AUSTIN, Texas – Thousands of people streamed into the Austin Convention Center July 12-15 for the National Council of La Raza Annual Conference and Latino Expo fair. A general theme running throughout the conference was, as NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre put it, “We [Latinos] fought hard for democracy. Now democracy has to work for us.” Organizers estimate that about 20,000 participated during the four days of the event.

The conference featured a wide variety of workshops on topics ranging from problems facing Latino communities and their different segments; youth, seniors, women and new immigrants, and how to organize around them; and issues of everyday living and strategies for how to deal with them.

A number of political leaders addressed the conference. Among these were Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, both candidates for the Democratic nomination to run against George W. Bush in 2004. Both Kerry and Dean took the opportunity to blast Bush and his administration’s policies towards Latinos and other minorities, the poor and working people.

At the July 13 opening plenary, titled “The State of Hispanic America,” Yzaguirre criticized Bush, saying, “The truth is that for the issues that matter to us, this administration has been a major disappointment for the Latino community.” He said the Bush’s campaign promises had “turned out to be a false image, a mirage.” Saying “we have already much too waited too long,” Yzaguirre called on the assembled Latino leaders to not just get out the vote but also become informed about the real issues affecting the Latino communities throughout the country.

The NCLR was founded in 1968 to “reduce poverty and discrimination and improve life opportunities” for Latinos in the U.S., according to its mission statement. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has over 300 affiliated organizations in 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Most of its affiliates are located in the western and southwestern part of the country.

A more extensive report on the conference will appear in next week’s issue of the PWW/Mundo.

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