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Why Latinos Should Not Sit Out This Election

Why Latinos Should Not Sit Out This Election

By Maria T. Cardona - October 8, 2014

Last week President Obama addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala, the largest gathering of Latino elected officials, leaders, activists, and young Latinos working in Washington. In the middle of his rousing speech, the crowd started booing as the president outlined the Republicans’ inaction on immigration legislation. 

The president then said emphatically, “Don’t boo -- vote!” Although he has said this before with other audiences, it is crucial that our community hear that message right now as the midterm elections are approaching. And it is in sharp contrast with what some Latino activists have been shamefully telling our community, which is to sit this election out. There is no room in the advocacy world for such political blasphemy and it needs to stop.

There was much anticipation about what the president would say and how he would be received. This is understandable. There has been great disappointment in the administration’s decision to delay until after the midterms an executive action expected to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. There was talk of protests and of hecklers being present for the speech. There were some demonstrators outside the venue, but you could count them on your fingers. And there was one heckler, but her voice was drowned out by the president’s supporters.

Obama hit it out of the park. And he needed to. He was warmly received by the crowd because of three things he did smartly. The first was to start out his remarks by recounting his drive to the event with two DREAMer kids -- young Latinos whose parents brought them to the U.S. through no fault of their own, and who have benefited from the President’s Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals (or DACA).

The second was to remind the crowd of his commitment to comprehensive immigration legislation, the only real and permanent solution -- and to reiterate why he must take executive action in the first place: because of the Republican Party’s complete inaction on this issue. The third was to encourage the crowd to vote. 

Regardless of the frustration many in the Latino community feel about the delay (and that includes me), if you fancy yourself an advocate or an activist, it is simply political malpractice to tell anyone in any community not to vote. 

Every activist out there needs to be encouraging Latinos to get more involved and that it is important to do so now more than ever. I would encourage everyone doing the hard work of registering Latinos to tell people  it is just as important, if not more so, to vote in the midterms as it is in the presidential elections. The reason is because they are electing the people who can do what we want -- or block what we want. 

There was such media hype over the “record numbers” of Latinos who voted in 2008 and again in 2012. The president himself attributes his re-election in large part to that support. But the turnout percentage for Latinos in 2012 was only 48 percent. In my view, that is nothing to be proud of.

The African-American community’s turnout was over 70 percent. I guarantee my Latino brothers and sisters that if we all came out to vote in the numbers we are capable of, we could have avoided two things: The first is the ease with which Republicans turned their back on any immigration action whatsoever. They knew that not enough Latinos would come out to vote in the midterms to make it matter to Republicans. Never mind that there are enough Latinos eligible to vote in enough swing districts that if all of them cast a ballot, the House of Representatives could flip to the Democrats. 

The second thing we might have avoided is President Obama’s decision to delay his executive action. If Democrats knew that every single Latino would come out to vote, it would not have been that easy to make the argument that executive action would be harmful to Democrats in red states if done prior to the midterms. The harm of the extreme conservatives in those districts who would oppose the president’s action could have been countered with the additional votes coming from Latinos. 

So it is beyond my comprehension that anyone in my community would be advocating for Latinos to stay home. We need to understand that it is because so many have stayed home in past elections that politicians and elected leaders in both parties find it too easy to disregard our interests and to play politics with our families and children. The president was right. Let’s not boo, let’s not mope around and feel sorry for ourselves.

Amigos, go out and vote!  Get yourselves informed, know where the candidates stand on all issues -- not just immigration but education, job creation, health care, college access, and foreign policy. Esta es TU CASA! Have a say in who manages it and how. Si, se puede! But only if your voice is heard. Vote.

Maria Cardona is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C., public affairs firm. A veteran Democratic political consultant, she is the founder of Latinovations and a fellow at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

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