The high voter turnout this past Tuesday represented a message by the majority of people that we want peace and progress and the use of our taxes to improve people’s lives. The large number of votes cast by Latinos across the country also sent a clear message that the nation’s political landscape and history are now changing for the better and that the Republican barrage of insults and disrespect hurled at them will no longer be tolerated. Over seventy-four percent of Latino voters cast their ballots for Obama and made their voices heard on the issues that concern them most. This percentage of Latino votes in favor of Obama was a higher rate than that of 2008. This was achieved despite a past history of being disenfranchised and having to struggle for the right to vote, experiencing gerrymandering, the continued existence of at-large voting districts and the passage of recent state voter suppression laws. While the right to vote is just one of many political activities, its importance has been restricted and denied to many during the history of this country. Thus, the defense and exercise of this hard-won civil right during this recent election was extremely significant for the forces of progress and especially for many Latinos who stood in long lines to cast their ballots.
The issues and lack of political respect created a high Latino turnout
The issues of education, jobs, healthcare, forcing the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and a lack of comprehensive reform immigration mobilized and brought concerned Latinos out to the polls. A definite line was drawn in regard to these issues by the neo-conservative political agenda whose far-right extremist positions ran counter to the social and economic interests of Latinos. In addition to the harm these extremists could cause, there was also the hatemongering, immigrant bashing and underlying message used during this campaign that Latinos were somehow un-American and not a part of the “real America”. Latinos have evolved from the soil of the Americas and built the first cities such as St. Augustine and Santa Fe within what is now the U.S. over 500 years ago, so how much more American can one get? Real America, as in really indigenous, well, we are it! When politicians from the extreme right talk of taking America back to its “traditional” values, this is doublespeak for a return to white-male supremacy, de facto segregation with minorities as second-class citizens, aggressive militaristic wars, and a population without proper education and healthcare. When people at Republican rallies chant “we built it”, this is code-speak for stating that only whites did the hard work required to build this country. This mythical thinking negates the forced labor of slavery, indentured servants and the role of Mexican-American and Asian-American workers on the railroads, mines, construction sites and fields throughout the Southwest and West Coast during the 18th and 19th centuries and into the present time. An additional insult by right-wing extremist Republicans intent on harming the progress and well-being of Latino families was the scapegoating hurled at us publicly which insinuated that we are responsible for the slow demise of the country. This Republican scapegoating was a dishonest attempt by them to cover up the unethical actions of their allies such as the robber baron bankers who have plundered the economy and housing market, politicians profiting from continuous wars which their children do not have to fight in, and the corporations who export jobs overseas such as Romney has done.
Ethnic, class and gender warfare by the Republicans divided the country
With the national and local elections now over, many people are proposing that everyone needs to accept the results in a civil manner and that we should all hold hands, unite and proceed forward together. While this would be nice, this unfortunately didn’t occur in 2008 and will not happen once more. During the last twelve years, there has been a qualitative economic shift as an enormous amount of wealth has been squeezed from the middle and working classes and diverted upward to the top five percent of society. This financial expropriation was achieved by cutting wages and benefits, social services and increasing military spending and the tax burden imposed upon working people. This class warfare waged by those at the top of society and their political lackeys on the right needs to be countered and resolved through a combination of unity, strength and action as it has polarized political views and policies along class lines. The country’s demographics are also swiftly changing as the Latino and Asian population nationwide has increased dramatically, that of African-Americans substantially, while the aging white population has experienced only a slight increase. Thus, the browning of the country physically and politically is occurring which signals the growth of a true diversity whose goal should be the achievement of social equality. Yet, for those on the far-right who live in the past and who adhere to the illusion of “taking back our country”, this inevitable evolution that is occurring nationwide is something to be feared. Why? Because the development of such a diversified and more equitable society is a danger to their past privileges of white and male supremacy that they once enjoyed. These swift economic changes that are occurring demographically and among social classes have now aligned certain socio-economic, gender and ethnic groups into two distinct and diametrically opposed political camps. One camp is comprised of a majority of young people, college-educated whites, unmarried females, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, labor and urban dwellers. These growing sectors increasingly support change based upon a progressive political and social agenda that will move a diversified society forward to a better future. This is the progressive camp that generally supported Obama for president. The alternate choice in the recent elections consists of conservative and extremist policies that are held by a combination of Republicans, tea partiers and other assorted far-right groups who utilized hatred to advocate divisiveness, racial conflict and the lack of a clear vision for the future. This regressive political camp and Republican supporters are comprised of predominantly less-educated white males, those with strong nativist views, elderly whites, and born-again evangelicals who oppose social change and wish to dogmatically impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society. Essentially, a predominantly white Republican political party that lacks any diversity or tolerance. The addition to this lily-white mix of the majority of Wall Street bankers and corporate heads who are opposed to government regulation makes this camp one that is fearful of a changing society in which they must evolve, compete with, and co-exist with others who do not look like them. Their yearning for a return to the past and a halt to further change and progress is what has made this election a political referendum on the progressive movement and its vision of a future America versus the regressives who fervently wish to return to the distant past.
What are the issues that separate these two political camps?
There are strong views on economic, political and social issues that affect Latinos and polarize these two divergent camps. These issues are increased aid to education and healthcare, job creation and vocational training, defending women’s rights, immigration reform and decreasing the military budget. Support for these issues by the progressive forces coincides with the interests of the majority of Latinos throughout the country. Romney insulted half of the country when he stated during the campaign that the 47 percent who want to improve these social services are “dependent” and not productive persons-in essence, moochers! The Republicans and their far-right allies have proposed that Arizona be a model solution for immigration while the Neanderthal-type statements made by certain of their candidates in regard to negating equal pay for women and denying them a say in their reproductive rights have been rejected by an electoral majority. However, we must keep in mind that this vote was not that unanimous as close to half of the electorate of whom many are right-wing regressives still oppose what benefits Latinos and the majority of working people within the country.
Voting is an action that is part of a broader political process
With the voting now over and an electoral mandate given to a progressive agenda, the reality still exists that 49 percent of the voters still oppose such changes in an ideologically polarized society. This leaves us with a divided government comprised of a Republican dominated House of Representatives and U.S. Supreme Court. Most likely, this will result in more political gridlock ahead and an obstruction of progress by the Republicans and their tea party allies. This means that the pressing job of educating more people in regard to the issues affecting us and organizing them to take action must continue onward. Voting is a single political act and a viable tactic but it needs to be utilized within a broader political context which also includes ongoing ideological and organizational activities. A better future for Latinos is contingent upon uniting with and building a diverse coalition comprised of other progressive sectors and allies within our society as real change will come from below. These are the sectors that voted for Obama and who are in the process of growth and development throughout the country. The right-wing regressive camp that wants to return to the supposedly “real America” of the past in which affirmative action for whites predominated has not been totally defeated. Widespread educational work needs to be carried out to more Latinos and the broader public in order to expose these extremist ideas and harmful positions as a reactionary force that is not only detrimental to the progress of Latinos, but to all working people, women and other minorities. The changing economic situation and demographics within the country will continue as time is our ally. However, other tactical allies need to be won over and coalitions broadened out by continuing the hard and persistent work of ideological education and political mobilization. We must strive to unite with the many to isolate the few and continue to apply firm political pressure upon Obama in order to move him forward with a progressive agenda that concretely benefits those who voted for him.