“Minorities” are the Future Majority

I found this little article about non-white and immigrant voters in Virginia interesting. It doesn’t say much in its content–other than provide a sounding off board for a bunch of trite and recycled political “knowledge” about Latinos, et. al.–but its very publication says an awful lot.

When it comes down to it, Latino and Asian immigrants and their offspring are an unavoidable contingent of the electorate in a growing number of states. Both traditional Democrat and Republican structures are geared toward reaching out to white voters and one of the struggles both parties are grappling with is how to reorganize themselves in small and creative ways to reach the non-white voter. The first step is in taking as fact certain ubiquitous assumptions about these voters and then build from there. In this piece, the oldest assumptions about the Latino electorate are provided as the established contours of the battle ground: Latinos (and others) are socially conservative with liberal tendencies around immigration and race. They can go Dem but they can also go Republican.

In places like California and Texas, where the presence of these “minorities” is as old as the presence of the “majority”–and where demographic change has put us on a course to meaningfully flip those labels in a generation’s time–such infant “debates” as the one from Virginia seem almost silly. With more than 80 years of political activity and growth, Latino voters have acted in ways that would seem to confirm the above generalizations. That is, until the last decade.

We are in a critical moment of political realignment when it comes to the Latino electorate. Two things are emerging: 1) Latino voters are increasingly acting as a unified voting bloc; and 2) they are moving solidly Democratic. One thing drives this trend: xenophobia and racial violence all couched as part of the “immigration debate.”

The national Democratic Party and the national Republican Party are tied for doing nothing much when it comes to federal reforms related to immigration. But one party is clearing making at least failed overtures to the Latino electorate on this count. At the same time the other party is actively courting the contingent within its electorate that represents the equivalent of the White Citizens Council to Latinos today.

The article from Virginia is interesting for the unspoken tension it possesses. Local and regional party organizations are not always in step with their national party when it comes to these stances or their unwillingness to reach out to Latinos. But intentions in this environment get you very little.

In the 1990s, when California Republicans launched into their massive crusade against “illegal immigrants” the Latino population naturalized in huge numbers, registered to vote, and turned our sometimes red and sometimes blue state into a solidly blue chunk of political change. The same is happening in Texas, though to a more measured result. Within 10 years the same will happen to Arizona.

They key here is that Latino voters are not all that up for grabs. The Republicans are losing the contest for their hearts and loyalties because they aren’t even really playing. The Democrats, who struggle to be successful on this front, look like golden gods by comparison.

We are not just “minority” voters. We are increasingly a significant part of a plurality, even in time the majority. The more political “experts” get their heads around that, the more likely they will have a job in 20 years.

FEMA Gives Katrina Victims the Shaft

Anyone looking for another example of the Bush administration’s incompetence and indifference to poor folk and communities of color?

Look no further. CNN reports FEMA has literally given away $85 million worth of household items originally intended for victims of hurricane Katrina. These items were largely purchased as “starter kits,” packages of goods meant to help somebody rebuilding their life in a new living situation (often a temporary trailer). The remainder of these goods came as donations, given by corporations and others in the wake of the tragedies (both the meteorological event and the federal response).

FEMA had been paying $1 million to store the goods and, according to their press secretary, “determined that they were excess to FEMA’s needs.” Even though there remain thousands of people living in less than permanent situations, an even more who continue to struggle as a result of their displacement and loss, no one at FEMA thought of trying to assess whether or not these items should go to the people they were intended to go to. No one at FEMA thought of contacting any of the community agencies who actually do serve these people. According to the story, they did offer these items to state agencies, including the state of Louisiana, who passed on the free goods.

These household items did go to some cities throughout the South and Midwest. FEMA did find people at the local level who wanted them, they ust never bothered to look at the New Orleans local level.

This story exhibits the clear and convincing pattern of the Bush administration’s incompetence. Worse yet, it exhibits a clear indifference regarding the identification and fulfillment of the needs of poor communities and communities of color. In the mindset of a President and his White House, this kind of indifference is not too surprising. But coming from the agency meant to, at least in part, do exactly this in times of tragedy and disaster, this is just an outrage.

FEMA lacks the kind of proactive empathy required of such an agency, and it is the poor and most marginalized who feel it most.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: If you are interested in learning more about the events surrounding hurricane Katrina, in particular on a human level, see Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts. It is powerful and important, a fantastic teaching tool on modern racism from a complex and multifaceted perspective.