In eleven short months, the nation will choose a president, Texans will decide who will lead the state, and Valley residents will elect those we feel can be held responsible for local political office.
The Equal Voice Network, a coalition of nine community-based organizations with more than 30,000 constituents, has already been preparing an extensive civic engagement project for the Valley. Called “Mi Voto es Mi Voz,” this will be the second such effort by the Equal Voice Network. In 2010 network membership realized a ten per cent increase over 2006 numbers in its ten target precincts.
“In a democracy, all election cycles are important, but for the Equal Voice family, this season merits special attention. The sinful use of anti-immigrant prejudice by politicians, and our government’s preference for military spending over and against the immediate needs of our families clearly tells us that the politicians are not paying attention to the heart and soul of this country. An election gives us an opportunity to speak up, and believe me, we intend to be heard,” said Michael Seifert, the Network Coordinator.
The Equal Voice Network will focus in on twenty-four areas of Hidalgo and Cameron County, with a preference for the Pharr, San Juan, Alamo and Mission areas, as well as neighborhoods in San Benito and Brownsville. The voices of the primarily low-income residents of these precincts are particularly important in the local, state, and national dialogue on jobs, the economy, and immigration.
"Casting a ballot is one of the most important things we do as citizens and as neighbors. It is our way of saying ‘Here we are. We count.’ So the Equal Voice Network and LUPE is going to do its best to make sure that every last one of our members understands that and takes part in the get out the vote effort,” said Daniel Diaz, a community organizer from LUPE who works in the Mercedes area.
As non-profits, the Network members take care to follow the federal law on civic engagement, avoiding partisan politics, while, at the same time, investing large amounts of time and energy in encouraging people not only to vote, but also to become intimately involved in the entire process. The Network sees civic engagement as a way of being faithful to the missions of the different member organizations, be they involved in housing, health care, or education.
“It makes no sense for the START Center (San Benito) to work so hard to prepare our young people for good jobs if our elected leaders are paying no attention whatsoever to this need. A vote is a “shout out” and we are dedicated to getting our youth to shout out loud and long,” said Ron Rogers, START Center Board President.
With Congress in gridlock and the economy inspiring fear, many cynics may dismiss civic engagement as a useless exercise on behalf of unresponsive politicians. Equal Voice members, on the other hand, have seen first hand the results of successful get out the vote campaigns in the past.
“As a mother and as a member of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Valley, I have seen what happens when a community votes,” said Lupita Sanchez, from Cameron Park, near Brownsville. “For years we suffered all sorts of humiliation—no roads, no police patrols, no mail delivery. And then we learned how to get out the vote, we got involved, and now Cameron Park is a place I am proud to live in.”
The Equal Voice Network is planning a number of activities and events throughout the year, including candidates’ forums, debates, and voter registration drives.
Members of the Equal Voice Network include: ARISE – A Resource in Service Equality (Alamo); BCHC – Brownsville Community Health Center (Brownsville); Casa de Proyecto Libertad (Harlingen); La Unión del Pueblo Entero LUPE (San Juan); Proyecto Azteca (San Juan); Proyecto Juan Diego (Cameron Park/Brownsville); START Center- South Texas Adult Resource and Training Center (San Benito); and the Texas Organizing Project.