Doing my civic duty

Since 1989, 40 youth of color have been shot and killed in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood, right across the street from Santa Monica College. If we were to include the names of Santa Monica residents who have perished not just with the city limits but beyond, the list swells significantly. Two more were added to that list Halloween weekend. One of them was my friend.

In total, I’ve seen seven friends who I grew up with in Santa Monica, shot and killed since 2003.  Many more are serving lengthy prison sentences, some of them doing life.

As the election drew near, thoughts of apathy crossed my mind. Over the years, not a thing has changed in the neighborhood, no matter who got elected.

So why should I care about it?

But it dawned on me: One of the best ways I can keep their memories alive is by exercising my right to vote. One of the best ways I can fight for true change in the neighborhood is by participating in the whole electoral process.

Not only did I get out and vote, but I volunteered my time working at the polls as well. I believe that by doing so, I can set an example for youth of color in the community.

One of the best ways we can work to prevent the violence in our communities is by voting, and promoting candidates that represent our values, candidates that understand our plight.

One such candidate is Tony Vazquez. Vazquez an SMC alumnus grew up in Santa Monica and is the only Latino to have been elected to city council back in 1990. This year, he regained the seat he lost almost 20 years ago.

During his time as a Santa Monica city council member, Vazquez was able to provide many local youth of color employment through the city. “The best way to stop a bullet is a job,” says Vazquez. “We have such a resourceful city, there’s no reason why we can’t get them hired.”

Vazquez had implemented a program that took minority youth and paired them up with a different department at City Hall. Many times, that partnership led to a future job. When he was not re-elected, the city killed the program.

Many youth of color here in Santa Monica feel alienated from the electoral process. They see all kinds of candidates on TV, talking about a variety of issues, but none that really speak to them. That’s one of the main things Vazquez is looking to change.

“It makes a big difference for our youth to see candidates that represent them,” says Vazquez. “I’m the first and only Latino to have been elected. It’s a much tougher animal to get elected as a person of color.”

If we want real change in the community, if we want to stop the killings, guide our children in the right direction, we need to be proactive and promote candidates like Vazquez. We need to make our youth feel a part of the process. We need to stress the importance of registering to vote, and to donate their time as I did, working the polls.

I can do my part by continuing to do my civic duty every election, and by speaking to the youth, recruiting them to get active. It’s one the best ways we can honor our fallen brothers, and commit to real transformation.

So if next election, you see several big Mexican guys with shaved heads and tattoos, the whole cholo look, working at your local polls, don’t be alarmed. They’re just doing their civic duty.