Commentary: How Can We Better Engage Latino Millennials in the Political Process?

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Alberto Altamirano, CEO/co-founder of Cityflag, at a recent event in San Antonio. Image used with permission from Getty Images.

Courtesy / Alberto Altamirano

CEO & Co-founder of Cityflag Alberto Altamirano.

In 2014, there were 53.3 million Latinos in the United States, comprising 17.1% of the total U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. Those numbers will grow, but troubling research indicates a low level of civic engagement for Latinos across the nation.

Latinos are less likely to be politically involved in their community than members of any other minority group, although it is the largest and fastest growing minority group in the U.S. However, as the Latino market grows its presence in the economy, there is hope for increased political participation if they are more incorporated into political life. Given these statistics, Latino Millennials also make up a larger share among Latino eligible votes than other groups, and this trend will continue to grow.

Latino Millennials have the potential to become a powerful force that could strengthen civic institutions and social infrastructures in the decades to come, yet they do not pursue traditional forms of political participation. Growing up in the information age, Latino Millennials are gravitating away from institutional forms and finding other, more accessible avenues to participate in their communities. They have failed to engage in electoral politics, but seek to add value to their communities and are optimistic about their role in building a better future.

Yes, the Latino electorate is young, restless and has the power to transform American politics, but are they making their voices heard? What will motivate young Latinos to vote and participate in the American civic life?

These are questions that the Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program is trying to address by identifying barriers and formulating recommendations for unlocking the civic potential of Millennials. They are achieving this by hosting the four-day Deep Dive: Increasing Latino Civic Potential, Millennials conference (June 1-4) which will bring together influencers and decision-makers to find areas of common ground that advance issues and policies of importance to Latinos and the country as a whole. The goal is to develop the leadership capacity of Latinos to participate fully in all aspects and level of society.

This year, I was selected as one of 25 individuals to participate in this event, where I will be proudly representing San Antonio.

The CityFlag team after a successful Voto Latino Innovators workshop. From left: Alberto Gomez Isassi, Alberto Altamirano, Ivan Benavides, and Marco Vera. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

The CityFlag team after a successful Voto Latino Innovators workshop in March 2015. From left: Alberto Gomez Isassi, Alberto Altamirano, Ivan Benavides, and Marco Vera. Photo via Facebook.

I’m inspired by what former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said about this city: “San Antonio is a peek at the Texas of tomorrow and the America of tomorrow, we’ve called it the new face of the American dream.”

It’s true, according to Forbes, San Antonio leads the nation in Millennial population growth, and as we move forward into the 21st century, San Antonio will continue to play a vital role in the U.S. economy.

Additionally, we are a city where two-thirds of our 1.4 million residents are of Latino heritage, which means we are representative of the potential leadership role that Latinos are playing in the U.S. and will continue to play.

That’s why I believe that political participation of Latino Milliennials is an important issue we face in San Antonio as a community. There are a number of obstacles and enablers the Latino community faces that challenge political participation, but it’s important to mobilize this community and find ways to engage them in the civic sector. I find technology as an enabler for civic engagement and political participation, because technology – when used thoughfully – can bring about positive change.

There has been a significant amount of energy and technical expertise focused on identifying and solving governmental problems in cities through the use of civic technology. An example is Code for America, which has an installment in San Antonio and provides fellowships to tech-savvy public servants to help cities create web-based solutions to civic problems. This serves as an incentive to be part of the electorate cycle. It motivates young people to vote.

Personally, I’m driven by this trend in the public sector. In 2015, I co-founded Cityflag, a mobile application that aims to increase community awareness and public participation in local governments. With Cityflag, citizens can “flag” issues in real time using a customer relationship management and a geolocation platform.

Citizens can report issues such as potholes, power outages and vandalism just by using their mobile phone. They can snap a picture or video and send this information directly to the City. We launched our beta at SXSW and are currently testing it in San Antonio and Mexico City. My goal is to officially launch in San Antonio this year and engage Latino Millennials.

Many entrepreneurs are trying to find solutions to the lack of civic engagement and political participation among Millennials through the use of technology. I believe government works best when citizens are directly engaged in policymaking and public service delivery. There is a big movement to make city government more technologically savvy so citizens can participate at a greater scale, have direct influence and be informed. But what conditions are necessary for inclusive and effective citizen engagement?

