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Community organizations mobilize Latino voter participation in November election

July 24, 1996

By Yolanda Reynolds

Photos by Mary J. Andrade

La Oferta Newspaper.

In San Jose numerous concerned citizens are working, alone or in groups, to encourage County residents to become citizens if they are not and to encourage those that are to register to vote in the November elections. Included in this huge voter drive is an educational push to inform new voters regarding the issues on the ballot that will affect their lives.

According to Ed Morillo, a long-time employee of the County Registrar’s office which has a year around drive to register voters, “many County residents have indicated that they want to become registered in order to vote this fall for the minimum wage increase initiative.”

Through of significant importance, the minimum wage is not the only proposition that is of major importance this fall. There is the CCRl (California Civil Rights Initiative), an anti-affirmative action proposal that would have a major impact on the implementation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A Republican Congressman from southern California, Elton Gallegly, introduced an amendment to the immigration reform package under consideration in Congress that would deprive access to public education to the children of undocumented workers. It becomes very important as to who is elected to Congress and who will be President of the United States.

Often, undocumented residents in the United States work in industries that have a history of exploiting their workers. These companies frequently escape governmental censure because they enjoy unofficial from powerful members of Congress in Washington.

Labor in the United States is fighting hard to end the exploitation of workers and seeks the benefit of a living wage for all workers.

In San Jose, SEIU Union members, after years of organizing and well planned protest demonstrations, succeeded in raising the pay, benefits, and working conditions of janitors in Santa C|ara and the other Bay Area counties.

Among the groups registering voters is the “Pro Immigrant-Pro Vote Network” that includes minority, labor and community organizations as well as concerned community members. They are striving to improve the quality of life for low and very low income people.

The spokespersons for the Network are Teresa Castellanos, who serves as the Catholic Social Services Citizenship Coordinator; Jorge Gonzalez, President of Raza Sí; Santa Clara County Worker’s Committee member Sylvia Sanchez, and Richard Hobbs, Director of Immigration and Refugee Services for Catholic Social Services in San Jose.

The Network’s voter registration campaign adopted the message “Ciudadanía Hoy/Vote Mañana.” In spite of the large numbers of Latino/Hispanic legal immigrants to San Jose, California and rest of the United States, recent election results dramatically revealed the low rate of voter participation within the Latino/Chicano/Hispanic citizenship community.

Hobbs explained that their campaign was an experiment and confined to one zip code area, 95112, that encompasses much of downtown San Jose. A major difference of this drive is the use of volunteers, at least one of whom will be bilingual, who will be going to every home in the zip code area. The Network’s goal is to register citizens to vote and to instruct them of the electoral process, including how votes are made. The network volunteers will explain to people how to vote at polling stations and inform them of the option they have of voting by absentee ballot-which may be more convenient and suitable for some first-time voters.

Teresa Castellanos pointed out this drive is very important because some immigrants seem to believe that because they are here legally they have nothing to be concerned about, Castellanos explains, “Some people believe that having a green card is enough, but that could change.”

For example, the recently approved anti-terrorist law greatly expands the conditions for deportation, even though a person may have lived here most of their lives.

Jorge Gonzalez, a long-time resident of the United States who only last month became a US citizen, explained “it is important that Mexican and other immigrants establish political roots and take advantage of the political power that is possible with their vote.”

Some politicians have attempted to place the blame for the declining affluence of American workers onto immigrants. The effect of immigration is far more complicated than such as simple assertion. Some sectors of the US economy, such as agriculture, would likely disappear without the thousands of immigrant workers who are not only welcomed but aggressively sought out by rich agricultural corporate interests to harvest their crops.

The United Farm Workers, founded by the late Cesar Chavez, struggled for decades to settle with one sector of the agricultural industry, the lettuce growers. The settlement gives lettuce pickers the right to collectively bargain over work conditions. This struggle was bitter and almost destroyed the union, because of huge monetary legal judgments against the UFW that were ultimately overturned. The important five-year settlement was with the major lettuce producer, Bruce Church Inc.

Other issues about which there has been much discussion is education. There are some who some who deny the value of bilingual education and want to end it. Others deny or ignore the ever-present disparity in funding and programs needed to meet the needs of those in the educational system-from the pre-school level to the post-graduate level.

How these issues and other important issues are resolved will depend on those who are elected to office by the voters. Voters must question the candidates on these issues. Politicians want to win and they pay attention to those who vote-at least at election time.

