As the November 2 election nears it is clear that Latino voters will be a critical element of the growing forces opposing the Bush administration and Republican control of Congress. At the beginning of 2004 anti-Bush forces were worried about the Latino vote because of support for Bush reported by opinion polls in the wake of 9/11.
A larger than expected Latino vote for Schwarzenegger in the California recall election in 2003, Bush?s base in Texas and his brother Jeb?s power in Florida (the second and fourth highest concentration of Latinos) and a big publicity splash for Bush?s immigration ?reform? package in January gave the appearance of strong support for Bush among Latinos. The corporate media made much of the possibility of an historic shift in Latino voting patterns in favor of Bush and the Republicans. It projected an image of invincibility for Bush and the right-wing Republicans on a national scale.
By the summer, however, this projected change in Latino voting patterns began disappearing as Latinos, along with the American people, began to look more seriously at the national elections. The Bush and right wing shifted their tactics into a more anti-Latino gear.
Signs now point to a strong anti-Bush sentiment among Latino voters. The Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP), one of the key organizations responsible for the phenomenal growth of the Latino electorate since the 1970s, published a report, ?Latino Vote For Beginners ? Key facts about the US Latino Vote,? indicating long-term and recent Latino voting trends that point to a large anti-Bush turnout.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Latino civil rights organization, published a survey showing that Latinos hold decidedly progressive views on major issues like jobs, health care, education and immigration, with little support for Bush campaign issues like cutting taxes and services, law and order and anti-immigrant polices. In the Spanish-speaking corporate media, pundits changed from speaking of a pro-Republican shift among Latinos to talk of an independent trend because both parties were taking Latinos for granted. They said the Latino vote wouldn?t affect the outcome of the election.
While the obvious intent was to discourage Latinos from voting, a Gallup poll showed that post-9/11 Latino support for Bush?s policies ? as high as 71percent ? had dropped to 40 percent last June. In the presidential race, Senator Kerry led Bush 57 percent to 38 percent among Latino voters.
The Basic Truths
A key part of Bush?s campaign strategy is to try defining the issues with the support of the corporate media. With regard to Latinos, the right-wing strategy is to incite ignorant, racist, nativist and nationalist stereotypes to whip up an anti-Latino backlash and discourage anti-Bush Latino voters and allies. The best antidote to this is the truth, a powerful tool in building unity in action. A discussion of living conditions and ideological developments among Latinos and a review of the history of the progressive Latino vote and its current political role is important to uncovering the truth.
Latinos make up nearly about 14 percent of the US population. In the 2000 census they made up 25 percent of the Western region of the country, 12 percent of the South, 10 percent of the Northeast and 5 percent of the Midwest. From 1990 to 2000 Latino numbers increased by 50 percent. Between 2000 and July 2003 their numbers grew from just over 35 million to nearly 40 million, nearly four times the national rate. The Latino population is growing in every state. In 11 states they make up 10 percent or more of the population: New Mexico, California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut.
Latinos are overwhelmingly working class. According to the NCLR, Latinos have the highest rate of participation in the labor force at 68.1 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the Latino unemployment rate is 7.0 percent compared to 5.0 percent for whites and 10.1 percent for African Americans. About 96 percent of undocumented immigrant males work. The median income for Latino workers in 2001 was $19, 651 compared to $23,453 for African Americans and $30,622 for whites. In the blue collar/service job categories the Latino rate is 44 percent, compared to African Americans at 41 percent and whites at 28 percent. Income disparity for Latinos is relatively smaller for different levels of education and union membership. Latino full-time non-union workers had median weekly earnings in 2002 of $408 Union members earned $623 the difference is $215 weekly. For African American workers the weekly increase on average for union workers is $158, and for white workers $135.00. However only about 10.5 percent of Latino workers are union members compared to 12.8 percent of white workers and 16.9 percent of African American workers.
Discrimination has created disparities in living conditions and quality of life. The 2000 Census reported 23percent of Latinos lived in poverty compared to 24 percent of African Americans and 8 percent of whites. Only 57 percent of Latinos are high school graduates compared to 79 percent of African Americans and 88 percent of whites. The NCLR reports that only half of Mexican Americans had completed high school. Forty percent of Latinos spend over the national standard of one third of household income for housing. Sixteen percent spend over half their incomes for housing. Forty-eight percent of Latino families own a home compared to three-fourths of whites. The average net worth of Latino households was $3100 compared to $81,700 for whites in 1998. One-third of Latinos are have no health insurance compared to 22 percent of African Americans and 12 percent of whites. Latino men are almost four times as likely as non-Hispanic white males to go to prison.
Thought Patterns on Issues
A recent poll released this summer by the NCLR shows that the Bush program of cutting taxes for the rich and social programs for working people, tough law and order policies, emphasis on the ?war on terror? and a ?war presidency? is far out of step with mainstream Latinos. It reports that 62 percent of Latinos ?would pay higher taxes to support a government that provides more services,? and only 28 percent support lower taxes and fewer services.
