This blog was written as a tribute to the Congressman John Lewis
July 22 2020 — Consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis, it seems that we are postponing our political rights for the “return to normality”. This approach, however, is not going to allow us to resolve the situation in which we are in. It is a priority that we include within our immediate concerns the exercise of our political rights. The election of local and national leaders, legislators and other public authorities has a direct impact on the capability of our countries to respond to current challenges. Therefore, political rights cannot be a secondary issue, but must be at the center of our discussions and efforts to survive, to overcome challenges, and to find inclusive political projects, in which we all see ourselves represented. The pandemic has made inequity, racism, and xenophobia even more visible in our societies. We have seen first-hand the difference a political leadership committed to the well-being of its people can make, compared to those who seek to benefit themselves or a few.
In the United States, we as civil society work to achieve changes in public policies that address the structural conditions of inequity that generate the prevalence of Covid-19 contagion in historically excluded populations, such as Afro-descendants, Latinos, and indigenous peoples. This means raising our voice in the face of the unfortunate decisions of some elected officials who have worsened the situation of these populations as a result of their actions, such as the exclusion of the immigrant population in economic relief packages amid the health crisis and limitations on the right to vote.
How can we express our voice?
Organize: we must participate in community efforts to generate mutual support and reject measures that are oppressive and contrary to our interests. An example of these actions are the massive protests against racial violence. It has gone from protesting to asking elected officials to prioritize investment in communities, and the protection of the lives of people who are victims of acts of hatred and racism.
Defend and exercise the right to vote: we must know and educate others about our political rights: the right to vote, and the right to be elected and to be a public official. We must know our rights and act so that they are respected. The months of August and September are key to guaranteeing that all people entitled to vote do so in a safe, fair, and transparent manner.
Diversify faces: elected representatives must reflect the racial, ethnic, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity diversity of the society that elected them. They must be able to respond to the challenges of the different electoral districts. Voters hope to find voices and proposals in which they feel included and that respond to the needs of their community. In the last four years we have seen how the composition of federal, state and local legislative bodies has changed with more people who are not part of traditional political circles and who come from the heart of communities. They run for elected office and are elected. That is the renewal that the communities are demanding.
In the case of Mexico there are other challenges. For several decades, the Mexican population residing abroad has led a fight for their political rights. These claims have borne some fruit in terms of political participation. However, the demand for the creation of migrant deputies in all the states of the federation and of mechanisms that facilitate the participation in the electoral process of people residing outside the country continues. In the 2018 elections there was a notable increase in the electoral participation of Mexicans abroad: 98,708 according to data from the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME), which is however very low. In 2021, voting by mail may be exercised pending the approval of the electronic vote for state governnors and migrant deputies. The vote and legislative representation of Mexicans abroad must be part of the political transformation. Mexicans can play a very important role in promoting voting rights of their compatriots residing abroad.
In the case of Central America, in El Salvador, despite the pandemic and some emerging allegations of fraud, political parties are holding internal elections to define their candidates for the legislature. In this period, electoral aspirations begin to emerge among public officials. In Honduras, there is concern about the proposal to postpone the presidential elections, which would result in Juan Orlando Hernández – fraudulently elected in 2017 – continuing in office.
The pandemic has allowed us to confirm the level of commitment our elected officials have to responding to the needs for medical care, and to address the economic crisis that we face. The exercise of political rights is now more important than ever. We are going to choose the authorities that will have the responsibility of reactivating the economy, of offering public health, and of generating the conditions under which we can all move ahead. We must exercise citizen control to ensure that our political leaders respond to the needs of our communities and not to private interests. Today our vote is worth more than ever.