The political system is rigged, and our elections have historically been controlled by corporations and big money. This infiltration of our democratic institutions creates a disconnect between the government and the people, especially those in lower-income communities. The full impact of this disconnect and marginalization is increasingly being felt in working-class neighborhoods affected by high crime and violence, inferior public schools, inaccessible higher education, unhealthy and unaffordable healthcare, environmental racism, police abuse and mass incarceration.
Growing up in Santa Monica’s Pico neighborhood, I experienced the struggle of marginalization and poverty firsthand. Unfortunately, my upbringing is a common experience for many Latinos living in California, and what is most troubling is that the promise of upward social mobility through education and hard work is becoming an elusive dream for many, not just Latinos. With the reality of the aforementioned social conditions in mind, I proudly stepped onstage last month at my alma mater, Santa Monica High, to introduce presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
As a progressive Democrat, I am inspired by the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign in engaging both Latinos and an overwhelming number of youth. Latino voters working in a multicultural and multigenerational coalition can become the most influential group in the most powerful progressive voting block ever assembled in California’s political history. Though Latinos constitute the majority of the state’s population, we are a minority when it comes to political power; two of every 10 California voters are expected to be Latino in the June 7 primary elections. This can change if we organize, vote and get involved in all areas of leadership.
There is great promise in the fact that many Latino voters have come to understand that we have a rare moment to support a presidential candidate like Sanders, who has taken a principled stand on the issues that our families care most about:
Higher Education Reform
Sanders is proposing tuition-free higher education for every American and the reversal of the burden of college loan debt. This policy will have a positive multiplier effect on families, communities and our overall economy.
Income Inequality Reform
The current economic system, in which the vast majority of new wealth and income belongs to the top 1 percent while most of the rest of us toil daily to survive, must change. Sanders supports policies that will lift working people out of poverty and rebuild the middle class. He supports increasing the national minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next few years, providing 60 percent of Latino workers with a raise.
Our immigration system is broken. Sanders will work to establish a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers, support the Dream Act and implement humane treatment of immigrants by eliminating privately run detention centers and expanding funding for legal representation to guest workers who have been abused by employers.
Racial Justice Reform
No other presidential candidate in modern history has ever had the courage to include racial justice as a campaign platform. Ending the private, for-profit prison racket, ending the mass incarceration caused by the failed war on drugs, demilitarizing our law enforcement agencies and curtailing the war machine so that we can make real investments in our country’s most precious resource — its people — is crucial for equity and equality.
Wall Street and Banking Institutions Reform
Less than a decade ago, poor banking practices and the pursuit of consumer-generated revenue helped to trigger the worst recession this country has seen in generations. In May 2015, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a civil suit against Wells Fargo, alleging bank employees opened unauthorized accounts and used other illegal tactics to meet rigid and unrealistic sales goals. Sanders is leading the charge to bring Wall Street and the Big Banks under control by creating a banking system with integrity and transparency.
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The most visible movements of Latino grass-roots leaders and activists involve struggles against racism and discrimination. Latino leaders are defining a new era of progressive politics in California, and the Sanders campaign has embraced these issues. My prediction is that a majority of Latinos will join fellow progressives and working-class families across all ethnic groups to vote for Bernie Sanders. I will proudly be joining them.
Beyond the election, all of those who donated and voted for Sanders need to find ways to stay connected and organized. If we can harness the power of the campaign and apply it to local races, we can begin to shift our democracy in ways that will benefit all communities.
As a school board member who is committed to expanding access and opportunity through education, I know that, as president, Sanders will restore the promise of the American dream. Latinos who feel the Bern understand that a vote for Sanders represents more than support for a presidential candidate. Supporting this campaign is about being part of a political revolution that intends to give more power to those who are wrongfully denied it. Sanders has given us more than hope. He has taught our generation that it’s possible to challenge the establishment. On Eection Day, we must let the country know that here in California, we choose people over profits.
Oscar de la Torre is a current member of the Santa Monica-Malibu USD Board of Education and founder-CEO of the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC).