Coalition in Virginia Works to Ensure Immigrant Voices are Heard in Local Election27 May 2015
While the U.S. presidential election will not take place until November 2016, the nation’s attention already seems to be focused on the array of candidates and their early campaign efforts to secure votes. In Virginia, however, a major political race will take place much sooner – the state holds its primary election on June 9, 2015, whereby a field of candidates will be thinned out prior to the general election in November. And even though they are not garnering the national spotlight, a coalition of labor, minority, and immigrant groups are working to make their voices heard at the polls.
The coalition is comprised of several organized labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union and the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Union, that represent thousands of workers in the Northern Virginia area, many of them Latinos. The other groups in the coalition are the Latino advocacy group CASA in Action and the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium in Action Fund. Together, the groups in the coalition have amassed hundreds of volunteers to advocate for candidates in the primary election who support so called “progressive” measures, such as a minimum wage boost, expanded healthcare coverage for the poor, and new opportunities for immigrants. The coalition has also raised $10,000 to donate to candidates, and is planning similar measures to support progressive politicians in the general election. [See Coalition of Labor, Immigrant Groups Flexing Muscles in Va. Local Races, by Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post, 18.May.2015]
The coalition mirrors the overall diversity of the Northern Virginia Metro area – 42 percent of Fairfax County’s residents are Asian, Latino, and AfricanAmerican, and foreign-born residents make up roughly a third of the county’s population. The coalition is also counting on the youth vote, hoping that this potent mix of diverse cultures and youthful energy will result in a healthy voter turnout at the polls on June 9th. “One in nine Virginia residents are immigrants, and almost half can vote already,” noted Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action, in a recent interview with The Washington Post. “For a long time we have been setting the table. Now we want to eat at the table.” Austin Thompson, the coalition’s head of AfricanAmerican and youth outreach effort, added, “… it would be a mistake to think that this generation is apathetic. But no one is talking to these voters across the state, and that has to change.”
While elections are intended to bring Americans together to participate in the democratic process, too often, immigrants living and working in the United States feel marginalized by politics, especially considering that only U.S. citizens are entitled to vote in the vast majority of elections. But coalitions such as the one in Virginia are working to make sure that the voices of the immigrants who contribute so much to our country are heard. As Jaime Conteras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Capital region, sums up, “This coalition represents the changing face of Northern Virginia. Together we are much stronger than alone.”
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