“Once Social Change Begins, It Cannot Be Reversed:”
Occupy Wall Street and the Latin@ Voice:
Chair of Social Action, NY/NJ Metropolitan Area LALSA
Latinos in the United States of America are currently in a crisis of profound importance. We have become targets for not only being Latino, but for being American. Finding ourselves in a position where our “American-ness” has been attacked, we have become less American, and find it harder to become one.
For Latinos in the United States in 2011, the American Dream has become a nightmare. Latinos find ourselves increasingly overrepresented in the low-skilled, low-wage workforce. Almost half of male high school dropouts are Latinos. The wage gap among Latinos and whites is dramatically widening, while wage gaps among whites and other minorities has changed very little. Furthermore, the influx of immigrants continually lowers wages for the average male worker.
Meanwhile at our nation’s capital, our crisis is further amplified. Our lack of representation leaves others making decisions upon our behalf. Our severe under-representation at various law making bodies of our country has led to the impasse of comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, but the passage of laws that encourage racial profiling, such as SB1070. Who knows our needs better than us? How can we expect a group of overwhelmingly non-Latinos to pass a bill that could afford thousands of immigrant children the path to conditional permanent residency through education and military service? Why isn’t a Latino the chief proponent of the DREAM Act? Furthermore, the DREAM Act is quickly becoming a political bargaining chip: Senator Harry Reid preserved his seat and political career when he promised the reintroduction of the DREAM Act to Congress regardless of midterm reelection, garnering Latino votes.
This all comes as an unfortunate irony. The Latino vote is often considered a “swing” vote, sought for in every recent presidential election. We are forced to choose a candidate who best represents our needs, but after Election Day, neither political party will represent us. We exchange votes for promises, but once the candidate has moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we are forgotten. Let us not forget our votes as a nationwide community have profound consequences, themselves: we are also voting on behalf of many of our undocumented brothers and sisters who have no voice, and who will be also affected by the candidate we select.
Presently, Barack Obama is campaigning in swing states with high Latino populations. Although he garnered 67% of the Latino vote in the past election, his administration is on shaky ground with Latino support. From October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011, the Obama Administration claims to have “deported” 396,906 illegal immigrants: the highest in the administration’s history. Just less than half of these deportations were for civil infractions, such as overstaying a visa, and not for any violations of criminal statutes. Our President is trying to play both sides of the immigration debate. He is trying to appease the right with statistics, while defending himself by publicly by stating that these numbers are “deceptive” because of his administration’s definition of “deported.”  President Obama has further worries with regard to our voting power. The number of eligible Latino voters will increase from approximately 18 million in 2008 to 22 million in 2010.
Obama took the reigns of this country at a low point in our nation’s history. Just three months before taking his oath, our country experienced its worst economic downturn in recent times: an economic depression.
One example of the litany of ways our country is hurt as a result of the financial crisis was in the housing market. The housing market’s hitting of rock-bottom demands economic reforms from Washington. Housing is a human right. Today, we should not be demanding affordable housing, but equal access to housing. The present state of the real estate market is felt across all Americans.
It is especially felt by Latinos. Latinos are the racial group hardest hit by the economic downturn of 2008. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 63% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households. The sharp decline in home values was the main cause of decrease among all groups, but clearly Latinos have been hit the hardest.
Home equity of Latino households was sliced in half, from $99,983 to $49,145, and Latino home ownership fell from 51% to 47%. The areas hardest hit by the real estate market bubble of the 1990’s and early 2000’s featured an over-representation of the Latino population, particularly in California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona.
How did the other groups fare? Among white homeowners the median value of their home equity declined from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009. Among black homeowners home equity declined from $76 to $59,000 in 2005. For blacks and whites, home ownership rates were pretty much stagnant during this time. The drop among black home ownership dropped from 47% to 46%, and white home ownership remained consistent at 74%. So when the housing market hit rock-bottom, home ownership among whites remained the same at three-quarters of the population, while Latino ownership declined to 47%. These effects are but one of the many causes of the Occupy Movement.
