“We should be moving towards progress, and now it just seems that we kind of went backwards,” Idalia Cervantes, a regional organizer with Voces de la Frontera Action, a branch of the immigrant and Latinx advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, told Wisconsin Examiner.
November is approaching, and the group has continued to shape and adapt its strategies to mobilize tens of thousands of infrequent voters this year. “We are mobilizing, particularly the Latinx community across the state,” explained Cervantes, “to go out and make it to the polls, even in the middle of a global pandemic.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Voces de la Frontera joined other organizations, including Souls to the Polls, in calling on Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the April primary. Republicans went to court to prevent Evers from doing it, and scores of people stood in long lines risking infection with COVID-19 to cast their ballots. Now, four months later, faith in the voting system has waned. “We want to make sure that people have access to voting, and that there is no voter suppression on November 3,” said Cervantes.
The march on Trump
Part of the strategy is organizing during the Trump campaign’s visits to Wisconsin. On August 17, the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Voces de la Frontera Action held a march and demonstration in Oshkosh. President Donald Trump was holding a rally there. His son, Eric Trump, held an event with the Milwaukee Police Association the next day. On Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence visited Darien.
Voces de la Frontera Action brought a group of about 200 people to a post office in Oshkosh. The location was chosen to underscore the Trump Administration’s efforts to systematically disrupt the functions of the U.S. Postal Service. “I think the police received information about what our plan was,” said Cervantes. “So they actually barricaded the street that we were going to go on.” After finding a way around, the group encountered a gaggle of vitriolic Trump supporters.
“There was a lot of backlash,” said Cervantes. “We got two pickup trucks kind of chasing and scaring our protesters, kind of threatening to run them over. That was actually pretty scary, even though we were doing everything in a very peaceful manner. They told us to go back to Africa. They kept screaming that we were the racist ones. They were telling us that we were lesbians.”
Other counterprotesters followed on motorcycles, and revved their engines every time the organizers tried to speak or give announcements. “Nonetheless we kept on moving and I’m really glad that everybody took the high road,” said Cervantes. “Even though we were getting antagonized the whole time.”
None of the Trump supporters wore masks. Some shouted pro-life slogans. “They told us that we were all going to hell for killing babies,” said Cervantes. “That whole connotation of being pro-life … there’s a double-stance because they’re out there defending babies that have not even been born yet … it just goes to show what their beliefs are. And obviously we believe in science and that people are dying from this, so that makes us in a sense pro-life by wearing our masks.”
Over 175,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 to date, with the number continuing to rise daily. In Milwaukee County, over 22,502 positive cases have been reported, along with 395 deaths. According to county data, 63% of Milwaukee County’s hospital ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds are in use. Some 85% of the floor beds are filled although, luckily, only 27% of the county’s ventilators are in use. Of the over 22,000 positive tests, nearly 7,000 are Hispanic or Latino. Statewide, over one million people have contracted COVID-19, and more than 1,000 Wisconsinites have died.
The marchers never saw Trump himself. “We couldn’t even get that close,” said Cervantes. Despite the presence of his supporters, some locals who saw the marchers expressed approval of their protest. “We had people that were kind of joining along the route. We had some cars beeping at us and putting their fists up,” recalled Cervantes.
Although she has taken part in protests all across the country, Cervantes feels that she has never encountered the kind hostility she is seeing as the 2020 election approaches. “To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such harsh backlash or antagonizing,” said Cervantes. “And I’m shocked to say that as well.” Looking ahead, she says she remains undeterred even by the prospect of Trump winning.
“If we get another four years, we’re still going to stand up, we’re still going to keep fighting and pushing for what we believe in,” said Cervantes. From Black Lives Matter to immigration rights Cervantes asserts, “it’s just a human-rights issue that we’re fighting for. So we will continue.” The stakes are high for 2020’s election. That fact doesn’t seem to be lost on anyone.
From Cervantes’ fellow organizers to the ordinary people they connect with through outreach, the reality of Trump’s America has presented scores of Americans with frightening, ever more complex realities. “We’re not going to allow this to continue, it’s just not right,” said Cervantes.