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The American electorate is growing more diverse every day, with Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and young people making up a larger share of the population. Today, national and local leaders convened a panel discussion, hosted by Ohio’s Voice and Latino Victory Fund, to discuss the latest demographic data and the Republican Party’s challenges and opportunities in winning over a majority of voters in today’s America. Panel participants included Dr. Stephen Nuño, a nationally-recognized expert on U.S. politics and demographics, State Reps. Dan Ramos and Stephanie Howse, Ohio’s Voice Director Lynn Tramonte, Pili Tobar, Director of Advocacy and Communications at the Latino Victory Fund, and Jerry Peña a community organizer from Lorain Ohio. Panelists answered questions and gave their take on the role that young people and communities of color will play in the 2016 election.
Said Dr. Stephen Nuño, “Donald Trump’s nomination is an extraordinary moment in American history. Trump has made immigration the cornerstone of his campaign and it is controversial because at its core it forces us to confront who we are as Americans. Here are the facts. There are 57 million Hispanics in this country, comprising 18% of our population. Every other birth in America is a birth of a racial or ethnic minority, and half of Hispanics in this country were born after 1982. That’s a voting bloc that is not going anywhere and needs desperately to be engaged. We have 17,000 elections a year. We love to vote, but what we need to do is change how we approach these elections and how we respect people’s right to vote. Young people are hindered, poor folks are hindered, people that are not integrated into the system are hindered and we need to make sure that change happens.”
Added Lynn Tramonte Director of Ohio’s Voice, “When you ask Latinos what the most important issue is for them personally, they go right to immigration—yet our leaders haven’t done anything on immigration in almost 30 years. The pieces of the machine keep moving and running over people and our leaders so far have sat back and watched our flawed immigration system destroy lives. Republicans in Congress had a chance to come to the table and work to pass a comprehensive bill, and the obstruction that we saw has allowed for the rise of candidates like Donald Trump. If the scapegoating of immigrants that we’ve seen so far in Cleveland is any indication, I don’t see how the Republican party can recover the ground they’ve lost with Latinos.”
Said Pili Tobar Director of Advocacy and Communications at the Latino Victory Fund, “You don’t have to be undocumented or know someone who is to feel attacked when you hear anti-immigrant rhetoric from our leaders. And in my opinion there’s no turning back after nominating a candidate like Donald Trump. There are some people within the party that are concerned about what’s going on who may be able to lead the charge to turn the party around, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. What’s important now is that we empower Latinos, young Latinos in particular, to participate in this election. Not voting has never brought about a single change and we can’t let that happen this year.”
State Representative Dan Ramos noted, “The idea of exclusion in this election is really alarming. The Trumps of the world have been basically engaging in the idea that America is “us” and everybody else is “them” and it’s an age old story. It’s been done to the Irish, African Americans, Native Americans—the list goes on. Look, we’re actually in a border town now. No one mentions that and it really shows you what this debate in the Republican party is really about. We share a border with Canada, but around here border patrol looks for folks in Mexican restaurants, not in hockey jerseys. So we have to ask ourselves—is this an issue of immigration, or an issue of brown people? The Republican party of Trump is peddling this 200 year old bigotry: if you don’t look like me, or you can’t trace your roots back to the Mayflower, you don’t belong. And unfortunately what it does is blind people to the actual problems our country is facing.”
State Representative Stephanie Howse added, “We need to go back to basics. You have to know your voters, take the opportunity to understand what they need, and then engage them about a candidate or party. When people don’t feel like they are part of the process, they won’t participate and you can see that in this election and in voter turnout, particularly among minority groups, every year. This is a conversation that needs to be had across the country. America is a nation of immigrants and it’s clear looking at this convention that we have a really lost sense of our history. The Republican party claims to be inclusive but the layout of their agenda this week does not show that. It’s just not reflective of the country as a whole and I think that will manifest itself at the ballot box.”
Jerry Peña, a community organizer from Cleveland, Ohio said, “We need to change how we are having these conversations about voting, race, and politics. When we’re having conversations with folks door to door—sometimes it’s tough for them to keep food on the table, or the lights on and those are the real conversations that are happening in the community. We need to educate people on the connection between them voting and the laws that make their life easier, or their paycheck a little higher each month. That is how we really start to encourage communities of color and young people to go out and make a difference in these elections.”