Blacks and Latinos are solidly in the corner of President Barack Obama in the upcoming elections.
In 2008, 96 percent of Blacks and 67 percent of Latinos voted for Obama. He's going to need that support again on Nov. 6 to beat back the challenge of Mitt Romney, in a race that's too close to call.
The significance of these voting blocs was one of several issues raised in a spirited discussion among a panel of experts, "The 47 Percent Town Hall Meeting - Brown v 2012 Election: The Impact of the Minority Vote."
Tomorrow is Today, a Northwest-based non-profit dedicated to social change and economic development, hosted the event which was carried live on CNN.
Dorinda White, of Tomorrow is Today, prefaced the Tuesday, Oct. 2 panel discussion at the Civil War Museum in Northwest with data on voter suppression efforts by Republicans. Fourteen states have passed 25 measures restricting the right to vote. Those most affected live in states with the fastest growing black and Latino populations. As many as five million eligible voters could be barred from voting.
White and CNN political analyst Roland Martin – who served as moderator of the standing-room only event – said minority voter participation is pivotal in the upcoming elections.
Panelists pointed to the impact of changing demographics in America; the need to be less reactive; focusing on workable strategies that maximize their numbers; and having people on the streets and in the suites.
"Our community really got engaged and motivated. We talked a lot about change and voted for change," said Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc. "This vote is about guarding that change we voted for in 2008."
Panelists said both groups share more similarities than differences. Neither group is a monolith, they argued, and any one person's political position is generally more nuanced and may reflect progressive and conservative elements, such as someone who is socially liberal but who also supports school choice and the School Reform Movement.
Clark Crook-Castan, of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, reminded the audience that the only constant in life is change. "If you're conservative, you're probably on the wrong side of it, and if you're liberal, you're probably too far ahead of it," he said.
Several of the nine panelists, who also included Estuardo Rodriguez and Brent Wilkes criticized both Republicans and Democrats.
"Is it racism or laziness?" asked media personality and Republican commentator Lenny McAllister. "There's a segment of politicians who take our votes for granted. They make laws not in our best interest. We need responsiveness from [them]."
McAllister, host of the radio show, "Get Right with Lenny McAllister," said, he fears that the overwhelming support Latinos and blacks give Democrats may impede their negotiating ability.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro said she wants "both parties to fight for our vote."
"... This should not be a partisan debate," said Martinez de Castro, director of Civic Engagement & Immigration with the National Council of La Raza. "We don't want to be neglected or taken for granted. They are not taking positions that energize our communities. Our voters are not being given a choice."
She grimaced at one point.
"This conversation gives me heartburn," she said. "It's very insulting to think that Latinos can't speak to other people's interests. We want to see Latinos represented in proportion to our numbers. This conversation hurts our communities."
Labor leader Hector Sanchez said Republicans have alienated Latinos, while Democrats have chosen not to expend political capital on passing, for example, the Dream Act.
"Democrats need to play offense and stop playing defense," said Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement in Northwest. "Immigration has not been a priority. It's unacceptable the level of racism, anti-immigrant statements and attacks on labor and education [from Republicans]. We need to be more aggressive."
McAllister said Republicans have made a political calculation.
"The reason why we see the war on women, labor and minorities is because they drive the vote," he said. "Fifty percent of African Americans live in the South – red states. You have to change the paradigm, not just see this through the prism of race."
Alex Nogales said Republicans continue to ignore a potent population.
"Latinos are overly fond of the president and not fond of the other party," said Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, based in Pasadena, Calif. "Republicans have been very consistent in the message of hate in terms of the Latino community. There is no real choice. They will take us to a place we don't want to go, especially when the other candidate says 47 percent consider themselves as victims."
President of the National Council of Black Women, E. Faye Williams, stressed coalition building.
"Dr. [Martin Luther] King spoke of a coalition of women, the poor, brown and black," she said. "We cannot get all of what we want unless someone gets all of what they want. Usually, we wait until the last minute to come together."