ORLANDO, Fla. – Organize Now, a progressive community-based organization, is hitting the streets here with iAmerica, in order to provide “informational tools and interactive opportunities for immigrants and their families to become full participants in our nation’s democracy.” Other members of the coalition include SEIU, Mi Familia Vota, and the National Immigration Law Center.
A small team of 10 that is part of the effort has its work cut out for itself. According to the latest census, more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans now live in the Central Florida area. With as many as 100 new families arriving each week, Central Florida now trails only New York in the size of its Puerto Rican population.
Timothy Murray, a director at Organize Now, heads up the bi-lingual canvassing effort that began earlier this year.
“What the campaign hopes to accomplish is voter outreach, voter registration with Latino folks because of the large influx due to the Puerto Rican financial crisis. A lot of folks are literally fleeing to the mainland,” said Murray.
The Puerto Rican financial crisis is crippling the island’s ability to provide for its people due to austerity measures requiring excessive tax hikes and benefit cuts for workers. The crisis has become a campaign issue with both Democratic candidates for president offering plans that they think will put Puerto Rico back on its feet.
“When someone comes here, we still don’t respect them because of, let’s be honest, the racist policies being pushed on the right,” Murray said.
As the canvassers told me, it is that facet of life in the U.S. that has resonated with potential Latino voters in the supermarket parking lots and on their doorsteps.
“If you don’t vote, that’s one more vote for Donald Trump. That’s the getter, with that they think twice,” said Jose Lopez, a veteran of canvas operations for the organization. The canvass is running under the umbrella of a 501c4 organization, so the canvassers are free to name names.
In addition to the voter registration drive, Organize Now is pushing voting rights restoration for felons. About 9.6 percent of the population of Florida cannot vote due to felony convictions. Even more have high barriers toward employment and social services.
Lopez continued, “I also tell them that there’s millions of people who can’t vote because of a prior conviction, so if you can use your voice to vote for those millions who can’t, that means something. That helps out a little bit.”
Their messaging seems to be cutting through the apathy. Anamaria Romero, a student and recent recruit to Organize Now, said “Yesterday I brought it up to a couple girls who don’t vote. I said ‘Trump had 10,000 people show up yesterday at UCF and those are your neighbors, so get with it.'”
“Part of our message is not just to register people to vote, but to deliver a message to let them know what we’re all about and what we’re up against. This isn’t a funny meme or an SNL skit anymore.”
Organize Now is out to do just what their name says and they have done it before. Currently, it engages in solidarity campaigns with the Fight for $15 and has built a racial justice committee, which is building a campaign to decriminalize non-violent offenses in the city.
In 2012, Murray ran the canvas that saw an earned sick time amendment to the Orange County charter passed, although Republicans and corporate Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives moved to pre-empt it at the state level. Timothy says that he’s learned some very important lessons from that effort.
“Don’t trust anyone ever,” Murray nervously chuckled. “Seriously. Don’t trust that elected officials will play by the rules.” Two County Commissioners were found to be texting with Disney lobbyists during earned sick time hearings and were fined as a result, although they kept their powerful jobs.
“These are the people that have the money and the channels to get their messages out effectively. So we need to have a better message and unified front among the people. We can’t expect officials to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. When has that ever happened in America?”
Photo: Courtesy of Organize Now.