In the U.S., we are the happy beneficiaries of a great democratic experiment.
The cornerstone of any true democracy is the right of the eligible populace to vote. Historically, the U.S. has witnessed the struggles of disenfranchised members of society to obtain this fundamental right of citizenship. One need only recall the struggle of women to secure the right and the long battle that African American citizens had to wage in order to secure and assert their rights.
In other countries, the act of voting remains an act of courage and hope. In many nations around the world at present time, violence and intimidation are real opponents to a true democratic process. People have lost their lives in pursuit of a right that too many U.S. citizens take for granted.
There are many sociological factors that contribute to low voter participation, such as educational attainment, gender, misinformation about citizenship requirements, and the socioeconomic status of the nation as a whole. There is also much at stake when the low participation is concentrated within a particular, identifiable segment of the population.
Imagine the mosaic of the U.S. citizenry arriving at an enormous buffet. All groups are represented, but one particular group arrives with many of its members blindfolded and gagged. What kind of seat at the democratic table can a group have when so many of its members deliberately reject the tool to advocate for themselves a fair-sized piece of the proverbial American pie?
Yet, this is the case with our Latino community. A report by the William C. Velasquez Institute highlights the behavior of Latino voters, and the news is not good. The percentage of Latinos who are eligible and registered to vote is the lowest among the groups tracked by the analysis. The Pew Research Center also has been tracking Latino voter apathy, and the results of their research are similar.
Of particular concern is the low voting trends among young, eligible Latino voters. Political indifference and a lack of emphasis on the civic duty toward voting are attitudes that will not easily change over the course of an individual’s life, and as the Latino population continues to grow, as our burgeoning youth population reaches voting age, these attitudes will become a true handicap in the quest to have our people’s needs and opinions reflected on the national stage.
Attempts to counteract misinformation and to help Latinos understand their rights and duties as citizens are a front line assault on the apathy. However, a 360-degree effort is needed to change the mindset of too many who feel that their votes do not count or that “being too busy with school or work” is a justifiable reason for not participating in the jewel that is the U.S. democratic process.
Kitchen table discussions on the responsibility of each individual to educate her or himself on the issues and vote are crucial to our increased civic participation. Otherwise we run the risk or seeing hungry siblings at the buffet, leaving only crumbs for our silent people.