It's About Respect

It is undeniable that in the 2008 general election, Latinos were an essential factor in the equation. Three weeks out from the 2010 election, Latinos again will play key if not decisive roles in several races, including California, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Illinois, and their participation rates will be watched closely in Arizona and Texas. If past trends hold, we could see an additional 700,000 Latino voters, compared to their 2006 numbers. The factors most likely to drive Hispanic voters to the polls have been a prominent point of speculation, but voting for respect may be the clearest incentive that these voters have.

Participation dips in midterm elections across the whole electorate, as compared to turnout numbers for presidential elections. For Latinos in 2010, there are additional competing factors shaping turnout. On the one hand, high rates of unemployment stemming from the economic crisis, displacement created by the foreclosure crisis, and lack of progress on issues of interest to the Hispanic community could reasonably lead to lower Latino participation levels in 2010. On the other hand, there is deep concern over growing anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment in the country, hate speech, the threat of measures that legitimize the racial profiling of Latinos, and the movement to repeal birthright citizenship. All of these elements are creating an environment where Hispanics can be treated as second-class citizens and their contributions to the American mosaic can be denigrated. Polling and local civic engagement efforts point to this growing concern as powerful motivation for Latino voters to go the polls.

It should be clear that no party should ignore Latino voters. But while many politicians are engaging in tactics that alienate or demonize the Hispanic community, others are not really working for our vote. Both approaches are ill-conceived and leave Latino voters with less of a choice. Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and will be looking at who is blocking progress, as well as who is standing on the sidelines while the community is under attack.

The rhetoric and tone of this campaign season have crossed the line. Numerous nonpartisan efforts, including ours, are partnering with the Hispanic community to leverage participation as a step toward restoring Latinos' long and proud history in America and to stand up against the scapegoating of this community and the demonization of millions of hardworking people. NCLR's Vote For Respect campaign, which includes work with community-based organizations in 22 states, a voter participation pledge, celebrity and community public service announcements, and a single by Grammy Award-winning multicultural fusion band Ozomatli, is a rally call to Latinos to show up on Election Day for their community and their country.

It's time to address our problems as a country, together, and reject the politics of division. Latinos stand to make a significant contribution to get us on that path and send a message that we need lawmakers who are willing to work toward real solutions to our nation's problems.