The Puerto Rican diaspora gets ready to flex its political power
It has been one year since Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico and one week since President Trump denied official reports that the storm took nearly 3,000 lives. To honor those lives and demand accountability for failures in the federal response to the storm, thousands are expected to march on the White House, Trump Tower, and Mar-a-Lago today.
“From the day Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, President Trump has shown a level of of indifference and callousness towards the people of Puerto Rico that is nothing short of reprehensible,” José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, said in a statement announcing nationwide actions. “It is time for our elected officials to feel the brunt of our outrage and let it be known that we will remember in November whether they stood with us or not.”
A coalition of civil rights, faith-based, labor, and advocacy groups have called for a national week of action that they’re calling “Boricuas Remember.” They are leading mass vigils and marches in D.C., Florida, and New York today, as well as other events across the country through the 22.
In a separate but coinciding effort at New York’s Union Square this evening, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Yampierre, and Naomi Klein will join other big names, grassroots leaders, and artists who are calling for community-led solutions and a just transition away from fossil fuels.
Protest organizers say that policymakers can expect the thousands hitting the streets today to also march to ballot boxes during this year’s elections. Since Hurricane Maria, at least 135,000 people have moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S. and could make a major impact now that they’re eligible to vote in congressional and presidential elections.
At the end of August, the “Respeta Mi Gente” coalition launched in Central Florida to activate Puerto Rican voters and center their priorities during 2018 midterm elections in the swing state. Frederick Velez, the campaign director for Respeta Mi Gente, says disaster resiliency is a top priority. “No. 1 is, how can we use the power of the million Puerto Ricans in Florida to affect congressional legislation so that we can get a good recovery and rebuild in Puerto Rico?” says Velez, adding that it’s important to not only repair the infrastructure but to ensure that the territory is prepared for another disaster.
Former New York City council speaker and campaign director of Power 4 Puerto Rico Melissa Mark-Viverito says the Puerto Rican community is geared up to shape policy across the country. “If we are decisive in these elections,” says Viverito, who is speaking at a vigil in New York today, then, “what comes with political muscle is political leverage.”