Friday, September 24, 2010

SDS Supports Farmworker Son Political Candidacy

Demography IS Destiny:

Political Dispatches from Pierson, Florida

By: Compañero Adrian

The farming town of Pierson, Florida is a microcosm of the transformations unfolding throughout the US south’s racialized political economy. In the last few decades, Pierson has gone from being a community of white farm owners and working poor Blacks, to a community of white farm owners and predominantly Latino migrant farm workers. For decades, these migrant farm workers, mostly from México and Central America, have toiled and lived in Pierson. They’ve experienced poor working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, and poor pay and living standards. Despite these adverse circumstances, migrant workers have raised families in Pierson, such that, today, the community is majority Latino. Lacking political representation, these migrant farm workers have relied on strategies of self-help to redress their needs: they’ve formed a farm worker association as well as established a credit union for their basic financial transactions, such as cashing their paychecks and remitting funds to relatives in Latin America.

To date, these demographic transformations have not led to political change in Pierson, however. A look at the ballot for the November elections for city government is telling. Three of the four city seats—all held by white men—are unchallenged, a common occurrence in Pierson politics. Disenfranchisement of migrant farm workers has in part helped sustain a non-competitive electoral environment characterized by incumbency advantage. When term limits are up, city officials simply rotate positions. And it is not that these public officials are being rewarded for their performance in office. When hurricanes struck the region a few years back, federal relief aid was driven out by Pierson city officials for allegedly keeping migrant workers from returning to the farms. Several city representatives are farm owners, raising concern of the use of public office for personal gain (e.g. altering city zoning codes for personal advantage). Some are also owners of the dwellings where migrant farm workers live. Recently, trash pick-up was eliminated from these living quarters, so as to cut taxes from the property owners, placing strain on tenants and potentially on the city.

This election cycle, there is a possibility that the political status quo might change in Pierson. The sole contender for city council is determined to usher this political change. The son of migrant workers from México, Tony Ramos was raised in Pierson. A graduate of Stetson University with a major in political science, the 31-year-old Ramos has returned to live and work in Pierson ever since. He is well known and respected in the community, participating in non-governmental organizations and in the city’s Little League. Politically, Ramos is a viable candidate. For one, he is a political outsider. Unlike the incumbents, Ramos is not a career politician. As a community member, Ramos has a keen awareness of the issues important to Pierson residents, citing, for example, the need for paved sidewalks where children walk to school. At a recent meeting with volunteers for his campaign, Ramos comfortably conversed in English and Spanish to a diverse group of SDS and local community members. “Personally, I just want to express my gratitude to all of you,” said an unassuming Tony Ramos. “I think we’ve got a good shot at winning this.” The enthusiasm was palpable among the volunteers, who plan on conducting voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote campaigns in the coming weeks. These foot soldiers of political change in Pierson are determined to show that demography is destiny.

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