HOLDING DEMOCRATS ACCOUNTABLE: A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE.
Life is cyclical, and we find ourselves having to re-fight old battles. One of these is with the Democratic Party. In the 1970s, there was such disgust with the political system, and particularly the Democratic Party, within the Mexican American community that many of us broke away and formed our own party, La Raza Unida (LRU).
Operating on the premise that politics and those involved in them had to be rooted in the community and that politicians’ loyalty was to the people they served and not to a political party, the LRU was a community empowerment movement.
We weren’t coffeehouse revolutionaries, sitting around discussing theories and such. We were part of the dynamic Chicano Movement. We were doers. We took risks and got things done. We organized. We marched. We picketed. We confronted policy makers.
Rather than kiss their behinds and grovel at their feet as we were expected to do, we challenged the—brown and white—political establishment with respect to how they treated and used our community. In the end, we fundamentally changed the educational, political, and social landscape of our communities.
Forty years later, our community is still fighting. We recalled Arizona’s chief Mexican hater, Russell Pearce, the author of the racist SB 1070. We fought mightily against the outlawing of Mexican American Studies (MAS) and the banning of MAS books. There is a principled immigrant-rights and “Dreamers” movement. We are taking on City Hall with respect to the rights of barrios to determine their own destiny and confronting educational governing boards that betray the community’s trust.
But what we’re not doing is holding the Democratic Party accountable for its actions and attitude as these relate to our community. For example:
When the hate-inspired SB 1070 was passed, the Arizona Democratic Party set out to appease the Mexican Haters by ordering Democratic candidates not to speak out against SB 1070 or involve themselves in any protests of SB 1070, etc.
In 2010, Chicano union organizer Randy Parraz—who spearheaded the historic recall of Russell Pearce—ran for U.S. Senate. Running against Parraz was Rodney Glassman, whose family was a strong supporter of Pete Wilson, California’s Russell Pearce. The entire brown and white Democratic establishments lined up to endorse Glassman and oppose Parraz in the Primary.
Locally, there are any number of issues whereby Democrats have acted against the interests of their constituents, and the Democratic Party has done nothing to help the harmed communities. There are no consequences for Democratic politicians who betray our community. The party’s sole interest is in electing people with a “D” behind their names and protecting Democratic incumbents, no matter what they stand for, how they vote, what they do. It’s the party that matters, not the voters. There’s no moral compass.
No wonder that people, especially youth, are leaving the Democratic Party in droves, with many registering as Independents. A recent report by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office notes that within the past couple of years, the number of registered Democrats in Arizona dropped by more than 52,000. Independents now make up 33% of Arizona voters, while Democrats make up 30%.
But leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an Independent individually has no impact on the party. Collective action is what creates change. I’m positive the party will take notice if those who are disgusted with how the Democratic Party operates and how it treats our community were to organize themselves—within the Democratic Party but outside of the Democratic Party apparatus—as Independent Democrats, Thinking Democrats, or some such.
Adopting the LRU premise that politics and those involved in them have to be rooted in the community and that politicians’ loyalty is to the people they serve and not to a political party, we would give and withhold our votes and support on the basis of principle rather than the “lesser of evils” nonsense the party and its minions peddle.
The power of our vote lies as much in its denial as in its giving. There is no law that mandates that we have to vote for every Democrat on the ballot. That doesn’t mean we should vote for the Republican candidate—just don’t vote for any Democrat who has acted against our interests. In a sense, our community is already doing that, but the party disdainfully interprets that as “low turnout among Mexican Americans.” Maybe these folks aren’t voting because there’s nothing, or no one, worth voting for.
Of course, we might have to put up with a Republican for a term while we organize a campaign to re-capture lost seats in the next election. But the harsh reality is if the Democrat incumbent we voted out was voting exactly as a Republican—as we saw recently when Democrats stood with the Tea Party to defund the Affordable Care Act and shut down the government—nothing was really lost. If we can organize to defeat Democrats who hurt us, we can organize to elect Democrats who will help us.
From my perspective, confronting the Democratic Party and its disdain for our community is a civil-rights issue, one that we should deal with as we have other civil-rights issues in our history. c/s
To contact Salomon Baldenegro write: firstname.lastname@example.org