CLEVELAND, OHIO – Yesterday, while the GOP was holding its whitest ever national convention at the Quicken Loans Arena here, local state legislators and advocates for Ohio Latino communities met nearby and shared ideas about how to make government more responsive to the needs of minority communities.
“We have to work to bring the black and brown communities together,” said panelist Jerry Peña, a Cleveland community organizer. “We’d be so powerful, we would have to be listened to.”
The panel was sponsored by Ohio’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group, and the Latino Victory Fund, which works to support candidates who advance Latino issue priorities.
“The Republican Party has done nothing to reach out to minorities,” said Dan Ramos, a state legislator who represents Ohio’s District 56, “even though in 2012 the leadership of the GOP vowed to make it more inclusive.”
In fact, Ramos said, by nominating Donald Trump, the GOP is driving minorities away. “Trump is saying that America is made up by people who look like him, they are the only ‘us.’ Everybody else is ‘them.'”
Ramos’ point was being demonstrated a few miles away at the GOP convention. This year, the number of black and Latino delegates is the smallest it’s ever been. Out of close to 2,500 delegates, only 80, or a little over 3 percent, are African Americans. The number of Latino delegates is infinitesimal, even though Latinos make up 14 percent of the American population and are the fastest growing ethnic or minority group in the U.S. The average age of Latinos is about 28 years, compared with 43 years old for whites, meaning Latinos are the voters of the future.
Ramos, said that in Ohio, the Republicans have done everything they can do to suppress the voting potential of Latinos. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate, he said, have drawn the lines of legislative districts so as to split the power of Latino communities.
His district is in an area with a high number of Latinos but they are scattered among several different districts that are majority white. “My own district, for example, is at one point the width of one bridge,” he said. If it weren’t for gerrymandering such as that, there would be Latino majorities in several districts.
Another panelist, State Representative Stephanie House, added that Republican Jon Husted, Ohio’s Secretary of State, recently purged some two million people from the voting rolls.
“We can’t say that the system doesn’t work,” House stated. “It’s doing exactly what is was designed to do: exclude poor people, young people and members of minorities from participating in government.
“We have to get back to basics and convince people to get involved in the system in order to change the system.”
Peña, the community organizer, said that “we have to bring people together to fight for a better life and convince them that voting is one of the tools they can use to build a better future.”
All the panelists agreed that Donald Trump himself is not the problem, but a symptom of the fact that those who own the wealth have been working for many years to keep groups fighting each other.
Pili Tobar, director of the Latino Victory Fund, said that even though many Republican leaders are now distancing themselves from Trump, they themselves created the conditions that have allowed him to become a leader.
“The Republicans are reaping what they sowed,” Tobar said.
Ramos said that unlike most Republicans, “Trump is telling the truth about what Republicans believe.
“They want to perpetuate the system where one percent of the population owns the vast majority of the wealth.
“I’m not interested in fighting over the scraps that the top one percent throw us. This country has enough money and wealth for us all to share. We have to reach the poor whites and poor blacks and poor Latinos together so they can fight together.
“In Ohio,” Ramos said, “some politicians say that the trouble is all the money goes to the cities and not to the rural areas.
“No. All the money goes to people like Trump.”
Ramos concluded by saying that after 2016, “the most important elections coming up are in 2018, when we elect state officials. It’s they who will draw the lines of legislative districts and everything depends on that.
“We have to stop officials from being able to choose who elects them and go back to the system of voters choosing who to elect.”
Photo: Panelists said that GOP policies like support of mass deportations are driving away Latino support for the GOP. Above, a demonstration in Washington, D.C. | AP