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Richmond civic engagement group encourages Latino voters

on October 5, 2012

With only one month until the election, Adam Kruggel is too busy to stay in one room. On a recent Tuesday he spent an evening racing back and forth from a voter phone bank in the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization office to a deferred action training session in the building next door. As the executive director of CCISCO, Kruggel leads both efforts, which have the big-picture goal of improving voter turnout and education on issues affecting Contra Costa’s minority communities.

At CCISCO volunteers sat at computers wearing headpiece microphones and calling Contra Costa County’s infrequent voters—people who have been identified as either unregistered or who have registered but don’t often turn out on Election Day. Members of CLOUD, a group of undocumented young people, and their parents crowded around tables in the adjacent building, huddled over paperwork as a local attorney instructed them on filling out the information properly. As newcomers walked into both spaces, Kruggel greeted them with a handshake.

“We are focused on really empowering and encouraging all people of color to vote, especially all folks who do not traditionally participate in the democratic process,” he said.

The volunteers working the phones are trying to call infrequent voters about the importance of casting their vote in this year’s local and national elections. A majority of the people they call are members of minority communities, and this year CCISCO is especially focused on Latinos.

Latinos are now the largest demographic group in Richmond, at 39.5 percent of the population—a number that has increased from 26.5 percent in 2000 and 14.5 percent in 1990.

But a population surge does not necessarily mean a voter surge. According to an August 2012 survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, Latinos constitute 38 percent of the state population but only 16 percent of California’s likely voters this year. CCISCO is working to increase that number, especially in Richmond.

Up to the voter registration deadline on Oct. 22, CCISCO civic engagement volunteers will contact 30,000 infrequent voters in Contra Costa County, with the goal of getting 8,000 of those individuals to commit to voting, said Claudia Jimenez, a CCISCO community organizer. PICO National—the umbrella network under which CCISCO operates—has committed to turning out 1 million voters in this year’s national election, she said.

CCISCO hosts phone banks in the evenings Monday through Thursday, along with Saturday morning canvassing efforts. The phone bank volunteers not only encourage voter registration, but also advocate for Proposition 30, a statewide ballot measure sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown that would raise California’s sales tax by a quarter of a cent per dollar and increase income taxes for individuals making more than $250,000 for a period of seven years. If the measure passes, the money raised will prevent many struggling local schools from closing, Jimenez said.

“In the immigrant community, low income communities, and communities of color Proposition 30 is a critical measure about really investing in our future, so we are aggressively supporting that,” Kruggel said.

Proposition 30 is particularly important to many of the undocumented youth who volunteer for CCISCO’s civic engagement efforts and attend California’s public high schools and universities, Jimenez said.

While the undocumented volunteers may not be able to vote in this year’s election, they still encourage others to turn out on Election Day, Jimenez said. Latinos who are eligible to vote have an opportunity to be the voice for those who are not legal citizens, she said.

That’s true for national issues like the Dream Act and the push by many undocumented youth for comprehensive immigration reform, but Jimenez said it’s also relevant on a local level.

“[Latinos] have hardly had representation in the school district and the City Council in Richmond,” she said. “We want to have representation in our city that understands and reflects the multicultural piece that is within Richmond.”

Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who was born in Panama City and immigrated to the United States when she was 9 years old, is the only Latino on the City Council. She said she wants to make sure the Latino community knows that she is there to represent them.

“I think that there are a lot of Latino community members who don’t realize I’m a Latina,” she said.

Beckles said she’s dedicated to issues like the Municipal ID legislation passed unanimously by the council last year that benefit Richmond’s undocumented community.

Beckles, the CCISCO volunteers and the organization’s executive director Adam Kruggel share a common goal: to make sure Richmond’s Latinos know their voices are being heard.

Kruggel stopped running around at 7 p.m. ducking out of the night’s activities a bit early to try to catch the tail end of his son’s soccer game.

While CCISCO’s phone banking and canvassing efforts focus largely on increasing voter turnout in this year’s elections, Kruggel stressed that the group’s main goal is to include minority groups in the overall democratic process.

“We’re really focusing in general on engaging people to participate in making democracy real, but also to really vote their value and really stand for a land of opportunity,” he said.

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