Specifically, about three in four Latinos say too little is spent on education, want more for preschool education and services and say more health care programs are needed. The survey showed education is the number one priority for one-third of Latinos, the economy and jobs for 22 percent, followed closely by issues such as immigration, civil rights, and health care Overwhelming majorities of Latinos regard discrimination as a problem in the workplace, schools and housing. On criminal justice, 74 percent want a tougher approach on the causes of crime, while only 22 percent prioritize stricter punishment. On immigration, 82 percent favor providing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have lived, worked and paid taxes for five years. Support for legal status for undocumented children who have lived here five years enabling them to attend college and work without fear of deportation is nearly unanimous.
While Latinos are about 14 percent of the population, they are expected to make up less than seven percent of the votes for president. This is due to the large proportions of Latinos under voting age and the large numbers of non-citizens. Nevertheless the SVREP estimates that 6.8 million Latinos will vote for president in 2004 more than tripling the 1976 vote. SVREP and other Latino organizations are working to make the vote much larger. With 60 percent or more of these votes going to Democrats, their net gain should range from 1.5 to 2 million Latino empowerment on Congressional, state, and local levels has been even more dramatic. In 2003 there were 4,624 Latino elected officials nationwide. In positions elected by party 1,477 were Democrats and 118 were Republicans. In Congress there are 20 Latino Democrats and 4 Republicans. These officials and their supporters know how to turn out the vote. The growing Latino vote has been an important reason the Republicans have lost the popular vote in the last three presidential elections.
A History of Progressive Voting
Significant electoral efforts among Latinos began with League of United Latin American Citizens in the 1920s. Latino participation in the labor upsurge and civil rights struggles of the 1930s and World War II was a giant step of empowerment. Independent Latino political formations like the Mexican American Political Association in California in the 1960s and the Chicano movement also sparked independent grass roots developments. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the beginnings of national Latino civil rights groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the NCLR, the SVREP, the campus-based Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the AFL-CIO?s Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement.
Latinos emerged as an important part of national politics in democratic and progressive struggles against the Reagan Revolution. Latino leaders marched in the front line of the giant Solidarity Day rally against Reaganomics in 1981. New allies, growing grass roots efforts, and Voting Rights Act legal victories against gerrymandering led to more representation from Capitol Hill to City Hall. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus became more and more important. These developments accelerated in the 1990s especially with changes in leadership in the AFL-CIO and its policies like immigration.
Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Charlie Gonz?lez (D-TX) embody these historical traditions having succeeded their fathers Edward Roybal and Henry B. Gonz?lez whose political careers began in the New Deal era. Representative Ra?l Grijalva is the son of a former worker in the Bracero Program. Latino political representatives in general have emerged from backgrounds of labor and community struggles and broader movements for social justice.
National Progressive Role
These sections of the Latino equality movement have a growing voice in the movements for democracy and social justice. The labor, women?s, environmental, civil rights and liberties groups, immigration reform, health, education and other movements are taking affirmative action to win support and move in coalition. They are very conscious of the vote of Latinos in Congress, state houses and local government. For example five of the seven California Latino congresspersons are women who have won their seats with support from national women?s groups.
Latino participation in the progressive movements is shown by recent developments. No Latino Democrat voted for the authorization for use of force in Iraq in October 2002. Fernando Suarez del Solar, a Mexican immigrant whose immigrant son died in action of early in the Iraq war, has become a major peace movement figure organizing Latino military families to oppose the war and to show solidarity with the Iraqi people.
Representative Lu?s Guti?rrez (D-IL) is the primary author of the SOLVE act for immigration law reform supported by the AFL-CIO and civil rights groups. Linda Ch?vez-Thompson is one of the three top officers of the AFL-CIO. The Executive Director of the ACLU Anthony D. Romero is an openly gay Puerto Rican. Representative Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is the third highest official of Democrats in the House of Representatives as chair of the Democratic Caucus. Rookie Representative Ra?l Grijalva (D-AZ) is emerging as a key activist in the Congressional Progressive Caucus joining with co-chairs Barbara Lee and Dennis Kucinich and others on people before profit legislation in the House.
History of Anti-Latino Backlash
A major stereotype of Mexicans and other Latinos in the United States has been that they are foreigners. When the quota system was debated in Congress and the press in the early 20th century, the consensus reached is that Mexicans should not have quotas because ?they did not want to be US citizens.? In the 1930s when Mexican Americans joined with other American people and began demanding more economic and political rights the first mass deportation sweeps were organized which the government called repatriation.
When Latinos and progressives protested the lack of political representation after World War II, the politicians and pundits drowned them out saying ?those people do not want to vote.? This lie was meant to cover up, poll taxes, gross gerrymandering, urban renewal (poor people removal) and racist immigration and naturalization policies, and the criminalization of youth.
n the 1980s, as Latino power emerged nationally, the English-only attack on multilingualism emerged as a counter. In the 1990s the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California became a cover for cuts in social services. A growing network of racist, nativist, anti-immigrant think tanks, lobbying and outright hate groups emerged as a significant part of the ultra right.
