The story of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund (MFV ED) begins in California, where generations of Latinos have worked and struggled to make their voices heard; their contributions recognized; and their issues incorporated as an integral part of the American agenda.
In 1994, Latinos suffered a major setback when Governor Pete Wilson, who was running for re-election as Governor, made battling against undocumented immigrants the cornerstone of his campaign. His vehicle was Proposition 187, which sought to deny access to healthcare, public education, and other services to undocumented immigrants. What followed was a divisive and bitter campaign that demonized all immigrants and turned Californians against Californians.
Even though Proposition 187 passed, it mobilized a unified coalition of students, community activists, union members and people of faith that saw Proposition 187 as a xenophobic discriminatory ploy that unfairly targeted immigrants and Latinos for political gain. Passage of the initiative did not stop the mobilization.
In 1998, recognizing the opportunity that this presented to build an expanded and engaged electorate, the Service Employees International Union, (SEIU), founded the Organization of Los Angeles Workers, (OLAW), a non-partisan civic organization. OLAW’s mission was to expand the voice of the Latino community through civic education, citizenship, and voter registration and mobilization campaigns. OLAW’s strategy was to build partnerships with key segments of the community, including business, labor, community organizations, church, and ethnic media, with a goal of creating a culture of civic engagement and activism–one that was broadly embraced and supported.
The initial campaign was called ”Mi Familia Vota 100%”, a theme intended to build on the community’s family values and to cement the belief that, in order to succeed, everyone has to participate; that voting is a social, not an individual isolated act. The OLAW program was also designed to be a year-round activity, not just during election cycles. During off years, OLAW would conduct issue advocacy and citizenship campaigns in order to create an ongoing relationship with the community and to prepare for the election mobilization.
To gauge progress and impact of the campaign, OLAW did polling and extensive electoral analysis in order to determine voter awareness of civic participation and turnout during the election. Results were very favorable and encouraged further investment and expansion. In 2004, civic engagement activities, under the name “Mi Familia Vota” expanded to Illinois, Florida and Maine. Response was overwhelmingly positive.
In April 2006, 3 million people –immigrants and native born; men and women; blue collar and professionals; young and old; all ethnicities—marched to protest against the Sensenbrenner bill in over 40 states and in 140 communities. This was the largest mobilization over a three-day period in the history of this country. The Sensenbrenner bill died without ever coming to a House vote.
This bill served as a wake-up call to the community about the importance of civic engagement and a sense of its potential power. After the marches, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, who had become the successor to OLAW, began working with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO); the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Univision; Entravision and Impremedia, the leading Spanish-language media in the United States, to develop a campaign to inform and motivate the Latino Community to participate in the civic life of this country.
The campaign was called YA ES HORA (now is the time), and its national goal was to motivate 1 million Latino legal permanent residents to apply for citizenship. With the participation of over 400 labor, civic and community organizations, 1.4 million people applied for citizenship, surpassing the goal by 400,000 applications. In 2008, MFV ED and its partners turned its attention to the upcoming presidential elections.
MFV ED focused its Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts in Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Nevada, while continuing its partnership with the community organizations and the media. The outcome was a turnout of 9.7 million Latinos, an increase of 2.2 million over the 2004 election. In 2009, the YA ES HORA-HÁGASE CONTAR (Now is the time: make yourself count) campaign focused on encouraging participation in the 2010 Census. MFV ED once again played an important role, along with its partners, in providing information and advocating for full participation.
After the census, the campaign, now named YA ES HORA-VE Y VOTA (Now is the time: go and vote), encouraged the community to turn out and vote in the election. As a result, the Latino vote is widely credited with being the decisive vote in the outcome of the 2010 congressional and senatorial races in California, Colorado, and Nevada.
In 2012, MFV ED has expanded its operations, in addition to Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, to Florida and once again California.
MFV ED’s Board of Directors is a diverse and committed group of labor, community, business and civic leaders from throughout the United States. They are united in the belief that democracy works best when we all participate; have an equal opportunity to be heard; and to contribute to society as full partners.