Jaino Alvarado, 15, can’t vote yet. But he knows the outcome of the Nov. 4 midterm election could be pivotal for his future and that of his mother, a Honduran immigrant with Temporary Protection Status (TPS) who is anxiously awaiting an immigration reform.
“I’m embracing my power,” says Alvarado, in a video posted on YouTube. “I want this to be something big because I don’t want her to be afraid to head out into the streets and I want to have a better future for her and for us.”
He adds that he will be asking his friends’ parents to register to vote, and is challenging three other people to do the same.
The video is part of the “Embrace Your Power” voter registration campaign launched in downtown Los Angeles by a group of young men and women, some of them not even old enough to vote, ahead of the November election.
The campaign aims to boost Latino participation, in hopes of shedding light on their voting power and thus force Congress to take action on immigration.
The young activists behind the campaign acted on their conviction when they fasted for a week in “solidarity” with the Central American children fleeing violence in their home countries a month ago.
“Until we embrace our power, our communities will be on the backburner,” said Yamilex Rustrian, a leader of the youth fasters. “Our message to other young people is: don’t unplug because you’re disgusted. The only way we are going to move forward is to embrace our power and vote.
“We just can’t get mad,” said Rustrian, about the delay in action on immigration reform. “We have to go out and vote.”
Rustrian, 19, is a Deferred Action beneficiary who came to this country when she was seven after her father, a bus driver, was murdered by gang members. Although she can’t vote, she said she will do everything in her power to make sure others who are eligible, do vote.
“If my friends can vote, I’m going to take them to the polls to vote,” she said.
During the last midterm election, less than one-third of eligible voters turned out at the polls. According to the non-partisan Voto Latino, 66,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, positioning youth to be a powerful and growing influence in the political direction of America.
Alejandra Valle is executive secretary of the Service Employees International Union, United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), one of the leaders behind the voter registration effort. Valle said said this effort is different than other, traditional campaigns because of its heavy focus on social media, a tool most used by young people.
The youth organizers are committed to boosting their numbers this year through an innovative online, social media and text message-driven campaign that will challenge members of the young emerging electorate to register and vote. The launch in Los Angeles is part of a statewide effort to register new voters in conjunction with the civic engagement organization, Mi Familia Vota, which includes door-to-door voter registration in Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, and Coachella.
But they’re also using traditional voter registration methods.
“We’re also going to go house-by-house to register people to vote, and then knock on doors to make sure families head out to vote in November,” Valle said.
The effort has already paid off. The young activists registered nearly 100 voters this week during the launch of the campaign near Olvera Street.
There are currently over 4.8 million total registered voters in LA County, according to LAVote.net.
Controversy Over Delay
Immigration activists are frustrated with the lack of an immigration reform, especially after President Barack Obama decided to postpone action on this issue until after the November election, even though he had said he would act before the end of summer.
The decision was made in part because of pressure from Democratic candidates worried that any action on the controversial immigration issue could cost them votes.
Despite the criticism, labor and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta is standing with the President on his decision to delay executive action on immigration.
“We have to look at the big picture and don’t get caught up in saying we want it now,” she said. “We’ve been waiting — we are a community that can wait. And we have to have faith in our President, because the Republicans have shown their hand. We know what they want to do.”
Huerta’s asserts that immigration action before the election could have hurt the Democratic control of the Senate, and make it more difficult to get eventual immigration reform because Republicans aren’t likely to support it.
Democrats currently hold 53 seats in the Senate and Republicans hold 45. There are also two independents who caucus with the Democrats. According to The New York Times, Republicans have a 54 percent chance of gaining a majority in the Senate.
Huerta also said that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a number of bills hurting immigrants, including one that would have done away with Obama’s Deferred Action program benefiting young immigrants.
“Right now, none of those laws have been able to pass in the Senate because the Democrats have control of the Senate,” Huerta said. “If in this next election we lose the Senate, all of those bad bills that they passed against immigrants will become law.”
That’s why Huerta is encouraging people to go to the polls in November, and not sit on the sidelines as a way to protest the President’s delay on immigration reform.
But California State University Bakersfield Sociology professor Gonzalo Santos doesn’t buy Huerta’s or the President’s arguments.
“It is sheer political opportunism for him — or any other Democrat, including Ms. Huerta — to place their party’s immediate electoral interests ahead of our community’s urgent needs, and then try to spin it by counseling for more ‘patience’ (!), ‘having faith in the President (!),’ or conjuring up false dangers,such as what would happen if the Republicans end up in control of the Senate,” he said in a story published by the VOXXI Web site.
“Apart from the fact that this might happen anyway — in no small part due to disillusionment of the Democratic Party’s base for its failure to stand up to the Republicans on so many issues — if the GOP ends up in control of the Senate by a small margin, the president can veto any bill it and the House pass that attacks immigrant rights, women rights,” Santos adds in the piece.