Christine Neuman-Ortiz

Christine Neuman-Ortiz

Latinos Make Themselves Heard in Wisconsin

By Christine Neuman-Ortiz

Without a doubt, the national election of 2016 is one of the most important elections we have ever faced. Since August, Voces de la Frontera has been mobilizing the Latino vote in Wisconsin, a swing state where the Latino vote will be key in determining the outcome of the national election.

During these beautiful and crisp autumn days in Wisconsin, I have had the opportunity to walk the neighborhoods of Milwaukee and Green Bay to talk to working class voters about the importance of the upcoming elections. While the vast majority of people understand the importance of participating, I will, at times, find people who are deeply cynical about the political process. They feel they have been betrayed, and they no longer want to participate in elections.

Yet elections are never about change from above.  It is about electing people who will impact the conditions under which we organize from below.

All social change has come as a product of struggle, of mass movements where people organize in their workplaces, in their homes, churches, and neighborhoods and through alliances, marches, actions, and strikes. These local, broad actions create the pressure necessary to bring about social change.  In Wisconsin, nowhere was this more evident than earlier this year, on February 18, 2016 at the State Capitol.  “A Day Without Latinos and Immigrants” was a statewide general strike that converged at the State Capitol and involved tens of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and allies that organized a work stoppage, consumer boycott, small business closure, and school walkout of parents and students.

This action resulted in the defeat of the so-called anti-sanctuary bill, racial profiling legislation that would have broken up families and undermined public safety.  The proposed law would have permitted the police and others to question anyone about their immigration status and play an active immigration enforcement role.  In the most gerrymandered state in the country, and without any state political allies in the majority, this proposed law was defeated through a popular uprising.

It was a deeply moving experience to be at the State Capitol that day because it was powerful demonstration of the power of our collective action.  To continue to have wins at all levels of government will require electing people who adopt our platform of demands.  Then we need to escalate in the aftermath of these elections to demand that Election Day promises are realized. That is part of the struggle.

For many years I did not vote because I, too, felt cynical. What shifted my opinion was my involvement in the immigrant rights movement, as the daughter of immigrants. I learned to value my vote when I participated in a lobbying delegation for immigration reform in the early 2000s. We approached both a conservative Democrat and a right wing-Republican.  It became apparent that it did not matter what we said or the case we made—the only alternative was to vote them out of office.

As I came to see how many working people were disenfranchised, I came to value my right to vote as a US citizen. Employers have so much more power when workers are denied the ability to elect politicians that will challenge the injustices they face in the workplace and in society.

This was reinforced, by my knowledge that there have been systematic efforts to disenfranchise working people, people of color, women, and others from the right to vote. As a woman I would not have had the right to vote before 1920, as a Latina I would have faced many barriers to voting before 1965 such as the poll tax, literacy tests, and intimidation.  To the present, there have been new efforts in over a dozen states, Wisconsin included, disenfranchising some of the most vulnerable citizens through new voter suppression strategies, such as photo ID.

My right to vote is a result of the struggle and sacrifice of countless people who fought for that freedom; a freedom we often take for granted, as if it was achieved at no price. In reality, that price included beatings, jail and death.

Like we saw on Feb. 18th at the state capitol, our collective action matters.  This election has never been more critical in mobilizing the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the African American vote, and the white working class vote to defeat an emerging far right and white supremacist movement in this country. We must defeat any politician at any level of government that uses the politics of dividing workers against one another to make a career for themselves. With only 5 days to go before the election, let’s make sure November 8th is a show of our collective action.

Christine Neuman-Ortiz is the executive director of Voces de la Frontera, a membership-based community organization led by low-wage workers, immigrants and youth whose mission is to protect and expand civil rights and workers’ rights through leadership development, community organizing and empowerment.  Since 2004, Voces has been involved in elections, as part of the broader struggle for equality and dignity for immigrants, workers, and their families.

This blog is part of the LIFT Fund’s #workersvote series which highlights the impact that workers will have on elections across the country this Nov. 8th.  Click here to see the last blog in this series by Derrick Johnson of One Voice, and follow us on Twitter and FB to see how and why LIFT grantees are educating and mobilizing their worker members around this year’s electoral cycle!