US Election 2020: How first time voters hope to make the difference

·4-min read

There's a pride to the politics here. It's loud, it's noisy and it has a new sort of confidence.

Perhaps only in America would a "get out the vote" effort involve dancers, a traditional mariachi band and fully attired Mexican wrestlers.

A canvassing caravan if you like, this is how LUCHA, a Latino support and empowerment organisation, took the message to the streets of downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

They sung, danced, and screamed "get the vote out". They backflipped in the street to a marching jazz band while an army of volunteers, armed with packs of information in Spanish and English, ran to greet those looking on from their homes.

It was infectious.

It's a familiar message, but the messengers are new.

This event was largely run by youth organisers, mostly under the age of 25, many of them first time voters and all fired up with an appetite for change.

"Honestly I feel powerful right now," says Alexa Franco, who is 19 and voting for the first time.

Her eyes tear up and her voice cracks with emotion when she talks about the anti-immigration policies she sees as blighting her community.

"This is our livelihoods you know, this is DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival], this is ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], this is the kids in the cages," she says.

"So many times we act like it's just two candidates, but those candidates hold a lot of power and they forget who they work for - and it's us."

Arianna Reyes is similarly excited - we're walking through her neighbourhood, a heavily Latino area that clearly makes her proud.

"I think it's just really vital that we're all encouraging each other, that we're right here recognising our power, it's really beautiful," she says.

They really believe they are the voters with the power to flip this state blue.

It won't be easy, Arizona has only voted for a Democrat presidential candidate once in the past 68 years.

But their confidence isn't misplaced.

In the 2018 midterms, Arizona voted for its first Democrat senator in 32 years.

That victory was carried largely on the back of high turn out from the Latino community.

In Maricopa county, the state's key battleground, the demographic is increasingly young and increasingly diverse - the average age here is under 30.

And since 2016, an estimated 600,000 Latinos have turned 18. Seeing as Donald Trump won by fewer than 100,000 votes last time, the balance of power could well be shifting.

While many young Latino voters have lived their whole lives here, others are calling on their own experiences as immigrants when heading to the polls.

Israel Lucero Garcia turned 18 this year. He was born in America but his father was deported to their native Mexico when he was six, and that sadness still motivates him.

"I'm excited to choose the person I want to run this country, the person who isn't going to hate us, who isn't going to treat me differently, who's just going to see me as a person, not as a different colour or a minority," he says.

It's a sentiment they say they've heard again and again at the Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) community centre. It offers a variety of help to people struggling in the community, from a food bank to educational support for families which struggle to teach their children at home.

They've seen a huge spike in demand.

The community, they say, still face challenges. Anti-immigration policy may be the most high profile, but poverty, discrimination and now the pandemic all blight lives here.

It's pushing people to the polls and there's one key driving group.

"Young people will make their voices heard," says Luis Raygoza, programme director at CPLC. "They are very motivated this time."

In Phoenix that motivation really is being felt. This weekend the city was alive with different events run by Latino groups.

Of course, not all of those from the Latino community vote Democrat, but there's an energy and a fizz to those who do, and it's an energy that's increasingly young.