It becomes very important for the voter to determine the often subtle differences between the candidates’ responses and to identify their top supporters, in order to better understand where the candidate is likely to actually stand on an issue.

Another group that is working hard to educate voters in the “South Bay Coalition for Affirmative Action.” Co-chair of the South Bay Coalition for Affirmative Action and a spokesperson is attorney Gayle Tiller. She explains that the title CCRI (California Civil Rights Initiative) should instead be named the “California Civil Wrongs Initiative” for the harm it would do to people of color and all women.

Proponents of this anti-affirmative action initiative (CCRI) for the November ballot claim that Affirmative Action discriminates against one group to the benefit of another and that only “qualified” people should be considered for jobs, school admission, promotion etc., etc. They believe that it should be eliminated.

The fact is that, biased treatment against certain groups is still rampant and demands continued attention. For example, a recent article by Renee Koury and which was printed in the San Jose Mercury News, revealed that the University of California has had to pay out huge sums of money in settlements to women professionals who had been denied tenure or promotions, not because they were un-qualified but because they were female. The rationale for denying them tenure included such purported reasons as their “brains were biologically inferior.”

The courts found UC to be acting on prejudice rather than on facts and, in spite of these million dollar settlements, women at UC still hold only 19% of the tenured position. This new percentage rate shows an increase of a tenure rate in 1977 of 6% but hardly enough to reflect the large numbers of qualified female PhD’s.

The civil rights law, combined with affirmative action legislation, has made our society aware of disparities that have long existed and, in too many instances, sadly continue to exist. They still deprive people of equal, participation in the benefits and opportunities which this nation has to offer.

Ward Connerly, an African American business man, who is it Republican and a Regent of the University of California system as well as a leading proponent of CCRI, along with Republican Governor Wilson, forced the University to alter its admissions criteria that allowed race, ethnicity and gender to be considered. At the same time, he and other anti-affirmative action advocates did not ask for the end to special admissions to the University for the sons and daughters of prominent, often wealthy and well connected parents.

Admissions to the UC system are aggressively sought because of the world renown of the programs at the University and the well-known competition for admissions often results in only the very top students being admitted, leaving out many qualified students.

The reason that affirmative action is needed for some students is the well recognized and documented fact that students who are poor or come from schools that offer limited advanced math, science, and English classes, are at a great disadvantage with respect to those students who were privileged to have had the best in elementary and secondary education. The removal of barriers often allows such students to equal and often exceed the performance of their more privileged peers.

For the student who is poor, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to have the same amount of time to study in high school if they are forced to work in order to help ease their family’s poverty. The resources and encouragement for education are, often, sadly, lacking as compared to those from affluent families.

Tiller and others allied with the South Bay Coalition have been registering citizens and helping to educate them and other voters regarding the importance of the vote this fall. Like other groups, the South Coalition is also encouraging those County residents who plan to remain here and who are not citizens of the importance of obtaining citizenship.

Yolanda Vega, a long-time San Jose community and labor advocate, will be coordinating a SWOP (South West Organizing Project) voter registration drive in San Jose as well. Her group will be working with others, including another voter project sponsored by SWOP in the Gilroy-Watsonville area.

In San Bruno, “Latinos for Better Government,” (LBG), another non-profit corporation, is dedicated to “educating people on the importance of community, civic and electoral participation.” LBG supports a number of program. Among them is a legislative research and analysis program intended to provide information and analysis regarding Laws and government actions and the effects of these on the Latino community.

LBG also provides support services for governmental agencies and others to ensure participation of the Latino community on important committees, commissions and grand juries important to the Latino community.

LBG has a major voter registration and participation program with emphasis on making available voting materials including making bilingual absentee voter application and voter material to Latino residents in that city.

LBG also “provides educational information, seminars, and public forums on elected offices, election procedures, community issues and government duties” among other programs.

These and other citizen and voter efforts will undoubtedly make a difference. Morillo stresses that there are only some 90 days left before the election and that in order to be eligible to vote in November, those not registered to vote must do so by Oct. 15.

For more information or to volunteer to help with these groups their phone numbers are as follows:

944-0691 for the Pro Immigrant-Pro Vote Network

299-2694 for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters

(415) 225-0264 in San Mateo for Latinos for Better Government

984-4024 South Bay Coalition for Affirmative Action

589-1354 (Pager) Southwest Organizing Project © La Oferta Newspaper.

 

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