MIAMI — In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign often referred to the Latinx community in this country as the “firewall” that would lead her to victory and spare the country from the calamity of a Trump presidency.
We all know how the story played out. Donald Trump went on to win not only heavily Democratic states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin due to defections from working class white voters, but also Florida, which was increasingly trending blue, partly thanks to unenthusiastic Latinx voter turnout for Clinton.
Still, Latinx voters did turn out in unprecedented numbers in 2016, and did overwhelmingly back Clinton. She won 66 percent of Latinx voters on Election Day, but Clinton’s share of the Latinx vote was still lower than in 2012, when 71 percent supported Obama’s reelection. The theory that Trump’s racism and distasteful antics would be enough to prop up the firewall that would defeat him just never materialized.
In 2020, we are in danger of repeating the same mistake.
With just four months remaining until early voting starts, polling shows that the Latinx community has an enthusiasm gap when it comes to former Vice President Joe Biden.Similarly to Clinton, polling shows Biden beating Trump 45 to 38 percent among Latinx voters, but his numbers are way down from where Clinton was leading trump 65 to 18 percent four years ago.
If the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders demonstrated anything, it is that Latinx voters are ready for bold, progressive ideas that challenge the wealthy few who have a stranglehold over our political process. Bernie’s policies addressed canceling student debt, giving free healthcare to every single person in this country, raising wages to at least $15 an hour, and passing immigration reform that gave a pathway to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, while also taking significant steps in dismantling our detention and deportation machinery.
The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced the need for bold, progressive solutions to the problems impacting this country. More than 120,000 people in the U.S. have died since the pandemic began and more than 40 million people have lost their jobs. The federal government response has been inept aside from passing gigantic corporate bailouts. There are massive protests against the indiscriminate killing of Black people at the hands of the police, and somehow billionaires are still making record profits. It has never been clearer to the public that the system is rigged against working people.
Now, more than ever, the people of this country need a president who demonstrates integrity, compassion, and competence. Biden has an opportunity to commit to take action on the wide range of hardships people are facing right now, whereas Trump has completely mishandled the response to COVID-19. and his offensive and authoritarian response to protestors who march in solidarity with Black lives has left the people of this country disgusted.
However, as 2016 shows, we cannot depend on anti-Trump messages to inspire our communities to go out and vote. Research shows that negative campaigning often depresses voter turnout as it creates fear and cynicism in voters. To get people out to vote, we need to inspire and give them something to vote for and this month, the new Florida for All coalition launched a large-scale electoral and organizing program that aims to mobilize Latinx voters, by investing early, building the trust within the community, and driving toward a grassroots victory. This coalition, composed of deeply rooted community organizations, should be the framework of electoral programs in Florida and across the country.
Latinx voters are concerned about not having access to healthcare. They want their children and loved ones to have the opportunity to have a quality education and pursue their dreams. If they are not directly impacted by our immigration system, they often have a family member or loved one who is. Like most people, they care about having good paying jobs. They want to live in sustainable communities that will not flood every time there is a heavy rainstorm or face pollution impacting their health.
With the endorsement and accountability of progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Biden is the only candidate that we can push to adopt policies that will ensure progress for our families. It’s our opportunity to reverse the damage done by Trump and his incompetent team of racists and corporate lobbyists and turn things over to a new generation of leaders.
To win big with Latinx voters, Joe Biden’s campaign needs to be bold and forward thinking in his policies and embrace progressive ideas. That means supporting things like Medicare for All, canceling student debt, pushing for the Green New Deal, and not just focusing on immigration reform but also defunding ICE, CBP, and the police. It means investing in hiring Black and Brown staffers and firms to do strategic and culture sensitive work in Latinx communities.
As the recent DACA decision illustrates, there is way too much at stake to get this election wrong. The lives and wellbeing of millions of people hang in the balance. To defeat Trump and his fascist movement, we will need to inspire millions of people to not only vote, but to also take action in their communities to turn others out to vote, and the Latinx community cannot be taken for granted again.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.