The America’s Voice en Español team, Maribel Hastings and David Torres, both former veteran Spanish-language journalists, penned the following article, originally published in La Opinón, after seeing first hand how on the ground canvassing work is mobilizing Latino voters of Central Florida ahead of the upcoming election on November 6th. The article is part of the ongoing series Voz y Voto 2018.
The entire column is available online here in Spanish and translated below:
Like in many other parts of this country, there are small armies of people here that go through neighborhoods, knocking from door to door to ensure that registered voters go out to vote on November 6th. It’s become more than just your typical pre-election work, it has become a form of civic engagement and a historic mission, precisely during the political moment we’re living in the U.S.
Last Saturday September 8th, the campaign Respeta Mi Gente began the task of knocking on 100,000 doors in neighborhoods across five different counties in Central Florida.
The canvassers are all different; there are veteran canvassers from previous elections and there are newcomers who will are doing their first cycle of civic engagement work in the 2018 midterm elections. Two complimentary generations are coming together in one of the most defining stages of the elections that will determine the course of this country. This awareness is motivating participants even more.
In fact, if veterans of previous elections agree on anything it’s that voters are more enthusiastic this year than in 2016, because although the overall goals are high, so is the risky political atmosphere in the upcoming elections. And everyone knows this.
Dalmaris Ortiz, a Puerto Rican native, remembers how little enthusiasm there was when she knocked on doors in 2016.
“I’ve knocked on doors where in 2016 there was no enthusiasm and now in 2018 the same people come out and say, ‘Yes, this year I’m going to vote. They’re telling us ‘they don’t want Latinos here and now I want to go out and vote because my vote counts and I’m Latino’” says Ortiz.
“It seems that [after the 2016 elections] we all learned something. We recognize the importance of voting, but sometimes we don’t use it and when we are faced with difficult situations or a political atmosphere like we’re in now, we understand the importance of that vote,” he added.
Ortiz considers that “people want change.” And to grasp that is already a step ahead in this task to promote a conscious vote.
Step by step, door by door
We accompanied three young canvassers throughout the Hunters Creek neighborhood, which has a dense Puerto Rican population.
Under intense heat from the sun and extreme humidity, the young canvassers, who are also voters, go forth, tablets in hand, to the houses of registered voters on their lists. Sometimes no one answers, and sometimes they do. This is the first visit to this area and on this day they are not giving out information on candidates, but simply urging people to participate in the November elections.
You can feel the anticipation growing while they wait to see if people will open their door or not. Because of this, with every door that opens there’s always a possibility to be heard and to listen, to check the electoral pulse of a neighborhood, and above all, to identify the concerns of a citizenry who wants to bring about change. The worries that people bring up have something in common, there’s a growing social unrest. Especially because of the persistent attacks against the hispanic community.
One of these young canvassers is Rafiq Rao, a 19 year old Puerto Rican, studying Political Science and Pre-Law, who when he settled into Seminole county realized that contrary to what happens on the Island, Puerto Ricans in Central Florida did not participate in elections.
“They arrived from Puerto Rico, but I didn’t see the same passion to participate in the electoral process as Puerto Ricans in the island. I chose to involve myself so that I can help my community be a part of that process, because we are a powerful community who doesn’t use that power.” said Rafiq.
In 2016 he worked registering voters and says that now in 2018 there’s much more enthusiasm to participate.
“In 2018 it’s easier to to get people to participate because they see how Puerto Rico was treated after ‘María’ and the things President Trump and the Republican party say and do to immigrants,” he added.
Through their canvassing route, their enthusiasm, and the houses that these three young canvassers reach out of the 100,000 overall goal, you can perceive the emerging pending issues that are a priority for the Latino community. The treatment of certain groups of inhabitants and the obvious animosity towards those who are “different,” are unique marks of an era without precedent.