“A Day Without Mexicans” is the title of a recent serio-comic movie about how impossible life in California would be if one day the Mexicano workers were not around. With the national elections less than four months away, progressives would do well to consider a Nov. 2 without Mexicans and other Latinos – or even with just a low voter turnout.

The first instance would mean a Bush landslide, the second a Bush victory, which would amount to much the same thing: no more accountability whatsoever for his far-right policies. This also applies, of course, to voter turnouts of African American, labor and other key democratic sectors in our country.

But the continued and accelerating demographic growth of Latinos has recently translated into significant electoral strength in many areas – especially in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida.

In just one generation, Latino voter turnout nearly trebled from 2.1 million in 1976 to 5.9 million in 2000. It is projected to be 6.8 million or more in 2004. This is despite the fact that very high proportions of the Latino populations are non-citizen immigrants and youth who cannot vote. Though there are fewer eligible voters per capita amongst Latinos, it also means there are increasing numbers of potential voters as immigrants become naturalized citizens and youth come of age. So effective voter education, registration and get-out-the-vote efforts can have very significant results.

In the last three elections well over 60 percent of the Latino vote went to the Democrats, despite the predominantly Republican high turnouts among Cuban Americans. Thus the projected turnout of Latinos this year would give the Democrats approximately 2 million more votes than the Republicans.

No one is more aware of such factors than George W, Bush. His father lost in 1992 when 114 million voters turned out, but Bush Jr. managed to steal the 2000 election, when the turnout was 3 million less, at 111 million. He stole it by manipulating a lower turnout of African American and other anti Bush sectors, with an assist from the Supreme Court.

Last month it became clear that the Bush administration was out to create a climate of fear and insecurity in Latino communities that is not conducive to civic participation. The U.S. Border Patrol initiated scores of dragnet-style deportation raids in California communities more than 100 miles north of the border with Mexico. To date some 10,000 people have been stopped and questioned, with 500 arrested. Hundreds of thousands were terrorized: many thousands of children were kept home from school, and thousands stayed away from hospitals and clinics and other public facilities. Adding to the climate of fear was the announcement that pilotless “drone” aircraft, used primarily for military surveillance, would patrol the Mexican border.

Fortunately, the anti-Bush forces and, most importantly now, the Kerry campaign are taking proactive steps to increase the Latino turnout. In similar speeches to two of the most significant national Latino organizations, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials on June 26, and the National Council of La Raza on June 29, Kerry called for spirited voting efforts amongst Latinos based on issues.

Kerry pointed out that in the last three years Latino “unemployment has soared more than 30 percent, 1.4 million … are out of work … and millions and millions of Hispanic Americans are not getting paid enough to pay the bills.” He called for ending tax breaks for runaway corporations and the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, and extending health coverage to all children and 95 percent of adults. And he pledged to submit a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to full citizenship for undocumented workers, stronger family reunification policies, and stronger worker protection in existing temporary worker programs. Though some of his proposals were short on specifics, others, like a more than one-third increase in the minimum wage to $7, were quite concrete.

In general, Kerry’s approach moves toward building hope and participation. Bush’s is clearly toward fear and division. Evoking the memories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chávez, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kerry called for greater activism in what he termed the “most important election in our lifetime,” adding that the “outcome is now in your hands more than mine.”

Rosalío Muñoz is an organizer for the Southern California district of the Communist Party USA. He can be reached at rosalio_munoz@sbcglobal.net.

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