Rosario Dawson: Why Your Vote Counts More Than Ever

By Rosario Dawson

We all need to become involved. We can’t sit on our hands waiting for the change we want to see. Sí se puede, but only if we demand it.

The election may be several months away, but this is not the year to stay home. There are few issues I care about more than promoting the vote, particularly among young American Latinos. I firmly believe that the quality of our future as the second largest population relies on our ability to mobilize today. This is what in 2004 compelled me to found Voto Latino, the country’s leading organization in registering and engaging young Latino voters.

WATCH: Voto Latino's United We Win PSA

I’m excited about rallying people to the polls next year. But the current political mood worries me. I know that for some of us it may be tempting to stay home on Nov. 6, 2012. Maybe you’re unemployed or uninsured. Maybe you lost your home to foreclosure or are drowning in student loans. Maybe you voted for the first time in 2008, but now think that it doesn’t matter who wins because things don’t change.

You might think it’s sending a strong message to withhold your vote. But staying home will only accomplish one thing: It will make you irrelevant. There’s no doubt that there are many issues out there that need to be fixed—and badly. Unemployment among Latinos is higher than the national average. More than 25 percent of our people live in poverty. People continue to be deported at record numbers. But that’s why Latinos need to get more involved, not less.

Rosario Dawson Encourages Young Latinos to Vote

At times like these, we need to remember that elected officials respond to two things: money and votes. Now, most of us don’t have wads of cash to throw around, but we all have the power of the vote. The trip to your nearest precinct is only the beginning of your role in making our government responsive and effective.

Just like you wouldn’t tell your child to clean his or her room and expect it to be done without nagging, getting our elected officials to address our needs requires vigilance and accountability. And there’s an abundance of recent examples that show that when people act, change happens. Look at Arizona. Just one year ago, it looked lost to divisiveness and hate. But S.B. 1070 seems to have awakened Arizonans, and last November they booted Russell Pearce, the man who spearheaded passage of the controversial and strict immigration law, out of office.

WATCH: MSNBC Beyond Borderlines Town Hall on Immigration

We also need to remember that the election later this year will do more than decide who is going to live in the White House. Ballots will also include races for every level of government from school boards and city councils to state and federal representation. Funding for our children’s schools, state and local tax rates and other local laws that affect every one of us are often decided by the few people who do show up to vote.

It might seem early to start talking about an election that’s 10 months away, but now is the time to register to vote, and get your friends and family registered. And if you have moved since the last election, make sure to update your voter registration. At Voto Latino, our calendar for next year is full of events that celebrate our vote, that remind us that our power begins at the polls and gives our young leaders the tools they need to create positive change in their communities. We recently had an event in Texas where we registered about 5,000 high school seniors. Hearing stories about the students connecting issues that affect their lives to steps they can take to regain control over their future was empowering and reaffirming.

We all need to become involved. We can’t sit on our hands waiting for the change we want to see. Sí se puede, but only if we demand it.