The New Anti -Latino Offensive
Today with the Latino empowerment movement emerging as a part of the foundation for progressive politics nationally this ultra-right network has honed these historic anti-Latino smears for application in the November elections. The attack is not only aimed at Latinos, but at the unity of Latinos with other democratic sectors and against the forces of democracy as a whole. Central to this attack is the construction of a backlash movement to the growth of Latino political clout.
The backlash ideology was lent Ivy League trappings with the publication of Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington?s recent book Who Are We?. Huntington insists that immigrants, especially Latinos, want ?the demographic reconquista of areas Americans took from Mexico,? and that they will undermine the American ?core culture? of Anglo Protestantism. Huntington?s concocted propaganda provides academic cover for the rantings of extremist hate groups that link the anti-immigrant movement to the religious right, the political base of the Bush campaign.
The new ideological attack was used successfully in the California gubernatorial recall election last fall. In the race to succeed Governor Gray Davis should the recall succeed last fall, Democrat candidate Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante was viciously attacked for having been a member of MEChA as a college student in the 1970s. The attack asserted that MEChA, which uses the mythic term Aztlan for the ?lands to the north? from whence the Aztecs migrated before settling in the Mexico City area, was a group seeking ?reconquista? and was anti-American.
The Republicans called on Bustamante to renounce MEChA and was joined by right-wing radio talk show hosts, then conservative newspapers in smaller cities and agricultural areas. Major newspapers and television news picked it up as a major election development. The coverage dovetailed with the issue of drivers licenses for undocumented workers and with Schwarzenegger?s pledge to roll back raises in motor vehicle registration fees. A huge backlash vote was whipped up against Bustamante and Davis helping elect Republican Schwarzenegger in the heavily Democrat state. Last spring, right-wing forces on the UCLA campus raised funds via media talk shows to buy $40,000 worth of ads in the campus newspaper attacking MEChA and demanding they renounce their name and history. Later in the spring, Republican campus forces at Stanford University won a narrow student body wide referendum to deny student funds to MEChA.
In the past year-right wing groups have put the denial of drivers licenses for the undocumented issue forward in many states and Republicans have led a drive in Congress and state houses to deputize local police forces to enforce immigration laws.
The legislative sponsors of these efforts are Republican, but they include some Democrats. All over the country there are large and small efforts by local police officials, state and local elected official on cutting immigrants for services, anti-soliciting laws aimed at day laborers ? just about anything the right-wing anti-Latino network can win.
Half of the congressional co-sponsors of the CLEAR Act on enabling local police to enforce federal immigration policy are from states formerly of the Confederacy. Most of these states have small but growing populations of Latinos and of immigrants. The electorates have little knowledge of Latino people and will be targeted for anti-Latino backlash tactics. The anti-Latino themes will reinforce subtle and not so subtle anti-African American tactics.
In the battleground state of Arizona an anti-immigrant initiative, the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, will likely be on the November ballot bringing out a backlash vote. Anti-immigrant hate groups like Arizona based American Patrol, are using the internet to publicize and organize the backlash movement targeting progressive Latino politicians like Grivalva and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa for being pro immigrant and for being alumni of MEChA. They go on to smear the Kerry Edwards ticket for accepting support from the progressive Latinos.
This summer the Bush administration unleashed vicious Border Patrol raids more than a hundred miles from the border in California, with reports of similar tactics as far away as North Carolina and New York. Administration moves also include well- publicized policies of deporting immigrant workers by jet hundreds of miles inland in Mexico, and the use of military ?drone? aircraft for border surveillance. The backlash tactics used to elect Schwarzenegger in California last year are in motion to help elect Bush in November.
What Is To Be Done?
The Bush strategy of discouraging a big Latino vote and whipping up a big anti-Latino backlash must be countered with a drive to increase Latino turnout and reduce the backlash. This will not be successful by making concessions to the right wing. Success will come by building unity in action against Bush on issues based on government action to improve the living standards, quality of life and the expansion democracy and equality for all the people.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign theme of the politics of hope, with proposals to raise the minimum wage, support stronger laws for unionization, ending some corporate tax loopholes, increased funding for education and health care, support for greater actual rights for undocumented students and workers, defense of civil rights and liberties are an important starting point.
More advanced demands by independent groups in labor, civil rights, women?s, senior, youth and other movements for cuts in the military budget, US troops out of Iraq and Haiti, voting rights for immigrants are also called for. Equally important is taking on the right-wing ideological attack on Latinos and immigrants by leaders and groups beyond the Latino and Asian American communities.
For more information see:
Southwest Voter registration and Education Project: http://www.svrep.org/
National Council of La Raza: http://www.nclr.org/
Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride: http://www.iwfr.org
Rosalio Mu?oz of Lincoln Heights has been an activist/journalist in Latino and progressive issues since the moviemiento days of the sixties. Currently he is an organizer for the Southern California District of the Communist Party U.S.A.