When it comes to politics, do Latino Millennials care about anything? Of course they do. Latino Millennials seek to add value to their communities and are optimistic about their role in building a better future. Latino Millennials also have the potential to become a powerful force that could strengthen civic institutions and social infrastructures in the decades to come.
According to the Pew Research Center, Latino Millennials account for almost half of the 27.3 million eligible Latino voters projected for 2016. That’s why Latino Millennial political participation matters.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Latinos & Society Program, which hosted a four-day Deep Dive: Increasing Latino Civic Potential, Millennial’s conference. It brought together 26 influencers and decision-makers to discuss the challenges and causes of low Latino Millennial civic participation and to develop recommendations for unlocking these issues in the United States.
The goal of the Aspen conference was to develop actionable, innovative, creative, and collaborative strategies to boost Latino Millennial political participation. The group identified key challenges to civically mobilize the Latino Millennial community, including insufficient data collection, institutional Latino representation, as well as lack of sufficient or sustained investment in engaging the community. They also identified priority areas to focus on, namely voter engagement, civic education, institutional challenges, cultural barriers, and outreach strategy.
While voter registration and turnout were an important focus of the gathering, particularly in light of the 2016 elections, participants also looked at a wider set of civic health indicators such as engaging with elected officials, organizing around community issues, running for office, volunteering, and engaging with government through the use of technology.
The question as to what will unlock the civic engagement of Latinos has many factors, but some answers potentially lie in finding creative ways to engage the Latino Millennial vote. Much of the discussion at the conference focused on the notion that young Latinos should not be thought of as a single-issue voting bloc influenced solely by immigration policy but rather that multiple issues ranging from employment, healthcare, affordable higher education, and transportation concern this demographic. Indeed, the Pew Research Center recently reported that the top issue for Latinos in the 2012 presidential elections was the economy.
For Millennials, there’s also a greater demand for transparency and responsiveness. This could be a result of growing up in the information age of Google, Wikipedia, and social media and, thus, having an unprecedented expectation of accountability. However, although Millennials value information and build online campaigns for social change, civic organizations constantly face challenges when reaching out to Millennials after presidential elections or during local elections. The Aspen Institute’s program focused on how technology could help promote a continuous political engagement platform by connecting millennials to grassroots organizations, turning digital mobilization into long-term grassroots activism.
In San Antonio, there’s an organization doing just that. MOVE San Antonio has found a way to embrace the immediacy of digital platforms to engage young people in grassroots politics. Their field engagement strategy mimics social media interactions: make it easy, make it quick, and make it fun. They developed what they call “flash volunteerism,” where they invite online users who regularly like their Facebook posts or share blog posts to participate as volunteers.
From registering students at college campuses while wearing banana suits to phone banking at Harry Potter-themed volunteer drives, MOVE San Antonio has kept a cool and continuous political engagement platform for young people. They have successfully transferred activism from the digital universe to San Antonio’s streets.
The Aspen Institute Latinos & Society conference further focused on the importance of civic education among Latino Millennials. Our country’s de-emphasis and devaluation of civic education within our public schools has led generations of teenagers to lack understanding of the mechanisms for exercising power and influence and to feel disenfranchised from the political process. Civic education was once a priority in our democracy, but now is perceived as expendable. While I acknowledge the barriers we face in our public school funding efforts, teaching democratic engagement in the classroom is as important as standardized test preparation and international math rankings.
Locally, the UTSA Center for Civic Engagement has done a great job in developing service-learning programs to educate students on the importance of public service. Their service-learning program is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection in an academic course to enrich the student learning experience, instill a sense of civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. By being authentic and purposeful with their vision, the UTSA Center of Civic Engagement has instilled a meaningful civic ownership in younger people. These type of initiatives help young people learn how to be citizens, and we need more of that.
Beyond the schools and the role they play in shaping civic values and habits in the Latino community, the media – especially but not solely Spanish-language media – also plays a role in teaching people about power and how to navigate the system. Nonprofits have also been very successful in providing programs and services and are trusted partners in Latino communities. Some of these organizations focus on civic engagement and advocacy, such as Voto Latino, a civic media organization that utilizes digital campaigns, pop culture, and grassroots voices to educate and empower Latino Millennials to be agents of change.
As mentioned before, the use of technology was a relevant topic at the Aspen Institute. We also discussed how online voting systems will innovate the electoral procedure. A Fusion poll, which surveyed 18- to 34-year-olds, showed that 49% of respondents said an online system could encourage them to vote in the 2016 elections. Online voting may be evolutionary for voting: it’s convenient, accessible, and can be implemented in a variety of fashions. For Latino Millennials, this could mean a greater turnout and more participation in the political process.
Latino Millennials value technology and will continue to use these platforms to communicate, mobilize and participate in the political process.
The Aspen Institute’s Latinos & Society produced a range of actionable, innovative, collaborative ideas. It provided me with a better understanding of the challenges Latino Millennials face in the political process, and it was inspiring to work with the brightest minds in the civic engagement arena who are creating meaningful impact in their communities.
New connections and partnerships were an important outcome of the convening, and several participants have begun to initiate new collaborative projects to increase Latino Millennial civic participation going forward. After the conference, we were invited to attend the Civic Engagement Summit at the White House, where we will participate in a conversation about civic engagement and how we can use technology and innovative ideas to tackle our toughest challenges.
I will represent San Antonio at the White House Civic Engagement Summit and am interested in learning from our community. What do you think we can do as a leading city to engage Millennials in the political process? Send me a tweet at @betoaltamirano.
Top image: Participants brainstorm ideas, opportunities, and solutions for Latino millennials and civic engagement. Photo courtesy of Alberto Altamirano.
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