Congreso joins election push

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Image 1 left small>LOS ANGELES – More than 1,500 Latino public officials, civic, labor rights and community leaders and activists from 20 states participated in the third annual National Latino Congreso here July 18-20. Delegates reaffirmed a progressive Latino agenda and a drive to bring out 10 million Latino voters to help change the direction of the country in the 2008 elections. The Congreso joins a growing list of Latino organizations focused on voter turnout in November.

“We can’t have another eight years like the last,” said Lillian Hernandez Lopez, president of the East Coast-based Hispanic Federation, to roaring cheers in opening the Congreso.

For most Hispanic Americans, the last eight years of the extreme right-wing government policies has led to increased economic insecurity and a significant anti-Latino atmosphere.

“We have been waiting years since 1986 for a good immigration law. With Obama we won’t have to wait another 22,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) who as Assistant to the Speaker of the House is the highest ranking Latino in the House of Representatives. McCain’s policy is now “driven by Republican base voters who are not friendly to immigrants” said Becerra. “We have been reactive, on the defensive. With Obama we can initiate, be proactive.”

He said a big Latino vote is also necessary to ensure the Democratic congressional leadership’s support for immigrant rights, as some conservative or vulnerable Democrats have joined Republicans on anti-immigrant policies.

The Congreso prioritized progressive issues like legalization for undocumented immigrant workers, withdrawal of troops from Iraq, non-intervention in Latin America and the pro-labor Employee Free Choice Act to work on. Greater federal support to meet the economic and environmental crises and to end disparities for Latinos, African Americans and other groups in education, health care, criminal justice and jobs were also part of the mix.

But the theme of the conference, “Translating resolutions into reality,” was the real focus of discussions, which centered on building political clout through voter registration and turn out, support for candidates based on issues and coalition building.

Antonio Gonzalez, president of Southwest Voter Registration Project, announced that the Congreso had raised $5 million dollars towards registering 250,000 new Latino voters for the November elections. The voter drive will target battleground states where the Latino vote could be decisive in the presidential and congressional elections. Such states would include Colorado and Florida.

The Congreso has a “10/12 plan,” 12 million registrants and 10 million new voters. Latinos could make up one out of every 10 voters in 2008. They could provide a cushion of three to four million for Obama, and could be decisive changing over 20 House and Senate races from Republican to Democrat.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carreon, president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said Obama promises to “change the conversation of politics, close down the war, fix the economy and deliver on health care.” He added that 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every day and are now 15 percent of the population.

Latinos have strong bases for unity, he said, because we are all colors and cultures and the lands of our families’ origins have all suffered colonial domination.

Here in the U.S., he said, we have “labored side by side in building bridges, railroads, factories, agriculture” with white, Black, Asian and other workers. “We helped build the labor movement in this country,” he added.

The last session of the Congreso announced the Black-Latino Summit on Oct. 4 for which the Congreso, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Hispanic Federation are joining with Policy Link, NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to strengthen unity between these communities.