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Electing for Self Defense: Latinxs in the 2016 Election

“You have seen Arizona become a swing state because our communities have been fighting for themselves. Time and time again, when we are fighting the dems are no where to be seen. When the tide turns, and the waters are safe, they always appear.”
Co-founder of Mijente, a hub for Latina/o and Chicana/o organizing. She is based in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Tuesday could mark the end of 23 years of terror at the hands of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” Crédito: Bazta Arpaio campaign

For veteran community organizers, election seasons are always chaotic and fraught with contradictions. This year is no exception for me. I am a queer, Chicana woman from Arizona who after many years organizing in other states has moved back to Phoenix. Most recently I helped found Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building. As we watched the rise of Trump, we knew he had to be stopped. But we also knew that for many communities of color, Trump’s America is already here. Like many, I’ve engaged in this election to defend against racism, sexism and xenophobia and to do this in a way that mobilizes social movements and raises expectations for what we expect from the next President – because whoever emerges as the victor, we have our work cut out for us.

As the lines form, polls poll, and this presidential cycle (thankfully) comes to a close-- some significant takeaways from this election begin to make themselves clear.

1. Yes, Latinxs are turning out.

Trump has had our names in his mouth from the moment he announced his candidacy for President. Early voting foretells an ending to this story where many of the people Trump attacked are delivering an unequivocal response to prevent his rise. According to Pew Research, since 2012 the Latinx electorate has grown 17%. Early voting reports are showing significant turnout of Latinx people in huge numbers, led by Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Many in our community are registering to vote simply to vote against Trump. I, for one, am thrilled to see my community coming out to stick it to Trump.

2. She’s still #NotOurAbuela

Impressive turnout numbers should not be misinterpreted as simply a watershed of support for Hillary Clinton. These numbers represent a community motivated to act in self-defense against Donald Trump. In this election we’ve seen celebrities and corridos, but we still have three million deportations that no one has been accountable to us for, a lukewarm embrace of a $15 an hour minimum wage, and silence on the economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Candidate Clinton campaigned to the Latinx community that she was not just ‘ la Hillary’, but ‘ tu Hillary.’ President Bill Clinton was often problematically referred to as the ‘first Black President’, and when we look at his record on economics, race, and trade, Clinton’s legacy of impact on Black communities has been abysmal. Hillary should not be positioned to make such claims about herself and the Latinx community. We are too often taken for granted by the Democrats and communities of color are rarely rewarded for partisan loyalty. This was a show of power, but that power quickly evaporates without political independence. Count on us to keep building our own Latinx political leadership, not the big Democratic party machine.

3. Shifting electoral battlegrounds? Look at migration patterns

Is it me, or have we heard a lot less about Ohio in this election? There are some really interesting shifts occurring this time around with those big red and blue maps. Election crunch time has featured razor-thin races in states like North Carolina, Florida and Nevada. At some points, stalwart red states like Georgia and Arizona have even been in play. Case in point, my home state of Arizona has been visited by Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama in late October. Part of this can be explained by a Trump candidacy. But it also speaks to migration patterns and demographic change.

Shifting battlegrounds come as a result of many factors. But we cannot ignore the impact of recent new migration of African Americans to the South, Puerto Ricans settling in central Florida from the island (or the Northeast), and the maturation of new immigrant communities in states like Georgia and North Carolina. Ohio, bellwether in Presidential elections since 1960, has long proved decisive in Presidential elections because it represented the quintessential ‘American’ electorate. This year may prove otherwise.

4. Don’t blame Black communities for not being excited about Clinton

If you falsely interpret Latinx turnout as solely pro-Hillary, then you might be concerned about what will likely be lower than average turnout from the African-American electorate. Part of the reason it is important to understand the ‘why’ of Latinx turnout, is that it sheds a light on the turnout of other communities.

Trump tapped into white fear and anxiety and built his campaign on a promise to deport and build a wall. He consistently denigrates Mexicans, Muslims and in extension, immigrants. Without the threat and visceral anger many felt, I suspect voter turnout in the Latinx community would have proportionally tracked past cycles. So before any fingers get pointed at (in particular) Black folks who stayed home, know this – Trump actually sought to peel off support from Black voters, and in the end the record will show he was overwhelmingly rejected. Likely it will be at a rate higher than Latinxs. If turnout is lower, it speaks to the lack of enthusiasm generated by Clinton and her campaign, not the African-American voting block that has consistently delivered so much for the Democratic party.

5. If the Democrats won’t, we will

Shifting battlegrounds are a result of migration but also organizing. Many of us are counted out of elections whether it be because of where we live or because we can’t vote. One of the other key stories of this election are the places and people often counted it, opting in. Young people, those who are formerly incarcerated and undocumented are advocating for change.

Arizona was not a state that was seen in play for this election. In comparison to other states, Arizona received a fraction of resources and investment. It became a swing state because our communities have been fighting for themselves. What was mistakenly not factored in was the level of existing community organizing and resistance of communities in the state. Tuesday could mark the end of 23 years of terror at the hands of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Time and time again, when we are fighting and the political parties who claim to represent us are nowhere to be seen. These are the day to day issues, that cannot always be addressed through the ballot box. If they won’t show up, we must. If they won’t invest, we will. People of color don’t want to live places and not control our political present and future in our counties, cities, states and country. When we are conscious, we are more likely to organize, and when we organize then we are more likely to vote. Now that this 2016 election cycle comes to a close, we have the duty and opportunity to honor the way in which our community has defended itself in this cycle. The best way to do that, is to go on the offense, on our own terms.

Disclaimer: We selected this Op-Ed to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and/or the organization(s) they represent and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision Noticias.