Things are looking pretty bleak in the political world these days. Sure, Congress didn't shut down the government this time around, but gridlock still dominates the halls of Washington. We're still waiting on commonsense immigration reform, a raise in the federal minimum wage, extension of unemployment insurance for those still affected by a sluggish economy, real action on climate change, among a host of other challenges that confront our country and that require urgent attention.
Vote because every election matters. Vote because the choices you will make matter. Vote because elections aren't simply about your representatives in Washington or who is president. Who you choose this November to lead your local and state governments -- whether as your governor, mayor, city council member, or your state senator -- will have a serious impact on the life of your community. When we vote for our state and local officials, we make choices that will have very direct and concrete effects on our daily lives.
Voting matters. When voters don't turn out to choose their local and state governments, they receive a government that doesn't represent them. Consider the case of Ferguson, Missouri, recently in the news due to the tragic shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Community groups have vociferously complained that their city government has failed to pursue justice for the killing of Michael Brown.
There is a good reason why Ferguson's mayor, City Council, and police department aren't responding to the needs of the community -- the majority of the community didn't vote to represent their needs. As a board member of the Missouri NAACP put it recently: "We warned people about these kinds of things. Who hires the police officers? The police chief. Who hires the police chief? The mayor. Who hires the mayor? Who elects the council folks?" The answer is clear -- the voters.
In a state like Florida where Latinos have the power to change the electorate, we can find both good and bad policies resulting from whom voters choose for local and state office. Falling firmly into the good category are the actions of State Senator Darren Soto. First elected to Florida's State Senate in 2007, the young lawmaker has not only consistently championed immigration reform on the national level, but also served as a driving force behind Florida's state "DREAM Act," a bill, signed into law by the governor this June, that allows undocumented Florida students to attend state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.
That said, Florida voters didn't solely elect legislators like Senator Soto. A host of ills that plague Florida -- including a lack of paid sick leave for the state's workers, Rick Scott's veto of Medicaid expansion that has left thousands of Floridians unable to afford health insurance and medical care, to the vigilante justice and unaccountable slayings encouraged by "Stand-Your-Ground" laws -- can be traced back to the 2010 electoral victories of Fl. Gov. Rick Scott and hard-line GOP state legislatures. The case of Florida demonstrates the profound importance, for better and for worse, of voting in midterm and off-year elections.
Voting for state and local officials has very real consequences. It can mean the difference between whether or not you can afford life-saving health care. It can mean whether an ambitious young American can afford to attend college and pursue their dreams. It can determine whether justice is served when a young, unarmed man is shot by those who are supposed to protect and serve the community. Congress may be as unproductive as ever, but the health and prosperity of our communities isn't determined solely by Washington. It doesn't matter what state you are in -- every eligible and registered Latino voter must turn out this time and every time in order for the community to be respected and represented.