We have learned in the 2000 US elections that, every vote counts. Caribbean-Americans have become very influential in politics in the US and will play a significant role in the 2004 U.S. presidential election next Month. In a recent interview, Attorney Marlon Hill, who is the spokesperson of the nonpartisan organization, Soca the Vote.Com ("Soca D’ Vote"), spoke with Jamaicans.com about the participation of Caribbean-American voters in the election campaign.
The following is an interview by Xavier Murphy with Soca the Vote 2004 spokesperson, Attorney Marlon Hill:
Question: How critical is the Caribbean vote in the 2004 election?
Marlon: The Caribbean vote will be an important swing vote in the upcoming 2004 General elections. The Caribbean-American population has multiplied exponentially in states such as, Florida, New York, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, California, among others. Caribbean-Americans maintain considerable numbers as registered Democrats, Republicans, and increasingly more independent. As a result, the voter awareness turnout of Caribbean-Americans could impact local, state, and federal elections as one of the country’s main swing votes.
Q: What are the most important issues for Caribbean-Americans?
Marlon: For the most part, Caribbean-Americans care about many of the same things as the majority of America: jobs, quality of life, access to quality education and healthcare, and security for the family. As immigrants, Caribbean-Americans are immediately impacted by immigration policies and U.S./Caribbean relations in trade and foreign policy.
Q: How does your organization mobilize Caribbean-Americans to vote?
Marlon: The Soca the Vote campaign aims to raise the level of awareness towards the importance of voting. The campaign encourages the Caribbean-American population to register to vote through the website, Socathevote.com or Socadvote.com. The campaign will use the music and culture of the Caribbean as a motivating factor for voting.
Q: Will Soca the Vote continue after the 2004 Presidential Elections?
Marlon: Absolutely, this is simply the beginning of a long journey in maturity for our community. We have already started to think about the next election cycles.
Q: Are there special voter education programs and voter registration drives for Caribbean-Americans this election season?
Marlon: There are a number of voter education programs and registration drives that appeal to many segments of the community-at-large. The Caribbean-American community is composed primarily of people of African descent, and as such, suffers the same disenfranchisement with the African-American community at large.
Q: What are some of the voting patterns of Caribbean-Americans? Will those patterns hold true in 2004?
Marlon: The voting patterns of Caribbean-Americans is not yet well documented. The monitoring of these patterns is all part of the process for the Soca the Vote campaign and other voter education and awareness efforts throughout the country. Remember, like other communities throughout America, it is becoming increasingly difficult to look at immigrant communities in a monolithic manner. Values and opinions vary at all levels; and so will our voting patterns.
Q: Does your organization have programs aimed at particular sectors of the Caribbean-Americans community?
Marlon: The Soca the Vote movement does not target specific sectors of the Caribbean-American community. Our music and culture (whether soca or reggae) is the common connecting factor. Especially, during this season of Carnivals in North America (Toronto, New York, and Miami), we hope to promote greater awareness of the campaign at these events.
Q: Can you identify voting patterns among Caribbean-Americans in terms of ethnicity, religion or geography?
Marlon: Voting patterns are not yet well documented. As the years pass with more election cycles and greater participation and turnout in the electoral process, we will be able to identify some trends. At this points, the only apparent trend is that more Caribbean-Americans are applying for U.S. citizenship and registering to vote. It remains to be seen whether the passion for voting will be the same passion for the love of our music and culture.
Q: In many cases you hear that Caribbean-Americans are not being addressed in the presidential elections. Can you offer any suggestions to the candidates about engaging Caribbean-Americans this election season?
Marlon: Caribbean-Americans share similar dreams and needs as many other Americans, especially in the African-American community. Although some in our community are of a mixed background, East Indian, Chinese, or Middle Eastern, the majority of our community is Black. But all Black people are not the same. Candidates are learning quickly that you cannot and should not communicate to Caribbean-Americans as would to all Black people or people of color in one broad stroke. I would highly recommend that candidates craft the central message of their campaigns in a cultural sensitive manner towards Caribbean-Americans. This would demonstrate that they recognize the existence of the Caribbean-American community in its own unique way. In the end, it boils down to respect for the background and heritage of every American. Caribbean-Americans deserve their rightful place in the discourse of politics in American and being part of the communication of politics.
Q: Do you have a message you would like to get out to the Caribbean Community about voting and voter registration?
Marlon: If we do not take full ownership of our voting franchise, we will be excluded from the intellectual discourse and decision making of politics in America. It will affect everything in our daily lives, from education to cultural events and health to the economy. The Caribbean-American community follows all the rules in acclimating ourselves to life in America in pursuing educational opportunities, being entrepreneurs in the economy, working in the healthcare industry, and sharing the richness of our cultural and heritage with our neighbors and surrounding communities. It is time for us to become more fully engaged. The benefits of such participation are infinite.
About Soca the Vote
Soca the Vote ("Soca D’ Vote) is a nonpartisan voter education and awareness campaign that endeavors to use the music and culture of the Caribbean-American community as a motivating factor for proactive engagement in the electoral process. To register to vote, visit www.socathevote.com or www.socadvote.com.