Column: Time to wake the sleeping giant

By Matt Simmons

On Monday, an estimated crowd of 1,000 University students and members of surrounding communities gathered on campus to protest House Resolution 4437. The bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, strengthens border security and turns illegal immigrants and their supporters into felons. Protesters marched down Green Street from Neil Street to the Quad.

Many of the protesters marched with signs, others carried American and Mexican flags, and many chanted in both Spanish and English. During the Quad rally, some of the attendees attempted to call Rep. Tim Johnson (R-15), a supporter of the legislation, to persuade him to change his vote and support a more immigrant-friendly bill. Opponents of the House bill have mobilized on a massive scale around the nation in protest, drawing over a million protesters to rallies across the country.

This large mobilization of immigrant supporters is refreshing to those of us who strongly support earned citizenship for illegal immigrants, however, these large rallies and marches may be hurting the cause. One conservative tactic that has worked effectively in recent years is to paint liberals as whiney and abrasive. By definition, rallies include whining. Because of this, rallies may alienate more people than they persuade, which is the complete opposite of what we want to happen.

Still, I will admit that large demonstrations have helped make the immigration battle salient in the minds of many Americans. Yes, they have caused both Bill Frist (R-TN) and Dennis Hastert (R-14), the leaders of the Senate and House respectively, to withdraw their support of legislation that will make illegal immigrants felons. However, demonstrations are not enough. We cannot guarantee that members of Congress will not try to pull a stunt like this in the future, during a non-election year.

Some opponents of the bill in Texas and North Carolina are talking about organizing an economic boycott to voice their disapproval. Boycotts are effective because people pay attention when you mess with their money. Just look at the success civil rights activists had with boycotts in the South during the 60s.

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    The only sure way for opponents of this bill to protect themselves is by more participation at the ballot box. Because of their rapidly increasing size and their relatively low levels of political participation, Latinos are referred to as the sleeping giant in the American political arena. According to the 2000 census, far fewer Latinos are registered to vote than blacks or whites. In 2000, only 35 percent of Latinos were registered compared to 64 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites. I am sure the numbers have improved over the past six years, but work must be done in this area.

    Also, the Latinos that do vote have been moving away from the Democratic Party to support the GOP. In 2000, Al Gore received two-thirds of the Latino vote compared to the 53 percent John Kerry got in 2004. The current battle in Congress clearly shows which party better represents Latino interests. Just look at the bill that came out of the Republican-dominated House. No bill resembling HR-4437 will come out of the Senate, where the Democratic voice cannot be ignored. If Latinos come out in large numbers to support Democrats in November, they can be assured that no bill like HR-4437 will come close to passing either chamber.

    If students here are serious about taking action, they should organize trips to Chicago or even areas in the Southwest where large numbers of Latinos do not vote. There, they could hold large voter registration drives and persuade registered voters to exercise their right to vote. Students could explain to potential voters which politicians will best represent them.

    But one good thing can come from this horrible piece of legislation; the sleeping giant that is the Latino voting could be awakened and heard in American politics for years to come.

    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].