Latino Voting and the Environment

By Juan Rodriguez, NewsTaco

Since the 1980’s we have been hearing of the growing importance and strength of the “Latino Vote” in the United States.  Now, in 2013 and beyond, that belief has proven true over and over in local, state, and most importantly the last two Presidential elections.

It is perceived that the issues that prompt Latinos to vote are labor/jobs, immigration, and education (access/funding) to name just a few of the many issues that are important to our community.  In a report, The Latino Vote in 2008: Trends and Characteristics by Antonio Gonzalez and Steven Ochoa and issued by the William C. Velasquez Institute, Latino Voters were polled on what issues were important to them in the 2008 elections. Out of a list of eleven issues the Economy was the most important.  Nowhere on that list did Latino Voters address a connection between voting preferences and the environment.

The question posed here is “do Latino Voters in the United States consider voting for candidates that are pro-environment or for ballot referendums that protect the environment?”

One person that may be able to answer part of that question is Claudia Ayala, Campaigns Coordinator for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO, lvejo.org) of Chicago, IL.  LVEJO works in the Little Village community in Chicago and their mission in part “is to work with our families, coworkers and neighbors to improve our environment and lives in Little Village and throughout Chicago through democracy in action.”

She adds,”we are a community of immigrants, a community of new beginnings. Our youth leaders understand the importance of representation. We are holding our current representatives accountable, by using educated strategic actions (and campaigns) to state our concerns, our rights, and most importantly, our future. Voting is that process, education is our tool. Justice is our motivation.”

Claudia discussed a door-to-door campaign initiated by LVEJO that polled the community on what was needed and lacking in the community in 2012.  Through the poll they identified three areas that were important to Little Village residents: 1.  A lack of parks and green spaces 2. Lack of reliable and consistent public transportation. 3. Health concerns (respiratory and obesity).

After studying the results of this door-to-effort, LVEJO was able to speed up the closure of the long time controversial Crawford and Fisk Coal Plants by creating a model resolution that would later be adopted by states nationwide, a resolution that was the first of its kind that eventually led to the Clean Air Ordinance in the City of Chicago.

Also as a result of the poll was the creation of a  twenty two acre park on the former superfund site known as ‘Celotex’, an east-west connection bus route Bus Route Extension, allowing the only Chicago Public Schools (CPS) school in the district to be regularly serviced by a route, giving the community youth a safe passage to educational opportunities and a one acre urban garden in Little Village.

LVEJO has also partnered with the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union who sponsored LVEJO members to become Deputy Voter Registrars.   LVEJO then proceeded to enter the Little Village area High Schools and register voting eligible students most of which are Latino.   Ms. Ayala states that some elected politicians cater to the axiom “that we don’t count because we don’t vote.” Low voter turnout is an issue in the some Latino communities but by targeting youth LVEJO is hopeful that they will vote at every election to counter the trend of older voters that may only vote during the Presidential election cycle.

Local community engagement is one way to catch the attention of elected officials.  Local officials are much more accessible and in a lot of instances already have long standing relationships with the organization or it’s members.  To an extent, there is a built in accountability with local officials.

How do we monitor our State and Federal officials that may be out of reach to most constituents?  To date, there is no Latino/a Elected Environmental “Report Card” that addresses the environmental voting records in legislative chambers across the nation and in Washington DC.  National “Green Groups” that engage in voting issues such the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund (NRDCAF whovotesdirty.com) issue periodic comprehensive reports on how legislators voted in recent legislative terms. LCV also issues state legislative reports while NRDC compiles data based on how much legislators in Washington D.C. receive from companies that oppose regulatory environmental policies.

Perhaps a Federal and State report card developed by one or more Latino organizations would better inform Latino voters on how his or her representatives are voting.  This report should not only be aimed at Latino/a legislators.  It should also reflect the voting records of non-Latino elected officials in districts that are at least 35% Latino.

Aside from the Latino standard ballot box issues of Immigration, Education and the Economy, the Environment and it’s effects on the quality of life for all families needs to be addressed fully. Hopefully the dedication and focus of groups such as LVEJO and others will make a difference and will become a permanent component of the Latino electoral landscape.

Juan A. RodriguezJuan A. Rodriguez is a seasoned media political consultant based in Chicago and Milwaukee.  He is also the Executive Director of the [email protected] Advocacy Project (facebook.com/latinovap).  An organization that addresses environmental issues and Latino voting efforts. He can be reached at 847-497-0615 and [email protected]

[Photo by marsmet474]

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