When Donald Trump first launched his tirade against Mexicans, I rolled my eyes, laughed and vented to my friends and family that this was just another Trump stunt to get publicity. I subsequently swore not to engage in social media about it to avoid giving him what he was looking for, the spotlight. But then he wouldn’t shut-up and CNN and the media decided that his racist statements were actual news by giving constant airtime to his xenophobic oversized ego. So now, because of the media coverage, his poll numbers are high and his improbable run for president seems to be in better shape than that of our own Governor Chris Christie.
Don’t get me wrong I was excited when UNIVISION cut their business ties to Trump, followed by NBC/Telemundo. I cheered the decision of MACY’s NASCAR and PGA Tours to end their business relationship with him. I was both relieved and excited that we Latinos were finally exercising some economic influence to protect poor unrepresented workers against the attacks of a one percenter like Trump. I have participated in the “Dump Trump” movement by signing all the Move-One petitions I can, and I intent to keep pushing for any activity that keeps this sense of Latino power and solidarity going.
So as excited as I am about the possibilities that Trump has created in our community for exerting economic power, I am a little worried about the effect that it will have in our ability to change the tone of the debate on immigration reform and build long lasting political power. While America Ferrera, in her letter to Trump, claims that these attacks will only drive our registration numbers up and get Latinos to the polls, I don’t yet buy it. Political mobilization takes money and political resources, and I have yet to see anyone in the progressive world saying that they will put “dinero” (money) into voting registration and mobilization in Latino communities.
The Democratic Party so far is celebrating; they are confident that what Trump has done is push Latinos farther away from the Republican Party and cement the Latino alliance to the Democratic Party. They are hoping Trump will continue to attack us so that Latinos will turn their disgust of him, into a disgust of Republicans. Maybe it will happen, but maybe it will not. The attacks are against undocumented Mexicans because they cannot vote, and the political paralysis that exist in Congress will continue to render those undocumented workers without a political voice for a long time to come.
The solidarity among all Latinos to push back against Trump has been refreshing. Finally we are saying as Latinos that an attack against one of us is an attack against all of us. But can we turn that type of solidarity into organized political power that can get politicians in Washington to pass immigration reform? The rage that we feel against Trump for demagoguing this issue and giving voice to the most xenophobic sector of the Republican party must be harnessed and acted upon with political resources to turn rage into votes. For the last three weeks, it seemed like the sleeping giant might be waking up again. Trump gave us a kick-start to realize our own economic potential.
But now, we need visionary leaders to start investing in building political power for Latinos, and by Latinos. Non-Latinos are doing it in the Republican side. The Koch Brothers recently invested $10 million dollar into their own Latino mobilization plan, the LIBRE Initiative. LIBRE is an effort to promote Republican values of the free market, small government and school-choice among Latinos. Its founder, the son of migrant farm workers, is a growing presence on Spanish-language news stations talking about the virtues of “self-reliance” and Latino entrepreneurship, especially among Latina women who are the driving force in the growth of small businesses in the USA today. As disingenuous as their strategy might seem, their methods are working. In places like Las Vegas, they give workshops in business development, tax preparation, wellness check-ups, scholarships, help in preparing for a driver’s license exams and citizenship classes. By presenting themselves as part of the community, they are building goodwill and building what they call a “platform for engagement.” LIBRE officials take pains to say they are advocating for what Latinos need and for the policies that best align with Latino and republican values, not specific candidates. They are using Ronald Reagan’s old mantra, “Latinos are Republicans. They just don’t know it yet.” Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will use the LIBRE rhetoric as part of their campaign stump and they will gain some traction among the educated and small business entrepreneurial Latinos, who unlike the undocumented, vote.
What is the response coming from the Democratic Party and its big donor backers? So far it looks more like a default plan of letting the “Trump Carnival” continue with the hope that Latinos will flock to Democratic candidates. To be fair, Hillary Clinton did speak out against Trump, and her campaign has hired plenty of Latino talent, to claim with sincerity that she does understands the need for a clear outreach plan to Latinos. National Latino groups do have some resources, but based on history, they will use those in purple states only, hoping to make a difference in the Senate and House balance of power.
But what about a Democratic program similar to the Republicans to engage Latinos at the local level? Nothing yet on the horizon. But maybe in the near future the moguls at UNIVISION or even our own Hollywood stars will put their money together and invest in Latino civic engagement programs for the long term, not just for an election cycle. Our leadership must also hold the political progressive community accountable in engaging in long term political activity around issues, not politicians. That way, we can build a progressive version of local Latino civic engagement that can change the rhetoric and once and for all, hold politicians in both parties accountable.
In the meantime, let’s keep the pressure going so that we can at least stop another Trump from thinking he can attack one of us, and get away with it. Together we can say, “No Way Trump…No Way Walker…and certainly No Way Uncle Juan Ted Cruz.” Not this time.
Patricia Campos-Medina is a Labor Leader, Latino community activist, and a former Commissioner of the Casino Redevelopment Authority (CRDA). She has served as Political and Legislative Director for unions such as SEIU International Union, UNITEHERE, UNITE and Workers United, SEIU. She is currently a PhD candidate at Rutgers-Newark and the Co-Director of the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University. Opinions expressed on this column are strictly her own.