Sometimes, we focus too much on the negative. Good news just doesn't seem to get the same traction that bad news does. But as families gather around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving, we at Voto Latino thought we would remember some of the many good things that happened this year, things that remind us that we're a democracy and that the people have power. The 10 items on this list show that government can work for the people and that the people can bring about change through action.
1. Online voter registration in California
In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Online Voter Registration bill that allows Californians to register to vote through their county's election office website. Given that the primary reason people don't vote is that they miss registration deadlines, allowing people to register at the last minute from the comfort of their homes will lead to a more inclusive electorate. Now that's progress we can all cheer!
2. DREAM Act passed by states
While some states dedicated their resources to divisive laws that try to scapegoat immigrants, a handful of states this year recognized that investing in their young people's education, regardless of legal status, will help their economies thrive in the long run. California, Maryland and Illinois passed some version of the DREAM Act that will allow undocumented students to enroll in state colleges, and in certain instances, will extend financial aid opportunities to them. Great news, indeed.
3. Rep. Luis Gutierrez
We love elected officials who step up to lead a fight. And perhaps no one embodies that spirit today more than Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. From organizing tours around the country to highlight individual stories of suffering caused by deportations, to leading a congressional delegation to fight SB 56 in Alabama, Gutierrez has been an unflinching and steadfast advocate for hardworking immigrants. We hope more elected officials step outside of their DC offices to follow his lead.
4. Fight to Keep Families Together
States and cities across the country rejected a federal immigration program, Secure Communities, that requires police to send detainees' fingerprints for comparison against the FBI database. New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and the District of Columbia have told ICE they don't want to participate in the program because it is leading to the detention and deportation of too many people charged with minor offenses, including traffic stops, or even victims of domestic violence. ICE has said participation is not voluntary. Still, the actions by these cities and states has led to revisions in the program.
5. Same-day Voter Registration
In November, the people in Maine overwhelmingly voted to uphold same-day voter registration. With the "People's Veto," Maine overturned a law that had ended the 38-year-old practice of allowing voters to register on Election Day. Same-day voter registration makes it easier for people to vote, which we love. And the fact that the people protected it makes us love it even more.
6. Pearce recalled in Arizona
Arizona set off a national wave of laws hostile to immigrants and Latinos with the passing of SB 1070 last year. It turned out that the voters in Russell Pearce's district weren't pleased that their elected official was the author and one of the most ardent supporters of the law. Pearce used the national notoriety he achieved from promoting SB 1070 to secure powerful position of president of the state senate where he continued trying to pass even more restrictive anti-immigrant laws. But the people displeased with SB 1070 and his obsession with divisive laws didn't give up. They fought to get a recall election on the ballot and ousted Pearce from his seat. Si se pudo!
7. Occupy Wall Street Movement
We love seeing people actively involved in shaping the country's future. It's awesome to see OWS inspiring so many young people to speak out against the growing wealth inequality in the U.S. and challenge the relationship and influence corporations have with our government. People do have the power to change things, and movements like OWS breathe new life into the democratic process. We hope the next place these engaged people occupy is the ballot box.
Probably no movement is more coherent or active right now than the networks of people fighting for the DREAM Act. Through sheer people power, they have kept the DREAM Act going forward, winning legislation at the state level and petitioning to stop the deportations of DREAMers, including Matias Ramos, co-founder of United We Dream. The DREAMers seem to be everywhere: at Border Patrol offices challenging their failure to comply with a memo urging use of discretion to detain only immigrants with criminal records, and in Alabama, exposing themselves as undocumented and unafraid to show solidarity against HB 56.
9. Voter registration pep rallies
Pep rallies across the country are encouraging high school students to get civically engaged and register for voting. In McAllen, Texas more than 5,000 high school seniors were registered to vote in a celebration that resembled a pep rally. With more than 50,000 young Latinos turning 18 every month, it's more urgent now than ever that we organize voter drives like pep rallies to ensure that new voters are educated, engaged and empowered to hit the polls!
10. Social Media
Social media is enabling revolutions across the globe. Thanks to phones and gadgets, we are able to capture events as they happen, and within minutes spread, that information to millions across the globe. In February, we witnessed the Egyptian revolution. In August, there was the Libyan Civil War with thousands marching the streets of Tripoli. And most recently, we witnessed police brutality against students and peaceful protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement. We love seeing kittens on YouTube, but seeing social media used to help democracy flourish is a lot more gratifying.