Labor mounts drive to protect Latino vote

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The Laborers and Labor's Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), one of the AFL-CIO's constituency groups, have joined together in a voter registration and protection drive to ensure that tens of thousands of Hispanic-named voters not only register to vote in time for the November election, but that their votes are protected and counted, too.

Speaking August 21 at the Laborers Local 11 hall in an industrial area of the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Va., and in interviews, LCLAA Executive Director Hector Sanchez and Laborers Latino Caucus President Edison Severino said the groups would concentrate on swing states in general and Virginia - notably Northern Virginia - in particular.

They're joined in their drive by other progressive groups, Hispanic groups - such as La Familia Vota - and labor allies, added Noah Feldman, Northern Virginia organizer of Virginia New Majority.

"At a time when the Latino community is under attack nationwide, civic participation" through voting and protecting the right to vote "is crucial," Sanchez said.

"It's also time to say 'enough is enough'" to those who would deprive Latinos of the vote.

The launch of the Laborers-LCLAA campaign was particularly timely: Even as the event was occurring, participants reported, via their mobile communications devices, that the Obama administration Justice Department had decided not to challenge Virginia's version of "voter ID" laws.

Those laws, shoved through by GOP-run state governments in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, and elsewhere, are specifically designed, all the speakers said, to knock minority-group voters off the rolls this fall. And they also could intimidate other potential voters, the speakers added.

News reports said Virginia's law does not mandate voters show a state-issued ID - a utility bill or other identification would do-and the state would be sending out ID cards to every registered voter, anyway.

LCLAA will focus its efforts in key areas of "swing states," Sanchez said. One area will be in the I-4 corridor running through Orlando, Fla., where then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama pulled in enough new Hispanic voters in 2008 to swing the entire Sunshine State to his side.

Another area will be Northern Virginia, which has a high and growing share of the estimated 60,000 unregistered Hispanic-named voters in the Old Dominion, this year's premier "swing state" in the Nov. 6 presidential election, Sanchez added. Other top LCLAA efforts will be in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, among others.

In some cases, LCLAA and the union have already sent in organizers from out of state into the swing states, arming them with campaign materials and lists of activists.

Indeed, three Laborers organizers from out of state "safe" Obama states - two from New York and another from New England - came to the Virginia meeting to help.

The objective for the Laborers, Severino said, is to have each organizer enlist 20 rank-and-file Latino unionists every day, who in then would recruit even more of their colleagues. All of them would walk precincts, register Latinos as voters - and then make sure they're protected at the polls.

LCLAA plans to sign up 5,000-8,000 new Latino voters in the I-4 corridor before Labor Day, with a similar number in Northern Virginia and other thousands in the other swing states, Sanchez told PAI. LCLAA's 56 chapters will release organizers for the effort. "They're all getting involved, but a lot of the work is going to be by volunteers."

And the group will also focus on voter protection, especially after the Obama administration decided to let the Virginia law stand. In Florida, Latino groups are challenging that state's much harsher "Voter ID" laws, but only in the five counties - out of 67 - covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department has challenged the voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas.

In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Court, the state's second highest, threw out an ACLU challenge to the Keystone State's restrictive law, which a GOP state leader had openly boasted would achieve the objective of giving Pennsylvania to presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney this fall.

"Some politicians are using it" - voter suppression - "against communities of color, especially Latinos," Sanchez said.

There's a third objective in the whole Latino voter registration and protection drive, both union leaders said: Educating voters about which presidential ticket - incumbent Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are on the side of workers, and which, Romney and VP pick Paul Ryan, are not.

"This election will indeed make a difference," Severino exhorted the group who gathered to distribute information cards telling voters, in English and Spanish, how to register and protect their rights. "If we allow people who don't agree with the agenda of working people to be elected, we'll take a beating."

Photo: Ho John Lee // CC 2.0

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