BY JAIME PUENTE
Anticipating the November 6 election, Latino/a students in Texas have taken it upon themselves to get more people to the polls than ever before. University students across the state have used their resources to create videos and organize Walk to Vote rallies to engage disaffected and first time voters.
Undergraduate students who represent several different organizations at the University of Texas at Austin came together under the umbrella group Latino Leadership Council to produce two videos encouraging full Latino/a voter participation. One video is in English, and the other is in Spanish. Both videos cite the growing Latino/a population in the United States as a potential force to be reckoned with. The key, according to the videos, is to get everyone eligible to vote to the polls to make their voices heard. The UT Austin students point to issues like immigration, education, and equality as reasons why all eligible Latino/as need to make their voice heard this year.
Down the road in Houston, the Student Government Association at the University of Houston-Downtown, a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution, spent their semester registering students to vote. The voters registration drive on campus was led by SGA president Ivan Sanchez, and culminated with a Walk to Vote rally. Speaking with Politic365, Sanchez attributes his political awareness to his education at UH-D, but also the loss of the Latina candidate in the new Latino/a city council opportunity district in Houston. With this in mind, Sanchez organized the SGA and other student organization to get more than 1500 new voters registered in time for this year’s election.
Registering voters was not enough for Sanchez. He, along with his SGA team, organized the Walk to Vote rally which featured Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Council member Ed Gonzalez. Both elected officials gave remarks emphasizing the importance of voting and civic engagement.
For Sanchez, the bottom line is that traditional GOTV methods are boring to students. Making it fun was a top priority to engage first time voters. According to Sanchez, “the whole point was to march to the polls” because “a lot of us are pro-education, we want jobs after graduation, so I wanted students to be heard.” The UH-D Walk to Vote event featured a flash mob, cheerleaders cheering for Obama and Romney as well as the school glee club singing the Star Spangled Banner.” The event gathered more than 300 students and participants, and took more than 150 first time voters to vote early at the Harris County Annex in Downtown Houston.
Asked what he would do different next time, Sanchez states, “The one thing I would change is to move it a week earlier since the politically active students already voted. I want to spike those polls up a little more to truly make a statement on who UH-D students are. We are not your typical students. We are your parents, we are your part time/full time working students.”
The non-partisan rally at UH-Downtown served to engage first time voters around the issues most important to them. It’s main contribution to local and national politics for Sanchez is that the new voters will “forever be installed in the political scene and those involved will tell their friends how exciting it was [to vote] because the best type of marketing is word of mouth.”
Like the students in the Latino Leadership Council at UT Austin, Sanchez and the Student Government Association at UH-Downtown used what they know about their classmates and community to be proactive about voting. Texas students are using their resources to make their collective voice heard amidst the cacophony of the multi-billion dollar professional political campaigns. If the major parties really want to reach new Latino/a voters they should contact the students of UT Austin and UH-Downtown to listen, watch and learn how to get Latino/as to the polls.