Tacos and Votes: All About Engaging the Community

One had to have been there to truly feel the success of what was the first Tacos and Votes voter engagement program. A group of community leaders reached into history to launch a program which provided a forum for family fun, discussion, and ultimately, voting–and it was about time.

For a few weeks, the leaders had been canvassing the surrounding neighborhoods, but on Saturday, they used an effective tool to bring people to their doors without much need for knocking–a serenata-playing Mariachi. The effect was great attendance to the event and a noted increase in voting at the Bayland Park early voting location, an engaged community, and the birth of a notion that will continue to be developed.

Proving that tacos are just as American as burgers and dogs, hundreds of guests enjoyed dozens of pounds of beef, chicken and even veggie fajitas with all the fixin’s. A few candidates from both parties took advantage of the opportunity to visit with voters face-to-face, and activists, such as myself, enjoyed speaking to voters about choices on the ballot–trying to be as nonpolitical as possible so that they could choose whom they wanted to represent them in November.

Voter education was a major part of this event. And let me tell you, dozens of those League of Women Voters-Houston guides were read, marked up, and taken to the polls. And I lost a lot of cell phone battery looking up folks on the County voter registration site to see if they were updated, or advise them of their options.

Let me tell you, it seemed to me that those candidates who attended were rewarded with a vote. I’ve always said, Latinos really enjoy their retail politics. We like to meet or see a candidate engaging the community. And Saturday provided a bit of proof to my observation. Folks like James Cargas for Congress-7, Traci Jensen for State Board of Education, Cindy Vara-Leija for Constable-1, Gene Wu for HD-137, Diane Trautman for County School Trustee-At Large, Ann Harris Bennett for Tax Assessor, Erica Lee for County School Trustee-6, and Judge Steven Kirkland for the 215th (and volunteers for other campaigns) worked the crowd, engaged them, answered questions, and left voters feeling a sense of truly being part of the process. City Council members Mike Laster and Melissa Noriega were also in attendance and meeting many of their constituents. It was also great to see former candidate for US Senate Rick Noriega meeting with folks.

One of the most engaging moments was when a discussion circle was formed. Folks discussed some of the obstacles they felt (not what the politicians felt) the community needed to overcome. Topics within the realm of education, economics, and family were written on post-it-notes, then attached to a piñata which was then busted up by participants and their kids. It was very therapeutic for the participants and even for those of us who are always writing about these topics.

Then there was the rally, with various community leaders pumping up the crowd. Christina Sanders with the League of Young Voters stated the event was something big, “Young people live in a different America. It is important that we vote and that we hold people accountable and teach young people how to stand up against injustices.”

Mario Salinas of Latino Giving added some powerful remarks as a 4th generation Houstonian. “The days are over when we are made to feel like we do not belong here, because I belong here. I’m here to urge everyone of you to claim your voice, claim your right, and it starts right here. Politicians are never saviors, they are always servants and the question is whom do they serve. It is up to us to hold them accountable.”

Then came what we were there for:  to vote. Dozens of folks who had not yet voted lined up and marched their way to the Bayland Park polling location. The greeters and workers were ecstatic to see them, according to reports from inside. And why not? They were exercising their right, despite attempts to erect obstacles to voting.

As a good friend of mine would probably describe it, “And it was grand!”

Congrats to the Tacos and Votes crew–all the organizations involved, all the volunteers, and to all the voters who enjoyed this “new” way of engaging the community.

I wish the Chron had written more about the voter engagement aspect of this event. People do respond to hot-button issues, but in the case of Tacos and Votes it was about voter education, and not about 30-second ads of little substance which promote the politics of destruction, rather than sell the candidates. And the candidates in attendance got the message about what voters want to see from them.

One of my favorite moments was when a group of neighborhood skater kids rolled in as folks were setting up for the event. They engaged us with a concern:  The neighborhood lacks a skate park, like in other areas of the city. Skate parks have been built to keep kids active and out of trouble or danger on the streets, and it’s about time SW Houston had one, no? I was even prouder of these kids when they stuck around and helped set-up. Very respectful and very helpful.

I can’t wait for the next one!

More photos here.

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