In a historic show of transparency and openness by the Obama Administration, a group of 150 Latino community leaders and activists had the unprecedented opportunity to attend the ’s first-ever Policy Conference. LATISM, represented by Giovanni Rodriguez and Elianne Ramos, is honored to have been part of this historic moment, and we’d like to thank the White House team for making our participation possible.
The event aimed at providing access, resources and opportunities to connect and brainstorm with White House Officials and influential leaders from across the Latino community spectrum to discuss today’s most pressing issues for Latinos, including: expanding access to affordable and quality health care, reforming our nation’s education system, protecting civil rights, addressing access broadband and adoption disparities, job creation and workforce development, the economy, social innovation and fixing the broken immigration system.
While folks not present at the event got a partial view of the first day breakout sessions on the Conference’s live stream and via Hubert Humphrey building over those two days., there was no possible way for the camera – or 140 characters, for that matter – to capture the flurry of activity and energy –the magnitude – of what was really going inside the White House walls and at the
Both in its format and in its depth of interactivity, the conference was groundbreaking. Its premise was simple: to be a platform for connecting the federal policy makers with the “miracle workers” at the community level. While it most certainly surpassed expectations in that regard, I believe the true significance of the event runs a lot deeper, and with proper follow-up and action, it may actually change the narrative for Latinos in this country.
Ongoing, Two-Way Interaction
On the heels of this experience, there is a huge cultural shift going on – or that needs to be going on – in our community, in terms of what Latinos expect and demand from the government… and viceversa. Having access to officials only goes so far if the outcomes from that communication stop at access. For the Administration, it means keeping open ears as well as providing acknowledgment and swift response to the messages that will undoubtedly begin to pour their way. For the rest of us, it means we must be willing –and have gotten express permission from the Administration –to interact, to share our concerns, ideas and needs with them. This openness is all the more remarkable since previous administrations had never shared that opportunity to our community, at least not in such a decidedly open way. It is an opportunity that we all should embrace, regardless of our political leanings. It is time for our community to take a deep, hard look at our current situation in every area of our American lives, to take ownership of our collective power, and to engage in constructive dialog –with the government, our communities, and with ourselves – a dialog that is conducive to a real and meaningful improvement of life for all .
Giving everyday, grassroots champions of the Latino community the ability to express their concerns, ask questions and demand answers directly from the people who are in charge of specific initiatives within the government, and to walk out of the room with personal contact information from each and everyone of these officials, warrants – or at least facilitates – access that will not be limited to the conversations that went on that day. But beyond access, it brings a deeper level of accountability to attendees, officials and the Administration to follow up on information, connections and commitments made. Though it may sound a bit extreme, I’d go as far as paraphrasing the instructions on the welcome packet: “Once you are in, you cannot enter and exit freely.” For true change to come from these conversations, our commitment to following through, and to hold one another and ourselves accountable for bringing these initiative to reality, must be as passionate as the discussions that took place during those two days.
Perhaps the most striking, goosebump-inducing memory of the event was watching the Latino leaders actually collaborating: exchanging their thoughts, venting their frustrations, proposing possible solutions and devising plans for uniting forces with other leaders like themselves. Every single organization present at the Conference, every participant, expressed their commitment and passion about changing/improving the conditions of Latino life in the, and one recurring realization was: if we are all working towards the same goal, shouldn’t we be working together? This was not necessarily a “kumbayá” moment: on the path to it, there were “dimes y diretes”, points and counterpoints tamed by a spirit of civilized disagreement, but the most common outcome of every conversation was the inevitable: How can we make collaboration happen? What ideas, knowledge, resources do you/do I have that can help you/me/us get to where we’d like to be a bit faster?
As we get closer and closer to next year’s elections, and regardless of the issue that we individually consider most imperative, we must come to understand that “crowd-sourcing” should not only be a term confined to the web or the social media arena. As this conference may very well prove, “croud-sourcing” – in both its literal and figurative meanings –may very well be the key to a better Latino – and American – future. Which leads to the next point.
The only way this crowd-sourcing may prove to be successful is by proactive mobilization. Beyond the conversations and coalitions with each other’s organizations, we must start, add-on and/or continue the implementation of grassroots family and community-oriented strategies, citizen-education activities, neighborhood canvassing, and open channels to inform and successfully mobilize Latinos to participate in their local and national politics. It is in our own interest, as a community, to empower one another through a process by which we understand our own ability to make change in our community.
After this conference, as we go back into our own communities, LATISM would like to confirm the commitment we made to fellow Conference participants, our community at large, and the Obama administration: Please count on us to help drive the discussions and action to the next level.
Let’s develop a shared Latino issue agenda that goes beyond origin, generational and political affiliation lines. Let’s spread the knowledge shared during these two days far and wide, from the virtual communities to the real communities, from the bodegas to the churches to the school yards. In other words, let’s win the future, together.