By Ivonne Diaz
I was phonebanking a few days ago, something I’ve done since the 2016 elections. I had a person on the phone who said, “I am registered but I am not planning on voting.” He then said, “I don’t want to, I don’t think it matters this time.”
I felt furious inside but I calmly replied and said, “I can’t vote. I am making calls because this is the way for me to help. Voting is a privilege that you have and I don’t, yet a lot of the decisions being made still affect me, so I really hope you reconsider it.” He said OK and we both hung up.
With failed policies and politicians, I understand why so many young people don’t want to vote. And unfortunately I have calls like these daily. Young voters are asking for more, and will not settle for empty promises or half commitments. Nonetheless, with so much at stake – including rights about our own bodies – we need more people to be out at the polls.
Positive change in our communities and in society is more visible when we engage civically, not just through voting but through all the various ways that are meant to create accountability, not just for public servants but also for members of society.
We all have a role to play whether it be by voting, by engaging or by listening to constituents, and enacting good policies that benefit the people and not the rich. This is what makes us, and keeps us, functional as a community.
As a DACA recipient, I am directly affected by many policies and laws guided by the waves of hate that legislators have embraced after 2016. Without the privilege of voting, I have often felt powerless. But even more, I feel appalled when someone says they will not vote.
After conversations with disillusioned voters, I reminded myself that even if I don’t have the privilege I can still be civically engaged. Not having the privilege to vote does not have to set me back and I don’t have to stand on the sidelines. I reminded myself how important and powerful my voice can be, especially when it’s joined by others. I reminded myself of the times I have rallied, gotten out the vote, called my representatives to defend my rights as a community member, and have thus made my voice heard.
In August, I was at the El Paso County Courthouse and turned in a letter to the District Attorney Yvonne Rosales that was signed by different organizations, community leaders and a couple elected officials. In the letter I asked her to join a coalition of district attorneys across the country and to commit to deprioritize abortion cases. I asked her to factor our city’s demographics, where not everyone can travel for health services. I then proceeded to organize a sit-in outside her office until we had a response from her.
After multiple attempts to get a response from her, we met. It was not pretty. I saw her at the elevators and approached her, asked if she had read the letter, I was shaking. She asked me “who are you?” And after the elevator ride she told me to sit down and that she would meet with me.
Minutes later, I received a call from Paul Ferris, spokesman for the DA, saying they had opened up a space for me but only I was allowed to come in. I naively agreed, met with Ferris and he introduced me to an attorney that works for them, I forgot her name.
I was told I was getting security checked. I agreed even though I had been scanned at the main entrance. Three sheriff officers approached me, including a woman. I felt like she patted me down but it was a scanning wand. Then I was told to take off my shoes and shake them.
After this intimidation, I finally met with Rosales, along with four other people, including Ferris and the attorney he introduced at the beginning. I wish I had taken notes of names, but I was not allowed to bring my phone, which I pointed out later during our meeting. Rosales ordered to bring a pen and paper for me to take notes.
I talked about personal trauma in a room full of attorneys. I believed that if I shared my personal story and why it was important to me to protect people that can get pregnant, she would be compassionate and change her mind and sign the letter.
She did not sign the letter.
Rallies, protests, intimidating encounters with politicians, these are the things I have to do to make myself heard, to make sure the needs of my community and mine are not overlooked. But you don’t have to resort to these measures all the time.
Democracy doesn’t have to be this complex, terrifying, or intimidating; making your voice heard doesn’t have to always be shouting in the streets. It can be as simple as going out to the polls. Vote.
There are only a few more days before elections that will determine everyone’s future, because politics affect us all. I am urging registered voters to go out there, do your research, and vote not only for what you believe but for what is right.
Voting is more than a privilege and responsibility, it is looking out for each other, respecting others, being there for others.
On the same day I talked to that disillusioned voter I received a message that gave me hope. It was from my friend Carmen, she has been mobilizing her community and many others to vote. She told me, “I voted today,” for the ones that can’t.
Ivonne Diaz is regional field coordinator for Texas Rising, a member of Undocuchucos 915 and a volunteer with United We Dream The Squad’s Action. The views in this essay are hers and don’t represent her employer or other organizations she supports.