Minuteklan reaching out to young conservatives
Monday, June 12, 2006
Dana Isham, leader of the Western Colorado Minutemen, said illegal immigration has always been a passionate issue among Minutemen circles. But Isham said for all their passion, when he looks out on his supporters, all he sees is gray.
As the immigration debate has unfolded this year, Isham said he realized that to sustain the strength and vitality of the Minutemen, he needed to reach out to younger supporters. He said without the under-50 crowd, the Minutemen will have little chance of becoming a lasting social movement.
“We need to get some of those folks involved with us to get their energy, their ideas, their minds,” Isham said. “Yes, they need to be part of the process, and we would like to get more young people as part of our process.”
Isham said several weeks ago he started reaching out to young conservatives to bring them on board with the Minutemen. He said he began his search with local young Republicans and conservatives because he thought they “would be more receptive” to the Minutemen’s message.
One of the young conservatives Isham contacted, Matt Soper, vice president of the Mesa State College Republicans, said Isham needed to realize that young men and women were generally uninvolved in politics. Soper said because of this predisposition to apathy, youth participation in groups such as the Minutemen would be hard to accomplish.
Soper said the fact the illegal immigration debate has polarized into the far left and far right camps did not exactly help either cause. He said given a choice, any young voter would pick a more moderate “option C.”
He also said each side’s “racial” overtones would likely turn off younger voters who have grown up immersed in diversity.
Soper said youth today are less likely to be shocked or amazed at the mingling of races in public. He said the fact that anti-illegal immigration groups focus on Hispanic immigrants makes them seem “nativist.”
But Fred Elbel, director of Defend Colorado Now, said society has indoctrinated youth to abhor discussions that might seem culturally insensitive.
“(Our older supporters) have been around longer and have seen how our country is starting to disintegrate,” Elbel said. “The younger folks are more or less indoctrinated into the religion of multiculturalism in the public schools.”
Elbel said older people are more likely to get involved in the illegal immigration debate for the same reasons they are more likely to vote or be involved in their communities. He said the older people get, the more interested they become in politics.
“It takes a while when you’re young to realize the importance of voting and that democracy is not a spectator sport,” Elbel said.
Advocates on the other side of the debate have not been so deeply affected by youth apathy. Nonetheless, movement leaders said they should not slow down their youth recruitment.
Ricardo Perez, an immigrant rights leader from Montrose, announced at a recent meeting at the Riverside Task Force that the Immigrant Rights Coalition needs to move beyond its usual recruiting venues of churches and family gatherings.
“The people getting involved are mostly older,” Perez said. “We need to reach out to youth at the schools and university. They should be informed of what’s going on.”
Perez said this approach would help the coalition involve youths who have a “social justice outlook” but might not be active in their churches.
Joshua Guajardo, 26, a teacher at Palisade High School and a leader within the local immigrant rights movement, said he has seen the illegal immigration debate enliven youths.
Guajardo said the strong national debate combined with the highly visible local immigrant rights demonstrations has piqued the interest of some youths who would otherwise feel “frustrated and annoyed” with politics. This, he said, was especially true of local Hispanic youths.
“A lot of people that weren’t interested in politics are becoming more so or are getting more involved,” Guajardo said. “Many people think we have no say but something about this movement has been very empowering.”
On both sides of the issue, Guajardo said the illegal immigration issue has the potential to craft a cadre of local political leaders and activists. The trick, he said, is to help them take the first steps.