Latino political power and the Democratic Convention

Democrats cannot win without Latinos, and cannot win Latino support unless they defeat Simpson-Mazzoli.

William Gallegos


In a matter of weeks, the racist Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill has gone from almost certain adoption to possible defeat. Forces that supported (or weakly opposed) the bill now vocally oppose it, including Mondale, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and AFL-CIO leader Lane Kirkland.

Latinos made their stand clear at the convention: that the Democrats cannot win without Latino support and cannot win Latino support without decisive opposition to Simpson-Mazzoli.

For the first time, the Democratic Convention was forced to address Latino demands. Most of the struggle took place in the Hispanic Caucus and other convention activities. But what ultimately forced the Democrats to respond was the emerging independent social movement of 17 million Chicanos and Latinos for political power and against Simpson- Mazzoli.

At the convention

Latinos insisted that party leadership take public stands committing the party to kill Simpson-Mazzoli in Conference Committee.

To back up this demand, Mario Obledo, president of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) called for a boycott by Latino delegates on the first ballot of the presidential nomination. This call sent shock waves among Mondale forces, while exciting the Hart forces — both sides realizing that if the boycott succeeded, it could deny Mondale the nomination on the first ballot. With 261 Latino delegates — the largest number in Democratic Party history — and with 150 committed to Mondale, the boycott strategy seemed to have a chance.

Mondale supporters such as Congressman Bob Garcia of New York and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros attempted to defuse the call, urging Latino delegates to have faith in Mondale and citing that the party platform already opposed certain features of Simpson- Mazzoli (ID cards, employer sanctions, etc.) But many delegates stood their ground, forcing Cisneros and others to meet with Mondale the second day of the convention, and winning a concession from Mondale.

LULAC called off the boycott the day of the nomination based on verbal commitments from Mondale and Lane Kirkland to work to defeat the racist bill. It was clear that the Mondale campaign was exerting strong pressure on its delegates to tow the line.

Need for unity

Two opposing lines developed among Latino delegates. On one side stood Mondale forces, entrenched within the party — hence they preached reliance on the party leadership. They had to be pushed by more militant forces to take a stronger stand.

On the other side were new party activists and minor functionaries allied to Hart or Jackson. Even Obledo, a Jackson supporter, is influential as a leader of LULAC but an outsider to the Democratic Party machine. The Hart and Jackson Latinos differed on tactical approaches with the Jackson forces providing the sharpest progressive stand.

Jackson forces generally supported the boycott threat as a way of wresting concessions from the Mondale camp. However, they called for a vote for Jackson by ail Latino delegates as a protest vote for the candidate with the strongest against Simpson-Mazzoli and for just immigration reform. Jackson was also the only candidate to demand Latino representation at the top levels of the Mondale campaign. The Jackson forces picked up some support, especially as it became clear that most Mondale delegates would hold firm with their candidate, and there would be no second ballot. But even after LULAC called off the boycott, about 35 mostly Hart delegates abstained.

Nonetheless, the threat of a boycott made possible by the militancy of the mass movement forced the middle-class Chicano leaders to stiffen their stand, and forced the Democratic leadership to verbally commit themselves to defeat Simpson-Mazzoli. Latino activists will need to keep up the pressure to make sure the promise is fulfilled.

Following the example of Jackson and the Black leadership group which placed demands on the Democrats for increased Black political representation, Latinos should fight for the Democratic Party to:    * commit financial resources to a massive voter registration drive among Latinos, and to helping at least one additional Chicano in each of the five Southwestern states to win a seat in Congress;

* work to end second primaries and gerrymandering in the Southwestern states and other areas of Latino concentration;

* firmly oppose attacks on bilingual ballots and the proposed amendment to make English the official language; • fight for immigrants’ (permanent residents’) right to vote in local and state elections;

* appoint Latinos to top Mondale campaign staff positions.

These bare minimum demands are part of the democratic struggle of the Chicano people in the Southwest for self- determination and of all Latinos for equality. They can be won, but given the Democrats’ history of denying political representation to Latinos and other minorities, the struggle requires unity and independent mass strength, not weakness and conciliation.

Latinos can learn much from the Jackson campaign and the Black Movement for democracy and political empowerment. In fact, Latinos and Black people must join forces to fight against voting barriers and for democratic political representation. Latinos have yet to develop the same level of unity and organization, but the convention struggle is a clear beginning.