Guest Post from Christian Ucles
I write this post in hopes that whoever plans to run for position as Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party heeds the call to not ignore one of the most loyal set of voters of the Democratic Party. People of Color (POC) stand to lose their livelihood in this upcoming Trump administration and now more than ever the Democratic Party in Iowa and nationally can’t ignore our communities any further.
In the last three months of the election I worked as the Latino Coordinator for the Hillary campaign in Iowa and worked to encourage, empower, and embolden the voices of people often marginalized in a rural state like Iowa. I worked along with the Iowa Coalitions Director Maryland Assemblywoman Joseline Peña-Melnyk, African-American Coordinators Vikki Brown and Mary Madison, superstar volunteers in June Owens, Sherry Washington and Brenda Phongsavanh, all working to make sure that the Clinton campaign reached out to communities throughout the state of Iowa.
During that time you would have seen us host all kinds of events to turn out the vote, to empower POC’s throughout the state, not just here in Des Moines but places like West Liberty, Columbus Junction, Ottumwa, Perry, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and many others. The biggest complaint that we heard time and time again from local leaders, community activists and POC media was that Democrats ask for their vote at the last minute possible, but fail to create a sustainable relationship with them after the election. There were even organizations, groups and churches that did their own electioneering campaign to register new voters and to bring them out to vote, but doing so in a non-partisan manner. They should be commended for their hard work, but still it was not enough since they too were strapped for resources.
Invest in our communities
The Iowa Democratic Party is in a rebuilding mode and the future of the IDP needs to be as diverse as possible. We aren’t talking about tokenism here, I’m talking about extending a hand to already politically active POCs and involving them in our party, give them a reason to hope again, and give them a reason to help us become a better party to serve those that most need a seat at the table of power.
This is also a call to all elected officials in the state to do better in reaching out to your constituents and get a chance to know people NOT just in your comfort zone. Shop at our stores, attend our churches, meet with our leaders, get to know our young people and our institutional organizations, include your press releases to our media even if it isn’t in the language they print. In the last month of the election the Hillary Campaign invested $20,000 in statewide advertisement in AFAM/Latinx Radio & Newspapers. (While much more could have been done, we did the best with what was given to us).
We need to change the way we present ourselves to POC communities. Instead of treating them as tokens and begging or expect their votes at the last minute, we should be extending opportunities to them to be involved in the political process. Democratic legislators should be helping to recruit pages, hire clerks, host town hall forums from and in the diverse communities they represent. Appear on POC media outlets from around the state and invest in those entities not just in the last month of the election. Both the House and Senate must identify talented leaders in our community to run for public office in seats that are winnable and not just be used as cannon fodder.
What is at stake?
We have a large refugee population in this state from European, Asian, and African countries. Iowa is home to one of the oldest mosques in the country and many in this community are facing the threat of another “Muslim Registry”. We have a large immigrant community whose gone through several heart-breaking and family separating episodes in the last 10 years. They’re now facing off against one of the most anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-Latin culture President-elect in recent history whose agenda included the demonization of Mexican people, journalist and children, with a plan to deport 3 million people in his first year in office.
We have an incoming administration that has selected Senator Jeff Sessions, a man too racist for the 1980s Republicans in the Senate, but racist enough in this “Alt-right, White Supremacy/Nationalist” reality we live in, to be nominated as the next Attorney General. We have a Republican Party in Iowa that is destined to limit our freedom to vote and to do away with same-day registration, limiting the times, days and locations of early-voting polling places. Worst of all is the longterm damage they will continue to do with our education system and our Medicare/Medicaid programs.
Most of all, what I fear these next four years is the loss of life at the hands of Donald Trump’s administration and how it will directly impact POC’s. Since his election 36 days ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked over 900 race related crimes and incidents. We have seen White Nationalists empowered by him, and racism in America has become as apparent and as open as what we learned about in schools during the Jim Crow era.
Organizations ready to help
There are many organizations in this state doing amazing work to include people in the political arena and while many are non-profits and non-partisan; their leadership can provide great tools to be involved in their communities. Organizations like: Al Exito, Latina Leadership Initiative, Latino Forum, Latino Political Network, the Asian/Latino Coalition, LULAC, Unity in Action, DREAM Iowa, Chinese Association of Iowa, Brown and Black Forum, Urban Dreams, Creative Visions and so many more. These organizations should receive support from our elected officials and candidates to immerse themselves in our community.
I’m not over this election because the results gave me fear that I haven’t felt since the day my step-father was deported. It forced my mom to become a single mother with 3 kids ranging in age of 9 to 21. I know how hard it was on her and my two little brothers growing up without their husband and father. Who would have thought that the government would be implicitly involved in the destruction of our own nuclear family? I know the pain of uncertainty, the questions of “why us God?” While president Obama hasn’t been any better on this issue (as he is called by some Deporter-in-chief) he gave millions hope with his DACA executive decision. While it was crumbs opposed to the lost chance of passing immigration reform during the mandate congress he had between 2009-2010, at least we felt like we had a voice in his administration. In Trump’s administration the voice of millions will be silenced.
I fear for my country, I fear for POCs in this country, I fear that we will see a government that will do everything it can to curb voting rights, human rights, and civil rights at every chance they get. I am not giving Trump the benefit of the doubt or any chances. He has already declared war on immigrants, Muslims, women, AFAM, Latinx, LGBTQ and many other groups by the people he has chosen to lead his government. If the party and its leaders don’t take leadership roles in opposing these attacks by Trump and the party doesn’t give POCs a seat at the table, you will be complicit in whatever mayhem Trump has planned for America in his first and hopefully only term.
All politics is local, all politics is identity politics. Whether the issue that most affect you is the rural versus urban divide, Women’s equality & health, Criminal Justice Reform, Civil Rights, LGBTQ rights, Immigration, economic security etc. These issues are the founding of the Democratic Party as a progressive party since the Civil Rights era.
My hope is that the next chair of the Iowa Democratic Party works with community leaders from across the POC spectrum, re-introduce the party, our elected officials and work in building a broader agenda and plan, for a more diverse party and a winning outcome for all of the citizens of Iowa in 2018. Because the very soul of the Democratic Party is at stake.
by Christian Ucles
Christian Ucles worked as the former Iowa Democratic Party Convention Director, Hillary Clinton Latino coordinator in Iowa and LULAC Iowa Political Director during the 2015-2016 election cycle. He has worked in campaigns in Minnesota, Illinois, and Texas and lives in Windsor Heights.