“Today we march, tomorrow we vote.” Our Movement took part in making that slogan, popular during the immigrants’ rights mobilizations of 2006 and 2007, into action in 2008.
Nationally, the Latino vote increased by nearly 40% and swung sharply to Democratic candidates. Immigration became a bellwether issue for most Latino voters, a shorthand way to gauge a candidate’s respect for and responsiveness to the Latino community. The Republican Party’s predominant image as “anti-immigrant” translated as “anti-Latino,” just as Karl Rove predicted it would.
The growth of the Latino vote in Oregon fell slightly behind the national trend. At 75,000, the number of Latino voters in the state remains modest compared to other states.
The fact that 60% of Oregon’s non-Latino residents are registered voters, but that only 20% of Latino residents are registered underscores the reality that the Latino population is disproportionately young and non-U.S. citizen.
What a difference a primary makes
For many Latino voters in Oregon, 2008 politics started on a distinctly bitter and disenchanting note in February when the Legislature overwhelmingly ratified denying driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. As the year progressed, the rare relevance of May 20th Oregon primary revived interest.
In late April, PCUN endorsed Obama and he made a surprise visit to Woodburn on May 16th. Thanks to cell phones and text messaging, a crowd quickly gathered outside Luis’s Taqueria, where Obama and his entourage had popped in for lunch. He ordered two plates of food and settled in at a table with six PCUNistas for a casual conversation-about Woodburn, PCUN’s work, and Radio Movimiento.
The next morning, an AP photo published around the country (and, we’re told, beyond) showed Obama with a tortilla in his right hand, laughing at a comment by CAUSA staffer Abel Valladares, seated next to Obama.
On Primary Day, Radio Movimiento hosted the national broadcast of Radio Bilingüe’s popular weekday public affairs call-in program, Linea Abierta (“Open Line”). Program host Samuel Orozco and producer Alma Martinez brought a team of reporters. Listeners on more than fifty affiliated stations (including KPCN-LP) heard the voices of local Latino voters, Voz Hispana organizers, and commentators from our Movement.
The Voz Hispana organizing campaign
Voz Hispana was fortunate to have Francisco López leading the voter field organizing this year. Francisco brought his three decades of activism, which he began as a high school student in San Salvador in the late 1970s, intensified as a refugee in Houston and applied in his social service leadership roles in Oregon. He shaped the voter campaign with his community organizing methods drawn from Catholic base community work.
Voz Hispana launched the campaign on April 12th with a caravan of sixty cars snaking from Salem to Woodburn, rallying at the annual César E. Chávez Day celebration. At social events, such as weddings and quinciñeras, organizers registered voters and recruited participants for a series of community organizing leadership classes. From the classes, Voz Hispana formed five nucleos or base committees that organized house parties and worked their social networks to locate and motivate Latino citizens to register and vote.
In mid-October, just as all Oregon voters would receive ballots in the mail, Voz Hispana prepared and sent recommendations on ballot measures to 8,000 Latino-surname voters in Marion and Polk Counties. Also in the mailing were a slate of candidate endorsements from Voz Hispana PAC.
Through forums in Salem and Woodburn, plus a steady stream of voter calls and visits to PCUN, Voz Hispana assisted hundreds with the voting process. Altogether, the Voz Hispana campaign registered 1,500 voters, organized 35 events and trained/activated 125 volunteers.
Radio Movimiento played a pivotal role throughout the year, airing special programming which de-mystified the primary election process and the electoral college, which explained confusing ballot measures, analyzed candidates’ stands on issues of deep concern in the Latino community, and surfaced the political trends and forces behind the daily headlines. On election day, voters came to the studios to share their reasons for voting and encourage other last minute voters to get their ballots in.
On election night, PCUN’s Risberg Hall filled as Radio Movimiento began airing live reports and commentary about results from East Coast states. The stand-room-only crowd erupted in chants of “Si Se Puede” and “Si Se Pudo” (“we did it”) as soon as the networks projected that Obama would win Ohio, assuring victory to the “Yes We Can” candidate.
Voz Hispana will now work with CAUSA to keep the nucleos active, focusing on enacting comprehensive immigration reform, defeating anti-immigrant proposals in the Oregon legislature and other key issues. Francisco is continuing in our Movement’s leadership as interim statewide coordinator of CAUSA.
Voz Hispana acknowledges the generous support of Western States Center‘s VOTE Project, and support from Tides Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund and the Center for Community Change (both in partnership with CAUSA).
From the Fall 2008 PCUN newsletter