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National  Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguía
National Council of La Raza (NCLR) President and CEO Janet Murguía
Just because a reactionary majority on the Supreme Court—currently dubbed "The Roberts Five"—made a recent move gutting the Voting Rights Act and are trying to force this country backwards to the days when people of color were legally denied the vote, doesn't mean any of us are taking this lying down. In fact, their action has intensified the fight for voting rights.

In Fighting back against the SCOTUS voting rights decision, I profiled some of the people who are leading the charge in the Native American, Asian-American, and Asian-Pacific community. This week I'd like to introduce you to two Latino groups, and their leadership.

Too often we see the acronyms for activist organizations without being able to put faces to the letters. I'm hoping that more background will also encourage you to get involved and offer your support.

The Latino vote across the U.S. is already deciding election outcomes, in favor of Democratic Party candidates. Is it any wonder that the Roberts Five are trying to do their damnedest to stop that forward movement in upcoming elections, or to at least disenfranchise as many Latinos as they can?

The nation's oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization is the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Follow me below the fold for more history on the NCLR.

NCLR history:

NCLR traces its origins to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, as well as to previous efforts that preceded World War II, such as those related to early school and housing desegregation. Although Hispanics, especially Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, participated in both movements, they did not gain widespread media coverage or national visibility for their efforts. Without such recognition, legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, while creating enormous change in other areas of the country, had relatively little impact on the Hispanic community.

In large part, the invisibility that plagued the Mexican American civil rights movement was a result of the movement’s geographic isolation, which caused it to be overshadowed by the more highly visible national movements. Additionally, Mexican Americans lacked the kinds of institutions that were critical to the success of the Black civil rights movement, and around which they could rally, unify, and organize. As Helen Rowan explained in a paper prepared for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1968:

There was no Mexican American organization equivalent of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or the National Urban League; no Mexican American colleges; and virtually no financial or other help from outside the community itself. It has thus been extremely difficult for the leadership to develop and pursue strategies which would force public agencies and institutions to pay greater and more intelligent attention to Mexican American needs and to make changes, where necessary, to meet them.Recognizing that these hurdles imposed a critical barrier to the mobilization of an effective civil rights movement, a group of young Mexican Americans in Washington, DC decided to form a coordinating body that could provide technical assistance to existing Hispanic groups and bring them together into a single united front. In the early 1960s, this organization, called NOMAS (National Organization for Mexican American Services), met with the Ford Foundation to present a funding proposal. The meeting was one of several factors that contributed to a Ford decision to finance a major study of Mexican Americans by scholars at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the first grant of its kind in the United States.
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The current organization is headed by una mujer dinámica, a dynamic woman, named Janet Murguía.

In this short video, Murguía speaks about her parents, her family, discrimination they faced and the importance of education. "My dad had a 7th grade education, my mom had a 5th grade education." Her parents made an education possible for their children—her brother Ramón graduated from Harvard Law school, her twin sister Mary and elder brother Carlos are both federal judges.

NCLR is not the only Latino group engaged in the battle for justice and the vote. Out of Texas in 1968, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) was born.  

MALDEF has been actively engaged in several states fighting against voter restrictions and repression.

Meet Thomas A. Saenz, the head of MALDEF:

Saenz was born and raised in southern California. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, and he received his law degree from Yale Law School. Saenz served as a law clerk to the Honorable Harry L. Hupp of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. For eight years, Saenz taught Civil Rights Litigation as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California (USC) Law School. His board service includes the Alliance for Justice (AFJ), Los Angeles County Board of Education, Alliance for Children’s Rights, ENCOMPASS and the Impact Fund.
Thomas A. Saenz is the President and General Counsel of MALDEF, where he leads the civil rights organization's five offices in pursuing litigation, policy advocacy, and community education to promote the civil rights of Latinos living in the United States.  
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF
MALDEF has initiated numerous campaigns for justice.
MALDEF, along with the ACLU, sued Los Angeles County in 1981, accusing the county of arranging voting districts to frustrate Hispanic political power. Considerable changes in the district lines resulted. To get a fair share of school funding for downtown Los Angeles schools, MALDEF filed a lawsuit in 1992 against the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In GI Forum of Texas v. Perry, MALDEF successfully challenged the Texas redistricting plan before the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times described it as “the most important voting rights case of the decade, rejecting the statewide gerrymandering claim brought by…other plaintiffs while accepting the Voting Rights Act challenge in Southwestern Texas, brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.” The case resulted in new lines drawn for Texas' 23rd Congressional District and a special election (where another MALDEF suit opened the polls early) resulting in the Latino community having the opportunity to elect its candidate of choice to Congress.
In 2010, the fund strongly opposed Arizona SB1070, the toughest and broadest anti-illegal immigration measure seen in the U.S. in generations. The fund said it might challenge the constitutionality of the law.

On October 27, 2010, MALDEF achieved another victory in Gonzalez v. State of Arizona, striking down an Arizona law that restricted voter registration by requiring proof of American citizenship. MALDEF had challenged the 2004 law, also known as Proposition 200, on grounds that it was unconstitutional and in violation of federal law because it forced voters to meet onerous new identification requirements at the polls and imposed unnecessary paperwork requirements on those seeking to register to vote.

One of the things that inspires me about Saenz is his tireless outreach to Latino youth because they will play key roles in our nation's future.

Here is a video of his keynote address at the Adelante Mujer Latina and Adelante Young Men Conference, held at Pasadena City College in 2012:

He tells the story of his first time setting foot on the campus of at Pasadena, at age five, where his dad was attending night school to get an associates degree, and later at 15 when his mom decided to do the same thing. He then spoke about the founding of MALDEF in 1968 by Pete Tijerina, a young attorney in Texas, who was faced with all-white juries. He went on to talk about the power of the Latino youth vote and the Dreamers, and how the Dreamer youth and their allies influenced the presidential election.  

Those of you who are planning to attend Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit will get an opportunity to meet him face-to-face.

This announcement was made by AG Eric Holder:

“Today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This request to ‘bail in’ the state – and require it to obtain ‘pre-approval’ from either the Department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes – is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found. Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”
The battles initiated by civil rights groups like MALDEF and NCLR will continue in the courts.  

These groups in coalition with others are also making sure they have boots on the ground to continue to register voters.

For me, there is nothing more important than the right to vote.

In the weeks and months ahead, I'll be highlighting more of the groups and organizations that are defending and mobilizing voters, particularly young people, and folks in communities of color.

You can help.

We need to step up the pressure on Congress.

Join Daily Kos by urging Congress to save the Voting Rights Act by creating a new preclearance formula.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by LatinoKos, Barriers and Bridges, and Black Kos community.

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