African Americans and Mexican Americans — and really all Latinos — have much to gain in the 2008 elections. There are opportunities for both communities to work together and lead the growing movement for political change in Washington.

The Black-Latino alliance is a major force that brings our communities closer in a world where racism, economic injustice and inequalities are deeply rooted throughout every aspect of our past and present.

One example of how such unity brought progress for everyone was the campaign to elect Harold Washington mayor of Chicago. Washington was Chicago’s first African American mayor, elected 25 years ago, and his words on the night of his historic Democratic primary victory have parallel meaning today.

He said, “The people of Chicago want City Hall to be purged of every appearance of criminal influence, inside dealing and corruption. In Chicago, the people want an open and fair government, in which all the people regardless of race, creed or color be treated fairly, equally and equitably. By today’s vote, the Democratic Party has been returned to the people.”

Washington made history that year and put Chicago on the map due to the coalition of Black, Latino and white progressive forces that culminated in a record turnout of voters — at 88 percent and over 1.4 million votes, it was the highest for Chicago since 1944.

The multiracial coalition for political unity that put Washington in office was in large part due to the Latino vote, which by itself had a record turnout of 62 percent, 82 percent of whom voted for Washington.

That was an era of hopeful activism. Washington’s mayoral tenure was a time of government transparency, political change, fairness, progress on racial equality and ending overt racism. With Washington’s victory, progressive forces and Chicagoans of all ethnicities celebrated their success and prepared to fight for more victories during the ultra-right administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Like Harold Washington, Sen. Barack Obama, on a much larger scale, could make political history by becoming the first African American president. And if it wasn’t for Washington’s example and the coalition forces in Chicago at that time, Obama might not be in the position he is in today.

There have been some talk that Mexican Americans and other Latinos aren’t going to vote for Obama, that we “aren’t ready” to vote for a Black man or we have nothing in common.

But poverty, unemployment, exploitation of workers, lack of health care, failing public schools, poor housing and neighborhood violence are real and unfortunate conditions that both the Black and Latino communities (and working-class whites) have to live with.

And as billions of dollars are being spent on the military and the Iraq war instead of people’s needs, and as the U.S. economy continues to undergo a crisis, it is the disenfranchised poor communities, and especially those of color, that suffer the most.

Mexican Americans and African Americans share similar values such as understanding the importance of a good education, working hard and loving our families.

It is false to assume that Latinos are not prepared to vote for Obama. Or by extension that Latinos and Blacks have nothing in common.

And we Latinos also have a responsibility to articulate our issues that need addressing by all the candidates — and not assume that any one candidate will do it for us.

Latinos of all nationalities, U.S. born or immigrant, men and women, younger and older, have to be agents of change too and reach out to others. That’s what was done during the historic Washington election — and the whole city won with that victory.

In the end, the 2008 elections can change the course of history. In the end we have one goal — to defeat the Republican ultra-right that has been in power for the last seven years.

In order to do that we must continue to fight for multiracial unity, and the African American and Latino communities together have to be in the forefront pushing a pro-people agenda.

So let the reactionaries tremble at our unity in action. Together we have nothing to lose but our common oppression. And we have an election to win!

Pepe Lozano (plozano@pww.org) is a People’s Weekly World editorial board member.

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