have energy and support in the hearts and minds of Latino voters. First we need to drop this stereotypical notion that immigration is the issue that drives Latinos. Latinos often do care about the racist tone of attacks on immigrants, but U.S. citizen Latinos do not have immigration issues themselves, but can of course relate. Truth is those voters actually care more about issues that affect them directly.
If you listen, working Latino America wants a raise, a better job, better health care, more time off from work, safer communities and respect from white Americans. This is all attainable. But we cannot expect our Latino elected leaders to move this agenda via legislation. The truth is they lack the leadership, ideas and, worst of all, they lack the sustained fortitude for a protracted battle with the corporate giants that fund politics and have created the most one-sided America in decades. We have to come up with something better to motivate U.S. citizen Latinos than we need immigration reform (for other people).
White voters understand that voting is how they can influence, if not control, their political, social and economic prospects and opportunities. African American voters understand that the struggle for justice and equality was tough and did win the vote as a practical gain that has improved their lives over the last 50 years. But it seems to me that for the greatest challenge facing Latinos in America is the lack of value that is placed on their work and their services. More importantly, if you ask a random Latino if they know of anyone that is actively working on a campaign to improve their lives, you will get a look you should take a picture of. So we can blame whomever we want, write a million proposals, and buy all the pan dulce and coffee we want.
Until we demand real leadership and provide it, Latinos won’t vote in huge numbers. Why should they?