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OPINION: Are Latinx Leaders Destined to Be the “Wallflowers” at the Democratic National Convention — Will Dems Blow the Chance to Expand Their Tent in 2021?

OPINION: Are Latinx Leaders Destined to Be the “Wallflowers” at the Democratic National Convention — Will Dems Blow the Chance to Expand Their Tent in 2021?

Welcome to the brave new world of political conventions in the digital space. 2020 is not just any year and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) has gone digital with all the political glad-handing taking place online. Elbows are bumping and distancing is social. The coronavirus and the ineptitudes of the Trump Administration are creating a convention for the history books.

The hot-and-cold combo in the Democratic ticket is exciting. With the addition of the whip-smart Senator Kamala Harris paired with the seasoned, president-to-be Joe Biden, a potentially lackluster campaign crackles like a jolt of electricity. But in the middle of the uplifting speeches and the detailed listing of President Trump’s failings, have the Dems overlooked the benefits of courting a key constituency?

In an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro, discussed his work mobilizing Latinx voters and coalitions in preparation for the presidential election. But he also expressed some frustration over the short shrift this community appears to be getting from the DNC’s planning committee. Castro said, “I commented, like other people did, that, when the prime-time lineup was released, only three out of 35 speakers were Latino. There were no Native Americans, no Muslim Americans. And I said that I didn’t think that that necessarily reflected the beautiful, diverse coalition the Democrats have won with over the last few years.”

Given the hard-edged attacks against the Latinx community in the form of enforced refugee family separations at the U.S./Mexico border, continued attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and a general demonizing of Mexican culture during Trump’s campaign of terror; Democrats have a chance to step in and build a stronger relationship with this community. There’s plenty of room in the tent. But will Democrats welcome Latinx constituencies like the VIPs they are? According to the Pew Research Center, a whopping 23 million Latinx individuals are eligible to vote this year, a statistically significant number in the American population. 

However, by allocating a minuscule 60-second speech to a firebrand like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it might be seen as an insult to those voters. Today a power broker, in 2018 AOC burst onto the scene as a political novice, unseating a veteran Democratic politician in Joe Crowley and replacing him in the House of Representatives. By overlooking star power like this, what message are Democrats sending to a voting block that could push Democratic wins up and down the ballot? Plus, AOC brings millions of followers on Twitter. That’s not chicken feed. That’s power. 

The problem for Democrats is how to bring more progressive energy into the tent without alienating the moderates and the moderate Republicans who are fleeing a party with an increasingly White supremacist narrative? It’s a given that most Democrats of whatever persuasion, will unite behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Bernie Sanders saw to that when he encouraged his base of loyal followers to take up Biden’s mantle. But, when the digital balloons come down and our screens return to Zoom chats, will the Democratic party make a strong place at the table for American Latinos and their leadership?  Or, as evidenced by the flimsy schedule of Latinx speakers, will the Democrats turn this valuable constituency into “wallflowers” waiting for an invitation to the party but forced to sit out? 

Image credit: Jezael Melgoza/Unsplash

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I love telling, reading, and writing stories. I freelance as a writer, editor, and all-around trouble-maker. I live in Atlanta with my dogs, Jaco, and Trane.

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