I want to begin sharing my thoughts with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln at his Gettysburg address in 1865 that says “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I believe it is our duty as the people to create and protect a more democratic society, to bring about the change needed to meet our needs in the 21st Century. Needs like better education, high paying jobs, immigration reform, affordable housing, healthcare, smarter urbanization, and infrastructure. In the Rio Grande Valley we have historical low numbers in voter turnout, and people feel more disconnected with government than any other time in recent history. Moreover, there is lack of all other forms of civic participation that in turn leaves massive voids of political power usually filled by special interest.
Today many people in the Rio Grande Valley and across the country think of government and politics with a negative view. Yes, it is true, under the wrong hands and unrepresentative leadership government and politics can be harmful for the people, but politics can also be a tool to bring about freedom and democracy. It is our responsibility as citizens to leave no voids open for harmful special interest that only look out for themselves. Every time you don’t vote, every time you miss a town hall meeting, every time you don’t call your elected official, you only help open the doors for special interest to take control of government. Deciding to not vote and not be civically involved isn’t going to free us; it’s only going to lock us up even more.
Everyday people, working families, have increasingly lost a say so in government. Today powerful political influential groups are ones with big money and specific interest that almost never benefits the people. This became even truer in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaign contributions. As a result we have seen politicians work to pass and defend policies that favor specific corporations instead of prioritizing the needs of the people.
With that said we the people need to stand up and demand our voices to be heard through our vote and all other forms of civic participation. Not only should you vote, you should organize your friends, families, communities to be engaged civically. Get involved with local groups working to empower everyday people politically. If you are passionate for something like better jobs, education, immigration, government transparency, safety, healthcare, or something else, get involved and have your voice heard on the issues that affect you.
In the Rio Grande Valley it is of great importance to have our voices heard. The Valley is moving from an agricultural tradition to an urbanized region, and to make this transition as positive as possible we must plant the seeds of civic participation that will bear the fruit of empowerment for all or our citizens. This massive growth and urbanization has the potential to make the Valley a strong region that can provide greater opportunities and a greater place to live for its entire people. In order for the region to meet its potential, the people must be included in developing and designing how this Valley is going to look. First, our elected officials should make greater investments to bring people to the table when decisions are being made, and second the voter turnout and civic participation of people needs to become part of our lives. After all, these are government decisions that are going to affect our lives. To put it simply we are the government, me, you, your uncle, mother, teacher, the list goes on and on.
As a history scholar I have learned about individuals that led struggles for the right to vote for women and people of color. Let us not forget the shoulders of giants we are sitting on that fought for our right to vote.
Daniel Diaz is lead community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero in the group’s Mercedes, Texas, office. La Unión del Pueblo Entero is a non-profit that seeks to empower low-income and immigrant families in Hidalgo County. Diaz hails from Palmview, Texas.