Sunday, November 25, 2012

GET OUT THE VOTE! Fair Haven edition

For the past 4 weeks, members of Mecha de Yale and the larger Spanish-speaking community at Yale have gotten to know our neighbors in Fair Haven a little bit better. That's because for the past 4 weekends (and all of Monday and Tuesday last week) Mecha organized groups to canvass for President Barack Obama and Chris Murphy for Senate. In its earliest stages, canvassing includes speaking to people (regardless of their political orientation) about the candidates, their issues, and why voting is relevant to the individual, as well as registering new voters. However, Mecha entered the scene closer to the election, when efforts were redirected towards Getting Out The Vote and making sure registered Democrat and undecided voters in Fair Haven (a low-income area with a large number of people of color) knew the basics of each candidate. GOTV includes helping people make plans to get to the polls, letting people know where their local polling place is (especially important this cycle, after recent redistricting and polling place changes in the city), and in some cases physically driving voters to the polling stations.

These efforts were doubly important this cycle for several reasons. First of all, the Republican senate candidate Linda McMahon, a millionaire who spent over 49 million dollars out of her own pocket to finance her campaign, consistently attempted (and sometimes succeeded) to mislead voters. For example, Linda McMahon paid unemployed people to hand out "Sample Ballots" that contained two candidates, Obama and McMahon, with checks in the boxes right next to their names and photos, suggesting a "Party Ballot" including both Obama and McMahon, when in fact Obama would be on the Democratic voting line and McMahon listed as an Independent (though her politics and endorsements are Republican). Paid canvassers also distributed door hangers telling people to vote for Barack Obama and Linda McMahon because apparently that duo will "fight for us", again despite the fact that McMahon endorsed Mitt Romney and does not support Obama's most notable legislation, including the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act. She would also vote to defund Planned Parenthood and enact tax cuts for the rich, as well as favor the Blunt Amendment that would deny women access to affordable reproductive care. McMahon used the same tactic in her video campaign ads. The deceitful advertisements and literature were part of a carefully thought-out and employed election strategy used throughout the McMahon campaign to try to trick minority voters, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods such as Fair Haven (many of whom are not fluent English-speakers) into voting for her. Mechistas even encountered instances of voter suppression- one Latino man, a registered voter, told a Mecha canvasser that he had been informed by McMahon canvassers that he was ineligible to vote because his driver's license had expired. Such blatant attempts at voter suppression are one reason why the urgent necessity of canvassing in Fair Haven was apparent to Mechistas- to disseminate accurate information on candidates and voting practices in both English and Spanish.

It was also crucial to mobilize Latinos to ensure that as many of us as possible made it to the voting booths on Tuesday to exercise our right to vote, making our voices heard around the country. That is why in addition to canvassing for many hours in Fair Haven, we spent an evening calling Spanish-speaking volunteers across the country in Colorado to urge them to canvass for Obama in their own neighborhoods as well. Thus we were doubly exhilarated to watch on Election Night as Colorado swung for President Obama.

We did not work alone this election season. For our Fair Haven canvassing, we were joined by members of the Yale Dems, Yale ACLU, and Amnesty International as well as many Yale students usually unaffiliated with Mecha. I felt incredibly proud of both the Mecha and the Yale community the day of the election, when we turned out almost 40 student volunteers to canvass in frigid weather. Mecha cannot operate successfully as a solitary agent. Our community is our power, and to all of our friends from around Yale and Fair Haven who were out there with us these past few weeks (and for those who worked for months canvassing before this such as Kenneth Reveisz and the Fair Haven Democrats and Labor Unions), the results of the election should prove thanks and proof enough that organizing and community activism is invaluable in the pursuit of change.

Of course, nothing ends at the moment of election other than the current election cycle. We must continue to look forward, working for immigration reform, education reform, prison reform- well, the list goes on. It is important to vote, and yes, to mobilize otherwise disregarded communities to take a stand with their vote during an election. But voting is simply one action among many that we must take in order to make change happen.   

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