Getting out the vote in Escondido
Latinos make up half the population in the city of Escondido. But many wonder what they can do to make the city a safer, more hospitable place for themselves and their families.
Some activists believe a better Latino voter turnout might be the answer. They say that a growing number of Latinos experience systemic racism in Escondido, especially from the city council and police department.
In 2006 the Escondido City council passed an ordinance making it illegal to rent to undocumented immigrants. But after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, the courts overturned the measure and the city backed down, citing the costs of continued litigation.
Currently the Escondido Police Department (EPD) frequently conducts driver’s license checkpoints, ensnaring undocumented drivers and confiscating their cars, often handing over drivers to ICE for deportation proceedings.
Eleven ICE agents are stationed at police headquarters to speed up the detention and deportation process for immigrants often-times charged with lesser crimes and misdemeanors.
On weekday mornings and Saturdays Norma Chavez Peterson and volunteers with “Nuestro Voto, Nuestro Futuro” gather for briefings at their downtown Escondido office, studying city maps and locating Latinos registered to vote.
To get out the vote they work phone banks and visit homes in teams of two to convince would be voters that they have an important stake in the direction of their city.
Chavez Peterson, an organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union, believes no changes will take in Escondido until a significant number of Latinos actually make it to the polls. Currently, they make up only about 21 per cent of registered voters out of a population of 144,000.
The goal is to register 2,700 voters for the upcoming election. Only 10 per cent of registered Latinos in Escondido voted last time, Chavez Peterson said.
The Escondido voting project is non-partisan. Volunteers sign a pledge that they will not support any candidates or political parties. “Our job is to educate voters on the issues and let them vote for whom they chose,” said Chavez.
On a recent Saturday morning, 30 volunteers broke into small groups to discuss the challenges that lie before them.
“There is a lot of apathy,” said Luz, a housewife and first time volunteer. “All the city council talks about is money. They never consider the needs of the people. There is a lot of disconnect here.”
Jose, a university student added: “Most of our people are from Mexico and they are used to politicians betraying them,” he said. “It’s hard for them to imagine anything else.”
Eduardo, another volunteer chimed in: “Government mostly reacts to lobbyists, corporations and special interests such as developers,” he said. “But often the underdogs will win if they get together and achieve some power. It’s the little victories that count.”
Chavez stressed the need to educate voters about how government works on all levels. “Elected officials are making decisions that affect us on issues such as health care, education and the criminal justice system,” she told the volunteers. “People need to know that their vote counts.”
Later, the volunteers fanned out for a test run, visiting markets and the Escondido swap meet to deliver leaflets and talk to with would be voters.
Jenny was pleased that the manager of the Vallarta market allowed her to put the Nuestro Voto poster in the front window. A few minutes later she spoke to Ana, a telephone vendor, and registered her to vote.
“The next step is to go door to door,” said Jenny. It’s a big challenge, but I know we can get these people out to vote. So much depends on this.”
Sept. 25 is National Voter Registration Day, and Nuestro Voto is planning an event at Escondido’s Grape Day Park. On Oct. 13 it will hold a concert at the park from noon until 5 p.m.
Oct. 22 is the last day voters can be registered. For more information, call Nuestro Voto at (760) 624-8686.