Political participation is important to the health of a democratic nation. The goal of the Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program event is to develop actionable, innovative, creative, and collaborative strategies to boost Latino civic participation.

This week I will be representing San Antonio at the Aspen Institute event and I’m interested in learning from our community. What do you think we can do as a leading city to engage young Latinos in the political process? Send me a tweet at @betoaltamirano.

For more information on the event, click here.


Top image: Alberto Altamirano, CEO/co-founder of Cityflag, at a recent event in San Antonio. Image used with permission from Getty Images.

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4 thoughts on “Commentary: How Can We Better Engage Latino Millennials in the Political Process?

  1. If your objective is simply that Latino’s vote above a certain threshold, then we need to make it easier for people to register to vote and then convince them to do it, to include holding their hand from beginning to end. Education at an early age works wonders. I remember growing up in California in the 70s/80s and learning about recycling, how bad smoking was, etc. I was an easy target as a child to accept these as important truths.

    We could also change voting approaches. Instead of a zero-sum game – pick this candidate or that candidate – we could allow people to rank their picks. I think this would result in something closer to the mean and increase a voter’s sense that his or her vote did count even if their top choice didn’t win. Perhaps their second choice wins. Of course, this only works when there is more than 2 candidates: can you imagine this approach in the Republican Primary? And definitely get rid of rules that reduce the link between our votes and the results, e.g., Democratic Super Delegates, closed primaries, the electoral college, the dominance of the two-party system.

    If your objective is to grow the Latino percent of the middle class, we need to do those things that put more weight on those policies that increase economic opportunities such free college education (we used to have this in the USA). If you want or prefer to focus on those areas that are “tech” centric, work to get internet access considered a public good like access to water and electricity.

    Although I don’t see the power of an app-centric approach (I think this is due to generational, old-age cynical factors), I wish you the best.

    • Hi Marc,

      Thank you for your feedback and ideas. I agree, we need to make it easier for people to register to vote. And yes, we also need policies that increase economic opportunities, especially in the education sector.

      San Antonio’s ‘Digital Divide’ is among the worst in the US. The internet is as important as paying your electricity or having running water — broadband increasingly looks more like a utility than a luxury. It’s also important because it allows people to better their financial situation by working from home or accessing online education programs.

      In regards to the ‘app-centric approach’, I give an example of how I’m trying to motivate millennials to participate in the civic life. Not saying that an app will fix the lack of engagement, but it will definitely help promote political participation through the use of technology. The goal of civic technology is to deepen the democratic relationship between citizens and their government!

  2. I am proud to see other millennials stepping up to lead and inspire others to get involved in the political process. In Washington, one of the things that I hear a lot about millennials is “nobody cares what we think — because we don’t vote.” Sad and true fact. While I wish you the best and hope you are able to get the younger generation participating politically, I do have a couple questions about your strategy.
    First, there are already several apps that give localized issue & election info, including Countable, Texas in Your Pocket, icitizen, TheVotingApp, etc. How is yours going to be different than what is already out there or in development?
    Also, the existence of these apps does not translate to increased voter turnout. What is your strategy to inspire more young Latinos to get to the polls?

    Again, I commend your effort and I do wish you success.

    • Hi Arh,

      Thank you for your feedback and ideas. Yes, we millennials need to get more involved in the political process! When I worked in DC, I faced the same criticism, “you millennials don’t vote or participate in the process”… But I believe that our generation has the potential to transform American politics. There is an approximate total number of 80 million US millennials today, that’s a lot of political influence if we organize and vote.

      In regards to my platform, Cityflag is a mobile app that aims to create a more inclusive and transparent relationship between local governments and citizens. Countable, Texas in Your Pocket, icitizen and TheVotingApp are all great platforms! However, our platform is not for elections but rather it enables you to interact with your local government by creating geo-located reports on issues such as potholes, crime incidents, and public property deterioration by taking pictures or creating civic-petitions. Our app functions as a gamified public service that uses game dynamics and mechanics based on incentives in the form of Points, Badges and Rewards to engage citizens with their community. Users can also share their reports or petitions on social media, maximizing exposure to their requests. We are not going to fix the lack of civic engagement overnight, but I believe that millennials are more likely to contribute their time and efforts to resolving their city infrastructure problems when they have ownership of a tool and some part of the process.

      Again, thank you for your comments!

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