Senate DREAM Act Vote was a Watershed

If the outrage is maintained, if the anger takes root, then today’s DREAM Act vote in the US Senate will have consequences that the politicians in Washington have yet to consider.  The immediate reaction in the Latino community has been disbelief, followed by anger, outrage and indignation. And no sooner was the vote finalized in the Senate that a handful of DREAM Act proponents went before the press to say that the fight was not over. As if we didn’t know that; as if it were only up to them. Then they went back into the Senate chamber to debate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I would have liked to have seen the Senators who voted against the DREAM Act face the press to explain themselves. But that’s never going to happen. So what we’re left with is anger, and outrage. News Taco received several requests for the names of the Senators that voted against the Act, and Sara Ines Calderon published that list not longer after the vote was final.

I’ve never liked political litmus tests, one issue voters or single theme campaigns. So I come at this from that perspective; you shouldn’t reduce politics to one point because it throws the balance of the debate. Too many political battles have been decided on purposefully unbalanced deliberation. But this is different. The DREAM Act is about many things: education, immigration, workforce development, the sustainability of Social Security, the bureaucratic creation of criminals, the potential of our fellow man, and just plain doing the right thing. And it’s also from that perspective many people hold the larger picture in focus. And for whatever reason they may claim, those who voted against the Act may not have calculated the full effect of their opposition. This vote in the US Senate was a watershed.

Some take-aways to illustrate that point:

  • The vote on the floor of the Senate was broadcast live on Spanish television. Millions of Latinos spent their Saturday morning watching the Senate vote.
  • This was a vote about identity. It was about Latino children who, save for a document and because of actions beyond their control, are for all purposes American. The Latino community identifies with those kids because they see no difference between them and any other American kid.
  • Latinos are the fastest growing community in the country.
  • Latinos are the youngest community in the country.
  • Latinos represent a growing number of voters in the country and they hold sway in key swing states.
  • Latinos of all political persuasions were overwhelmingly in favor of the DREAM Act.
  • Latinos are gaining a growing share of the wealth in the US. Which means that Latinos are becoming able to fund their own politics; they will soon be less beholden to funders and politicians who only cater to Latino voters come election day.
  • The Census numbers, which are scheduled to be released on Monday, will clarify the extent of the growth and influence of the Latino community in the US.

This was a watershed vote because it will define the place of Latinos in American politics for years to come. It was a political moment where true negotiation and bipartisanship was possible – a cliche win-win. But what it turned into, if you’ll pardon another cliche, was a proverbial line in the sand. The problem with those lines is that people stand on one or another side of them, and look at each other with suspicion. That’s where we are; that’s what has happened.

If the opposing Senators gave a “no” vote for immediate political expediency, then they accomplished their immediate goal. The long run, though, is another story.

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