One Organizer’s Story

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 Numbers on a computer screen only tell part of the story. What was most eye opening to me was that this demographic shift was not at all welcomed by many residents that I encountered. Despite virtually every neighborhood being a pillar of cultural and ethnic diversity, I saw a staggering number of individuals that exemplified exactly why the Republicans not only lost in 2012 but why they didn’t expect it.

Hours after President Obama had been declared the winner in the 2012 presidential election, advisers close to Governor Mitt Romney reported that the former Massachusetts governor was genuinely shocked by the results. In the days and weeks since his crushing defeat, the media have perpetually discussed the role that minority voters played in the election. The Republican Party saw itself on the losing end of races from coast-to-coast as they ran a campaign that made little attempt to even acknowledge minority voters.

The reality of the situation is that what happened on November 6th is certainly newsworthy but it is hardly news. Despite the splashy headlines and Governor Romney’s alleged surprise at the results, minority voters (particularly Latinos) have only now received a long-overdue acknowledgement by mainstream media outlets and elected officials of their role in our electoral process.

For the entire month of October I joined about fifty of my fellow members of the Service Employees International Union (America’s fastest growing labor union) and knocked on tens of thousands of doors in the swing state of Virginia’s Prince William County. In retrospect, one thing was abundantly clear during that experience: Mitt Romney and the GOP are not the only ones that are ignorant (willfully or otherwise) to America’s evolution.

Prince William County has spent the last decade growing at a breakneck pace.  From 1990 – 2010, the population nearly doubled from 215,000 residents to over 403,000. Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is the growth in minority population over the same period. Whites made up 82% of the population in 1990. That number dropped to 61% by the start of 2011. Prince William County is not only diverse, but financially very well off with a median income nearing six-figures. The poverty rate remains less than 7% compared to a national rate of 16%.

Numbers on a computer screen only tell part of the story. What was most eye opening to me was that this demographic shift was not at all welcomed by many residents that I encountered. Despite virtually every neighborhood being a pillar of cultural and ethnic diversity, I saw a staggering number of individuals that exemplified exactly why the Republicans not only lost in 2012 but why they didn’t expect it.

Knocking on average about a hundred doors each day, I observed nuances in the frequently brief responses I would receive from self-professed Romney supporters compared with Obama’s. When encountering a family of Obama supporters – even the times when I was clearly interrupting family dinner – they frequently noted that they believed Obama had worked extremely hard in the past four years and that he had made clear economic progress and would have accomplished more had congressional republicans not obstructed him. Many spoke of a perceived racism from the Romney campaign and the GOP. Still, many more, were eager to point out that Governor Romney hadn’t presented any sort of plan of action aside from “I’m not Barack Obama” compared to the president’s clear economic and foreign policy proposals.

On the flip side, when encountering Romney supporters, the response was notably different. While I wouldn’t expect to be welcomed into their homes with open arms, the manner in which the spoke was markedly different. Very few spoke of an overall preference with Governor Romney. Instead, on an unsettling number of occasions the Romney voters I spoke with spewed racial epithets at me in reference to the President. I lost count of how many times I heard, “I’m not voting for that man” as if the mere mention of President Obama was repulsive. I heard wild falsehoods that ranged from people stating that President Obama was a Muslim, that he was a socialist, that he accomplished “absolutely nothing” in the past four years. One person even accused the president of murdering a priest (needless to say I didn’t pursue that conversation any further).

Indeed the changing demographics captured by polls and the census paint a picture of an evolving nation. Going door-to-door in one of America’s fastest growing, diverse and affluent counties paints an even clearer picture of the state of America’s right wing from my unique vantage point: facts and policy matter very little and the reality of their changing neighborhoods seem to matter even less.

The media’s discussion and Republican talk-points in the last five weeks are perhaps encouraging. Nothing, however, spoke louder to me than the actual election results. In a county that just eight years ago dealt Senator Kerry a defeat to President George Bush by 8%, Barack Obama won with nearly 60% of the vote with a 17% gap between him and Governor Romney. Conservatives are free to remain in a bubble that doesn’t reflect modern realities. The consequences of that are now quite clear: as demographics continue to change in favor of minorities, more and more states like Virginia will continue shift to the democratic column and the GOP will be rendered more and more irrelevant.

*James M DiLoreto is an organizer with SEIU 1199 – Massachusetts

This story was originally published in the February 2012 issue of the Boston-based Brazilian Magazine (@BrazilianMag) — http://brazilianmagazine.net/articles/view/510/bm

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