COVID-19 — while sometimes referred to as an invisible enemy — is, in reality, a crisis that has been gathering force for years.
In many ways, COVID-19 is only accelerating vicious cycles of multidimensional inequity that are intrinsically tied to decades of declining faith in government and alienation from democratic processes — especially among young people, communities of color and historically marginalized groups.
The disproportionate loss of lives and asymmetry of pandemic experiences across our country have laid bare endemic disparities. The virus has been twice as deadly for Latinos and people of color. In a Latino Decisions and SOMOS Healthcare poll, 65 percent of Latinos reported difficulty accessing critical food and medicine, 63 percent are concerned someone in their family will lose health insurance, 70 percent worry a family member will lose their job and 76 percent fear not being able to pay rent.
To address disparities, we, as Latinos, must revitalize the electoral power and leadership needed to bring change. This November, we face the most consequential election of our lifetime; and it is happening during a pandemic that threatens to keep more people away from the polls than ever before.
COVID-19 will — and should — change how we hold our elections. But electoral evolution cannot and will not be a passive change. We must take bold, strategic actions that open the door to new opportunities that will empower our community as change makers in the political decisions that impact our lives. We must envision and implement new ways to reach, engage and energize Latino voters, so everyone’s voice reaches the ballot box.
The main challenges today — connecting culturally, competent messaging, navigating a complex voter registration system and helping people cast ballots — are not new. The votes, especially of communities of color, have always been challenged.
However, what has changed is the myriad of innovative modern tools we have to do the personalized “groundwork” needed in a new age of voting.
As millions of Latinos grapple with unemployment, with having to choose between working in the frontlines or losing their jobs, the onus is on governments and political empowerment organizations to develop unconventional methods that provide information that is accessible and, above all, educates, resonates with and mobilizes voters.
Organizations like mine, Latino Victory, are reimagining ways to bring voters together, unify parties of change and enable influence at every level of government — from local and state offices to Congress and the White House. The times call for an intersectional unified front between political action committees, organizers, government officials and the Democratic National Committee, wherever legally possible. We must take on multichannel approaches — innovative web, email, text and multilingual social media campaigns that individualize communications and allow people to access specific information they are interested in.
Government officials must work to make absentee ballots legal and logistically accessible for all. Progressive organizations must educate voters — via multilingual websites, emails and postcards — on where to find ballots, how to complete them and how to deliver votes to election authorities. Every voice should be heard, so we must reach out to those without access to new media in newspapers and on radio. In Latino households, which are often multigenerational, it is critical to share media with young people to spark family discussions and fire up political dialogue.
If we utilize new tools to their fullest, we have unprecedented opportunities to create real change this November. A Latino Decisions and Univision poll found that 73 percent of Latinos are “almost certain” they will vote, 70 percent said they will vote Democrat and a whopping 72 percent felt it is more important to vote in 2020 than it was in 2016. These statistics represent a remarkable window of opportunity to reach the Latino community.
While COVID-19 has steered the media conversation away from the election, organizations must also ensure that Latinos connect the dots between their wellbeing during this crisis to the importance of electing strong representatives. We must mobilize Latinos to reflect the enthusiasm felt before this crisis struck.
We can all win this November if we effectively communicate how who we elect into office matters and how policy can translate to real results.
We cannot afford to sit this election out. A blue wave swept our nation in 2018 because Latinos and other communities of color were a pivotal force in elections. During COVID-19, the playing field has changed, but we also have new tools and opportunities to empower voters.
Together, this November, let’s restore the strength in diversity that has always made America great and will rebuild our nation’s future.
Nathalie Rayes is president & CEO of Latino Victory Fund.