Occupy Wall Street should be about us. Addressing the housing crisis is just one of the many issues that the Occupy Movement has challenged. As Latinos, we have much to gain from economic reform in this country, most importantly, economic and social equality. The Occupy movement has manifested the present failure of political representation in the United States. The movement is a reaction to our political climate that reveals our potential to make public statements that can impact national policies. Like all great movements of the past, we can convert our private troubles to public issues. The federal government has failed us as a form of representation. There has been no serious bipartisan attempt to even entertain the idea of a form of loan/debt relief and forgiveness. As law students, we will begin our professional careers worth a negative amount. The Occupy Movement allows us to be our own representatives.
It is a fact that there are severe wage disparities among white Americans and people of color. The fact that we make less, and then are taxed continues to perpetuate this economic oppression. By keeping us working at lower wages, corporations can continue maximizing profit, while our basic work and health needs are not addressed. Furthermore, the cutting of public education funding is nothing short of class warfare. Denying our nation’s children the necessary resources for them to advance contradicts traditional American notions of social mobility. Ideologically, the culture of capitalism is pitting us against ourselves: it is creating a divide between documented and undocumented Latinos. This rift should not exist. There should be a firm unity among our population. The plight of one is the plight of all. Each one of our experiences contributes to the universal American Latino experience.
Latinos, the poor, and the uneducated are enthusiastically sought after and recruited for military involvement, yet defending our country cannot provide a path to conditional permanent residency until the DREAM Act is passed. It is unfortunate that Latinos and the poor are put on the front lines of our military to defend a country that doesn’t show the same enthusiasm for their education. Latinos make up 16% of the military. Websites like “www.elnavy.com” provide resources for potential recruits and their families, as well as highlighting the achievements of high-ranking Latinos to manifest what successful careers in the military look like. Our nation’s military advertises and recruits in many Latino and Spanish language publications. In these times of economic hardship, it is no wonder why the military has not had a hard time recruiting. The military provides a steady salary, job security, medical benefits for spouses and family, and even college tuition through the G.I. Bill once enlistment is over.
Where do we fit in as students of the law? Unfortunately, our studies do command most our time. However, if there is anything that we have learned from the Occupy Movement thus far, it is that organization is crucial. Sure we can head downtown and march with our brothers and sisters in the street. However, Bloomberg’s infamous early morning raid to “clean” Zucotti Park (which took but 7 hours, while it took weeks for his administration to clean our streets of snow in December of 2010) has demonstrated that the park has served its purpose. The “romanticized” endeavor is complete. The movement has matured. Now it is time to be proactive. Our position as law students puts us in a unique situation to do so. We have one foot in the practice of the law, and the other still in academia. Our goal should be to make legal resources accessible to those that need it most. We should be using the different resources at our respective schools to reach out to our communities. Let’s turn our schools inside out: make our school’s clinics, workshops, and programs accessible to our communities.
We should not stand by idly while history unfolds before us. We should be involving ourselves wherever we see fit. The Occupy Movement can be our movement too. Let us take it up on its offer to change America.
 Cesar Chavez
 National Poverty Center, “The New Face of the Low-Wage Workforce,” Policy Brief #8, January 2007. http://npc.umich.edu/publications/policy_briefs/brief8/policy_brief8.pdf
 Dick Durbin, Sen.-D, Illinois
 Garcia Blase, DeeDee. “How Latino Voters Will Choose in 2012” The Guardian, 26 October 2011.
 Los Angeles Times. “Obama Administration Reports Record Number of Deportations.”
 Washington Times. “Obama Defends Handling of Illegal Immigration,” September 28, 2011.
 Garcia Blase, DeeDee. “How Latino Voters Will Choose in 2012” The Guardian, 26 October 2011.
 Pew Research Center. “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics.” July 26, 2011.
 See id.