NALP women at their training in NYC

Voting Won’t Create Change

I remember the first time I found out we were poor.

I was sitting at our kitchen table, begging my mom for new shoes. All the girls at the middle school had new Nike Air Forces, and I wanted to look fresh to death too.

“Mami, why won’t you buy me new shoes?”

“You already have a pair for school.”

“Yea, but they’re old! I need new ones.”

“Just wash the ones you have now and take better care of them.”

“But why can’t I just get new ones? All the other girls have more than one pair? Why can’t I?”

“Because you don’t need new ones.”

She was right. I didn’t need new shoes. The ones I had worked just fine, but I wanted new ones. And I wanted more clothes, and purses, and more things that I didn’t need.

“Mami, can you buy me new shoes?”

“No, mija, I can’t.”

That’s when it dawned on me.

“Mami, are we poor?”

My mom laughed, “You didn’t know we were poor?!”

I sat there looking at my beautiful young mother, feeling silly. No. I had no idea we were poor. As far as I knew, we had everything we needed. We had food on the table, our lights were always on, and I never needed anything. I had no idea we were poor and struggling.

It was only later in life that I started to connect the dots. The food on the table was bought from our local church or food pantry at reduced prices. My most memorable Christmas one year included bags full of toys and a new bike, which I later learned were donations given to my family from local nonprofit organizations. We were able to receive certain services because our income was so low, services that helped me and my family live with dignity.

My mother loves this country. For her, coming here from Mexico meant that I would receive the education I needed to become independent and self-sufficient. I would grow up in a nation where your wildest dreams can come true because we have better leadership, one that cares to create opportunities and take care of their residents. She worked hard, paid taxes, and focused on us becoming citizens as soon as possible in order for us to begin to vote, a right we knew we would have and wanted. We wanted to become a part of America and build our future here.

I wanted to vote for Obama during his first run. I was 17 and couldn’t. During his re-election, I was signing up everyone and their mom to vote, everyone in my family who was documented and asked them to use their given right. I wanted to be a part of hope, and by then knew how connected the government was to the services I was able to receive growing up. I wanted all of us to pick leadership that would create more opportunities for all of us.

During Obama’s second term, after believing in change and having hope, my family lost three family members to deportation. The same family members I crossed the border with along with my mother when I was only one year old.

How did voting for our first black president change anything for me and my family? How was the political system, which is able to provide funding for services for residents, also able to tear us apart?

That’s when I realized, the system isn’t broken, it works really well, but the outcome fully depends on the input, and so far we haven’t been putting in enough progressive leadership in place. We had an amazing President that was diluted due to the lack of support when in office. One who was a community organizer, understood the structural issues, and navigated his way through adversities and made it to the top. But what’s the point of being at the top, if you’re alone with no one there who can see issues from your point of view, help you create solutions, and work on implementing them?

Voting won’t bring about positive systemic change for the marginalized, but organizing and creating a pipeline of new leadership will. This weekend we saw horror as hate was promoted, thanks to the encouragement of our current president. If we as a country encouraged and invested in creating better leadership, it might be possible that we would have had more options to pick from in 2016, maybe we would have seen candidates that were more diverse.

As racism flares, our economic situation isn’t getting any better. We have to break the windows of the corporations funding pipelines that are killing our land and its people. We also have to break the glass ceilings involved in leadership, and it’s going to have to come from us to define those windows and smash through them.

If you want change, it will have to be you. It is completely up to us. The only way to create paradigm shifts is by changing the way leadership looks, because so far the leadership we have hasn’t been working. What we have been doing isn’t enough.

The system still does not have enough progressive input to create a better output. We have to do more, and this is something the majority of us don’t want to hear. It’s going to take changing leadership across the country in order to shift power from the wealthy and corrupt, to the grassroots and hard working everyday citizens. Yes, we will respond to hate with rallies, but will have to be at the table to create better policies. Yes, we have to close down the streets shouting and demanding justice, but we also have to galvanize our youth to become the public servants we need.

We have lives to live. We want to enjoy parks, good paying jobs, benefit from good health insurance, travel, enjoy our families and friends. I would love to enjoy all of these things, but find it completely unfair how hard it has been for me and my family to reach a proper quality of life.

We pulled our bootstraps. We worked and paid taxes, yet we encountered racism and disrespect along the way, and the racism doesn’t seem to be going away.

Will voting create change? Not if we believe that only one person is going to change everything. One person can inspire many to take action, but it will not be one candidate that single handedly saves us, I believe that we can save ourselves.

Invest in yourself and your leadership, volunteer for the nonprofit organization, mobilize your community, begin to create a pipeline of better public servants, run for office, and then vote for the change you want to see and will create.