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For Young Latino Voters, Politics Has Become More Personal Than Ever — and California Proves It

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Nothing resonates better with Latinos than “familia,” and that’s exactly what I saw last week at a phone bank calling Latino voters. The phone bank was organized by Power California, an organization whose mission is “building the power of young people of color and their families to participate and lead systems of government at all levels and to ensure that voters and elected leaders mirror the rich diversity that is California.” And, that part about “families” is central to their outreach.

A volunteer, Wendy Morales, explained how she engages  prospective voters: “I tell them my personal story and share with them that my parents were once undocumented and that I have relatives who are still undocumented. They don’t have the right to vote so I feel that I should exercise my right for them and give them a voice.”

Wendy is not the only one. On that day, nineteen other young people of color were sitting next to her in a small room filled with a bunch of computers, headsets, two fans, a few bottles of water and some snacks. And no, they are not watching videos on the internet or hanging out on social media — they are calling over 100,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 30 in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and East San Diego. And they are very committed to making sure their neighbors on the other side of the phone are registered to vote and actually go out and vote.

The walls in the room of this phone bank located in the corner of an old building in Boyle Heights, long an iconic part of Los Angeles, are covered with murals created by local artists, maps of counties, key dates for the elections, and rules for the phone calls. Additionally, they track their daily accomplishments on the walls that reflect the number of people they have called and the number of people who said they will vote.  

When these phone bank callers speak with the potential voters, they talk about what is on the ballot, where they can vote if they moved, or how they can vote by mail. But more significantly, they remind the likely voters (many of whom might be voting for the first time) about the importance of participating in the electoral process, and encourage them to see the big impact this group of 4 million people in the state of California can have if they vote.

As Luis Sanchez, Co-Executive Director of Power California, which organized the phone bank explained, throughout their efforts in talking with voters, they have been able to verify that young voters in California do care about many issues like housing, the environment, and immigration. And young voters recognize that the midterm elections are the opportunity to tackle those issues directly, because many of them are on November 2018 ballot.

In fact, a recent poll conducted by Eviratus, a Southern California research firm, on behalf of Power California, found that young Californians are politically active and civically engaged. 50% of the young people who responded to the survey have boycotted a product and 29% have joined a rally or march this year. The survey also found a strong connection with social movements like “Black Lives Matter”, environmental justice, LGBT equality, and “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

“75% of young people in California under the age of 25 are people of color and more than 50% of them are children of immigrants, so there is a key intersection between immigration and being a young person of color,” adds Sanchez. “The fact that they vote is not only an issue that matters to them but they might be the only ones who’ll vote in their household, so they are voting for their parents, and grandparents on issues of immigration, housing, and education.”

This statement is supported by Matt Barreto, Co-Founder of Latino Decisions, who says that young Latinos are impacted in two ways. “The youth segment of the Latino electorate is the largest and the most untapped, and these young voters who are coming to the US elections tend to be US born, second generation, have immigrant parents. They are very connected to the immigrant experience, but also know their rights as Americans and know their opportunities. However, they have very little rate of participation because they have felt ignored by the political system, like most young people. But for young Latinos, they feel doubly neglected, because they feel the pains of the immigration system, which is neglecting their parents, and in addition they feel the same level of neglect that all young voters feel.”

Latinos are mobilizing Latinos, not candidates.

And this is where politics become even more personal for them. It’s not only that Latinos are feeling the effects of politics in their lives more directly than ever before, but they are also taking it upon themselves, alone, to be politically engaged. According to Power California, most of the reaching out to Latino voters have been done by other Latinos (in many cases young Latinos) volunteering or working with local pro-immigration or civic engagement organizations, not by a political campaign or a candidate.

In California, more than 200,000 teenagers have been pre-registered to vote since 2016. Luis Sanchez says that Power California has helped register 50,000 of them. And many of the new voters registered during the last 2 or 3 years were registered through the state, so the big question is whether all of this will translate into youth turnout in the November election.

Barreto says that in order to make sure voters turn out, candidates need to have a more direct conversation with them. “You really need good candidates who are doing outreach and bringing people into the party, welcoming them into the political system. That’s when you get the largest boost in registration turnouts.” Barreto explains that the anger and frustration that exists among voters needs to be addressed by candidates, so voters can really see who is going to make their anger go away.  

Power California, the only organization calling young voters statewide, has been able to identify that neither parties’ campaigns or candidates are really contacting or investing in these young Latino voters. So, at least in the Golden State, the calls from the phone bankers working with Power California could be the only one voters will receive for these elections.  

In the meantime, Wendy Morales will continue telling every person she speaks to on the phone or in person, “If you are unhappy with the current situation, about policies, or how the government is working right now — you can actually do something about it and go out and vote. Your vote matters and every vote counts”.