This is a guest post by Brenda Lozano for Progress Report.
On November 6, the polls filled with 230,000 Oklahomans exercising their right to vote in the midterm elections. I was one of them, an Oklahoman born and bred, a student at The University of Oklahoma, and a representative of the state’s growing and diversifying Latino population.
In voting, I hope to inspire future generations to recognize America is our America and we choose who makes decisions on our behalf. That’s something I think about often as a double major in political science and women & gender studies, with a minor in human relations. I voted on November 6 because I understand that my vote represents more than myself. It also represents my community, friends, and family—including those not eligible to vote.
Learning more about the voting process and helping others to do the same was all part of a challenge I had this year as a participant in the UnidosUS’s Líderes AvanzandoFellowship, a program whose aim is to empower first-generation Latino college students by helping guide their passion to make change on their campus community.
Voting is merely one part of civic engagement, but it makes a world of a difference. It’s a time to reinforce or restructure all that we as a community desire, and I learned a lot about those goals while engaging in the Oklahoma Latino Democratic Federation’s get-out-the-vote campaign.
For starters, I had to find a way to make candidates campaign information accessible to my community. This included translating most candidate information and even registering some first-time voters. I had to make calls and ring doorbells informing residents of what they would find on the ballot. This can be especially tricky as a minority. While Oklahoma’s demographics are changing, Latinos make up just 10.6% of the population, so you never know in today’s intense political climate how strangers will react. However, I was pleased to find out that Oklahomans are nicer than I expected. There was never a time when I felt unwelcomed or scared to speak to people about issues that matter to me.
During one of Oklahoma City’s major annual community events, Fiestas de Las Americas, I helped a 54-year-old woman register to vote. She told me she had been wanting to do that for a while but had found it difficult because she doesn’t speak fluent English. Her registration reminded me that our organization’s presence at the event was making an incredible impact, and her story motivated me to continue pushing for better civic engagement in my community.
After the election, the Federation and I attended several watch parties. As election results started coming in, I was excited and proud of the volunteer work I had done, even though the results weren’t all that I, as a registered Democrat, had hoped. The Republican party took the lead in many races, but Democrats still managed to flip the 5th Congressional District, allowing Democrat Kendra Horn to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A woman of passion and dedication, Horn ran a campaign on the issues of education, health care, women, and families, infrastructure, gun safety, and rural economic development. She now represents Oklahoma county, the county where I was born and raised.
Although the election has ended, and people have settled with our newly elected officials, I can assure you that my job with the Oklahoma politics is only getting started. After the election, I realized that there is still so much work that has to be done. For example, we need to find ways to better serve and empower our LGBTQ community, investigate why Oklahoma is among the states that most incarcerates women, and look into reforming our public education system. My next focus is ensuring that high school students, specifically first-generation Latinos, are receiving the proper civic education to engage on these issues. UnidosUS has equipped me with the knowledge and skills I need to do that.
In the spring of 2019, I hope to launch a website helping young Latinos register to vote and understand ballots. I also hope to inform my community on the many ways in which they can continue to give back to each other. For example, I want to increase attendance at events like Fiestas de Las Americas which informs my community of the many local businesses and opportunities we have created for each other. Not only is Fiestas de Las Americas a time for celebration, it is a time for civic engagement.
Looking back at those weeks leading up to the midterms where I registered people to vote for the first time, struggling to find my voice and know what to say as I cold called potential voters, or showed up unannounced on their doorsteps, I realized that the change in my community must start with myself. I can help Latinos and non-Latinos understand that it is in our best interest to vote in ways that benefit our community, that with the support and engagement of each other, our community can flourish.