Calling All Latinos
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE tables set up outside subway stations and grocery stores, urging people to register to vote. But these days, thatˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s not enough ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù especially for the young and techno-hip. Thatˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s why Maria Teresa Peterson MPP 2001 and her team at Voto Latino are using 21st-century methods ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù cell phones and text messaging ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äùˆ¢’Ç¨’Äöto get young American Latinos registered.
ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìWe need to provide the resources to engage them,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù she says ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù and we need to do it now, fresh on the heels of the immigration rallies, which got many young Latinos interested in politics, some for the first time.
ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìKids started text-messaging each other and talking on myspace.com. This issue ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù immigration ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù really hit home for them,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù she says. ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìWe had this energy. The question for us was, how do we keep it going?ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù
The answer was to use the technology that young people live their lives by. In a society obsessed with celebrity, they also tapped celebrities. Actresses Cameron Diaz and Voto Latino cofounder Rosario Dawson appeared in public service announcements (in English and Spanish) urging young Latinos to register. Musicians Nina Sky and Fat Joe started their own voter-registration drives.
Young Latinos donˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t need celebrities, however, to get involved. As Peterson explains, they can log on to the Voto Latino site (www.votolatino.org) and register to vote in four steps or, using their cell phones, text the word ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìvoterˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù to 75444. In less than a minute, they get a message back, asking for contact information. A voter registration form is texted back to them. Those already registered can also enter friendsˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢ cell phone numbers and have a text message (or e-mail) sent, urging them to register. Like the celebrities, they can also start their own voter registration drive ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù a process that uses TxtVoter technology to track who in their network registered and who didnˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t. This past election day, those who signed up received a text message reminding them to vote, plus customized information on their polling place, and a 1-800 number with real people answering questions.
ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìWeˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢re trying to make this very comprehensive,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù Peterson said.
Although the use of cell phones to register voters may be new, for Peterson, who serves as the organizationˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s executive director, outreach isnˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t. Before she was even in high school, she was canvassing Sonoma, CA, her hometown.
ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìI would knock on doors and pass out leaflets,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù she says. ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìThis is personal for me. We emigrated from Colombia. Iˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢d spend my summers in Colombia, and I became aware of how lucky we were. But I also saw my own family struggle, especially to assimilate.ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù
In part, this is what motivates her: she doesnˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t want other Latinos to struggle. Getting them to speak out with their votes is key, she says.
ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìUnlike African Americans and Caucasians, Latinos donˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t have a history of political participation. Many were fleeing countries where they couldnˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t be politically active, so of course thereˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s going to be an absence,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù she says. ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìAnd weˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢re not enfranchising them. Thereˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s a lack of education at home and a lack of civic classes at school.ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù
But thereˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢s hope, she says. ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìThe Latino population is all about numbers. Fifty thousand Latinos turn 18 every month in the United States. Of that group, 87 percent are eligible voters.ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù
And they use technology. According to the Voto Latino Web site, 70 percent use cell phones, exceeding the national average of 66 percent (in select cities). Eighty-nine percent of young Latinos use the Internet, compared with 87 percent for Caucasians and 77 percent for African Americans.
Peterson says young Latinos need to get involved. ˆ¢’Ç¨‰ìIf you donˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t have participation, the democracy we have now wonˆ¢’Ç¨’Ñ¢t be the democracy we have in 50 years,ˆ¢’Ç¨¬ù she says. ˆ¢’Ç¨’Äù LH