Why I vote: Community action begins at the ballot

The Latino voting bloc is one of the most important in the nation, so it is time to get organised.

U.S. President Obama takes part in town hall hosted by Univision at University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida
Although Latinos traditionally vote democrat, they still remain as one of the strongest voting blocks [REUTERS]

Since I was 15, I have been serving my community. From teaching English to new immigrants to giving food to the homeless, from marching for immigration reform to organising Latino workers. I also vote. As a woman, progressive and Latina, there are so many reasons to vote, and that’s why I am not sitting out this election. I realise that voting isn’t the most important thing I do to make a difference, but to honour those who struggled to get into the voting booth, to prevent the Republican party from undermining the needs of my community, and to advance a more progressive agenda, I vote. For Latinos who care about our community and can vote, it’s our duty to do so.  

I live in a predominately low-income black neighbourhood. At my polling place, the volunteers are older African American women. These women remember a time when their vote and voice were intentionally and brutally excluded from the political process. The Civil Rights movement won them the ability to vote. By voting, I honour that struggle.

As a Texan I vote because I know that over the last decade, the Republican party has been working to challenge my rights and those of my community, whether it be with redistricting to gerrymander votes and dilute my community’s voice, or with “voter fraud” prevention efforts that do more to suppress votes than promote democracy. The people in my community are those who most need the political system to work for them, and I know these political leaders do not have their best interests at heart.

No matter how many token Latino politicians the Republican party puts forth, I know they don’t represent me. A man like Ted Cruz, who advocates for immigration policies that criminalise the Latino community, and tax breaks for the 1 per cent, doesn’t represent the needs of my community. Their policy agenda shows they do not care about the poor or racial disparities. In fact, they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and in Texas that means maintaining enormous social inequities. The Republican strategy is to take America back to “good old days”, when only a minority -white males – were allowed to vote, and try and paint that as democracy. Back then, like now, this powerful group rigs the rules in its favour, and then pretends that everyone has the same ability to participate.

I vote because I want a political system that actually addresses the vast inequality in our country. In Texas, Latinos and African Americans are three times more likely to live in poverty than their Anglo counterparts, a figure that desperately needs to change. And even though I see major flaws in both political parties, I refuse to disengage, because that is the strategy that the right wing is counting on. Latinos know we are seen as one of the most important voting blocks, and for Latinos this should be exciting: We are being recognised for the power our community represents. For me as a progressive Latina, it’s a call to organise, given that half the nation’s eligible Latino voters live in Texas.

I vote because the importance of the struggles waged for and by people of colour seeking equal rights and representation is not lost on me. That movement is still alive and well. Texas is a minority-majority state, but you’d never know that from looking at our legislature. There is a disconnect from reality, and it’s not just apparent in the racial makeup of our political leadership, but rather issues it cares most about. This leadership’s priorities are antithetical to the needs of the majority in our state.

I vote because while I don’t believe that voting alone can solve our problems, I have seen the real difference it does make. The undocumented students that pushed President Obama to grant them work permits allowing their open participation in building our nation, proved this. This action was in direct response to community pressure by undocumented students that occupied Obama campaign offices. I have seen that there are people in government who care, but it also requires us as an organised community making its demands heard. This election I’ll be voting, and encouraging everyone in my community to do the same. After the election, I will continue to pressure whichever elected officials end up winning, to remind them that they are accountable, and we are the ones they must answer to. As Latinos, it’s important that we go to the polls this election cycle and fulfill our duty to our community.

Cristina Tzintzún has worked for various progressive causes and with the Latino community in Ohio and Texas over the last decade. She currently lives in Texas. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera English, the Huffington Post, and the Dallas Morning News.

Follow her on Twitter: @TzintzunCris