In the formal speech announcing Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate in the upcoming presidential election last Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump again asserted what has become a hallmark campaign promise: he will move to build a wall between the United States and Mexico should he become president of the United States. For years, politicized Chicanx/Latinx youth have advocated and campaigned tirelessly for rights of immigrants, undocumented youth, undocumented families, and other groups. Often, that activism has existed mainly outside the realm of the electoral process in marches, boycotts, and other means of grassroots and direct action. Today, the power of Latinx youth activism remains vital, and it is also crucial that Latinx youth use the power of the vote.
The 2016 electorate will be the most racially and ethnically diverse in US history. Within this context, political pundits have widely expressed the significance of Latinx voters in the growing electorate. For the November presidential election, there will be an increase of approximately 5% to the overall number of eligible voters, but a 17% increase in the number of eligible voters who are Latinx. However, even as the number of eligible Latinx voters grows, the power of this constituency will not be fully exercised if turnout for the 2016 election does not match the growth of the group as has been seen in somewhat stagnant Latinx voter turnout in recent elections.
Young voters are another important demographic. Millennials are now the largest generation numbering over 80 million, and will have a number of eligible voters equal to Baby Boomers for the first time in a US presidential election. As members of two thriving demographic groups, Latinx youth are poised to make important contributions to the upcoming election.
Opting out of voting in the next presidential election is not a luxury Latinx youth can afford.
But they must decide and commit to participating in the electoral process even as they may feel disillusioned by it. This presidential campaign year has been largely dominated by rhetoric of a “rigged” political and economic system, and by the presence of two charismatic “outsiders,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and millionaire mogul and reality show star Donald Trump. The popularity of these two candidates reveals a public hungry for political change and greater economic opportunity. As the country continues to feel the impact of the economic collapse of 2008 and learns about rules that govern the political process and the country’s two party system (super delegates, anyone?), one can certainly understand why voters want change. Yet some have said that youth regard Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as two evil sides of the same coin. A CNN article went as far as to ask whether Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the “same person.” It is my sincere hope that Latinx youth see the danger in this way of thinking.
For the country at large, the stakes are high in this next presidential election. Yet there are a number of issues that will be influenced by who is elected the next President of the United States that disproportionately impact youth, in general, and Latinx youth, in particular. Consider that the President of the United States appoints Supreme Court justices. A Supreme Court nomination made by President Barack Obama last spring is frozen due to Republican opposition, and there is the possibility of up to 4 more nominations of Supreme Court Justices to be made by the next President.
Recent Supreme Court cases point to how important the make up of the Supreme Court should be to Latinx youth. Affecting many, particularly those in the 18-22 age range of traditionally aged college students, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin resulted in a Supreme Court decision upholding the legality of race-conscious college admissions by a margin of 4-3. And just last month, the Court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision on whether President Obama’s administration could implement immigration reforms meant to keep up to 4 million undocumented immigrants from being deported. Latinx youth activists have worked for immigration reform, arguing that immigration (and deportation) policies have hurt the countless immigrant families that not only are vital contributors to our country, but are indeed, at the heart of our country’s democratic promise. With families being torn apart, comprehensive immigration reform is a vital national necessity, and it is of utmost importance to recognize the way the President and the Supreme Court have the potential to shape the country’s future with regards to these issues. The idea of building a wall between the United States and Mexico as proposed by candidate Donald Trump is a frightening idea made more frightening by the devastating realities already facing so many immigrant families.
Latinx youth, of course, have social identities beyond ethnicity and age. Issues related to gender and sexual orientation also merit the attention of Latinx youth when it comes to thinking about the importance of the future president. In looking at the Supreme Court, we also have major decisions being made with regards to abortion rights that will no doubt impact this group. Although last month the Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling against so-called “clinic shutdown laws,” some have argued that a future Supreme Court with a conservative majority could effectively remove abortion rights granted by the landmark case Roe v. Wade.
As well, many Chicanx/Latinx youth who have been politically active identify as queer. Queer young people should consider that Governor Mike Pence, the Republican candidate for Vice President, has been a notoriously anti-LGBT governor, recently signing the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that many argue sanctions discrimination against the LGBT community.
Particularly in the wake of the end of the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, who young voters disproportionately supported, there has been speculation about what young voters who are angry, disappointed, or disillusioned by the end of that campaign may opt out of participating in the election.
Opting out of voting in the next presidential election is not a luxury Latinx youth can afford. The stakes are high. Latinx youth are a large and powerful constituency. Latinx youth: your vote has power. Use it.