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On many election nights, California is an afterthought. Often, by the time the polls close in California, the election outcomes are already known.
Not this year.
This year, California voters will play a critical role in determining control of the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the Cook Political Report, eleven seats are considered competitive. It is likely we will be up late on Election Day waiting for the California results to see which party controls the House of Representatives.
As ever, it all comes down to turnout. At America’s Voice, our team members have been travelling around the state, visiting battleground districts in the state, and interviewing and observing the multiple civic engagement organizations that are talking to voters of color, mostly Latinos. With weekly tracking polls of Latino voters conducted by NALEO and Latino Decisions showing that most Latino voters have not been contacted by campaigns, it is clear that in California, the void is being filled by activists, advocacy organizations, and community groups.
Here is what we found.
When Maribel Hastings and David Torres from America’s Voice en Español visited a bustling call center operated by CHIRLA and the CHIRLA Action Fund at their headquarters in Los Angeles two weeks ago, it was at capacity. Soila Rodríguez, who oversees the call center, explained:
We are 30 to 31 people and we work daily for eight hours. We are talking to 2,000 people on a daily basis. We started on September 10th and will continue to make calls until November 6th, the day of the elections.
Diana Colín is Director of Civic Engagement for CHIRLA and also Program Director of the CHIRLA Action Fund. She added:
We are making calls to 34 counties and knocking on doors in 38 regions…the two organizations are under the Immigrant Voter Power Project and the idea is to reach 216,000 voters that no party and no candidate is making any effort to reach out to.
In another battleground area, Luis Alemán works as the field director of the Orange County Voter Information Project (OCVIP), established by NextGen and the California Labor Federation. Young people there operate in teams that promote voting in the traditionally Republican districts of Orange County, hoping to mobilize Latino and Asian voters. Alemán spoke with Hastings and Torres while canvassing in a neighborhood located in Fullerton — a Republican-controlled District at play in the upcoming election:
What we can’t repeat are the mistakes of the past: talking to Latinos only a month before the elections. If you are not present in the community and if you don’t do outreach consistently, they will not open their doors 30 days before the election to tell you that they will vote. You have to cultivate relationships, and that’s what we are doing and what we will continue to do.
In California, 70% of young people under the age of 25 are people of color and almost 60% are children of immigrants. Our California State Director, Adriana Ruggiero, has been speaking with members of organizations in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, National City in South San Diego, Fullerton and Santa Ana in Orange County, and Fresno and Sacramento in the Central Valley. Most are targeting and energizing young people of color, a segment of the population known for low participation rates. Here’s a sample of what she found.
In Sacramento, during a recent event organized by Voto Latino and the California Endowment, young people of color were discussing specific issues with the Sacramento District Attorney, about how certain policies create poverty and how people can get involved in creating policies that benefit their communities.
Dinora Reina, Lead Organizer with the San Diego Organizing Project said that people in that area have started to feel the pain of the recent immigration events at home, and that they are starting to vote more because they either have a relative who’s undocumented or know someone who has been targeted by the police.
Power California is the only organization calling voters statewide in collaboration with other 25 local groups. The phone calls are made by high school and college students whose ages are between 15 to 24, from phone bank offices or high schools. Luis Sánchez, Co-Executive Director of Power California,, explained that through 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 the November 2018 ballot.
In fact, a recent poll conducted by Eviratus 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.” Sanchez says:
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. 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.
In the Central Valley, Alicia Olivares, the daughter of a hard working family living in a small town in the area, confessed that just like many kids from the Central Valley, all she wanted to do after high school was to escape the life of violence and lack of opportunities that prevail in the region. And she did it. But she returned.
After graduating from Berkeley, Alicia worked for an Oakland-area social-impact organization to build coalitions and programs on the issues of reentry, housing, economic development, and boys and men of color. Later, she received her Masters in Public Policy from Harvard. Then, she returned home to work with 99Rootz, an organizing and voter engagement program that aims to build a transformative youth-led movement in rural communities.
Now 99Rootz is one of the several organizations that is organizing voters in the forgotten rural districts in the Central Valley during the last few months. As she said
This feels like is a movement and not just something isolated in this small, predominantly farm-working rural town….it’s been all about creating the space and providing young Latinx the tools they need to be involved, to vote, and to run campaigns.
But tools and investment is only part of what these young Latinx need. They need to feel welcomed, and that’s how Efrain Botello, a young Latino who was born and raised in Fresno, felt when he joined Fresno Barrios Unidos, another grassroots organization operating in the Central Valley.
One day Efrain left school and happened to step into the office of Fresno Barrios Unidos, attracted by the chance to play ping pong. Soon after, he found himself socializing with other people who looked like him, who had been through the same struggles he has been through, and who were talking about doing something for their communities and making a positive impact — something he never thought about before. Today, Efrain is also a member of the group of advisors for the President of the California Endowment, and says that he feels that the community has come together and there is a desire to own their place and change things:
Once you invest in something or somewhere you start taking pride in it, and people start reclaiming what’s theirs.
Mi Familia Vota is one of the few organizations that is not new in town. For about 4 years Samuel Molina, a native of Fresno, has worked with them as their California State Director. Samuel has witnessed changes in the community throughout the years and the increasing appearance of more organizations in the area and more grassroots organization in recent months. He noted the fact that Latinos in the Central Valley are more energized and that more organizations are investing and giving local activist the mobilization tools they need is not something that occurred overnight.
Maricela Rodríguez, Senior Communications Manager with The California Endowment, explained that they decided to start investing more in the Central Valley after analyzing studies that showed the region’s growing number of Latino voters, but the lack of an organizational infrastructure to engage them:
In California, social movements and civic engagement investment have usually been concentrated in cities like Los Angeles, so we asked ourselves where could we really help make a difference. We have been concentrating a lot of efforts and resources in this area.
Someday, both political parties will treat Latino voters as a priority. For now, and across the key battleground districts in California, local organizations are stepping up and stepping in. California’s dense infrastructure of advocacy groups have put the state at the forefront of the drive to enact state and local pro-immigrant policies. This election cycle, a growing range of local and community groups are at the forefront of engaging and mobilizing low-propensity Latino votes. They’ll be continuing that work until the polls close at 8 PM PT on November 6, 2018.