Absentee ballots. Polling centers open for days on end. Early voting. All of these are ways in which Americans can vote for their nation’s elections. So they might be shocked to hear me tell them that 19,542 Venezuelans living in the United States have to go through a much more grueling process to be able to do the same thing they can do rather easily.
This isn't the first time this has happened. On October 7, over 8,000 voters from these four states cast their in-person ballot in New Orleans. In many cases, these heroes electorales traveled over 1,600 miles round trip. Four hours flying. Nearly 30 hours driving. Many more hours by bus. You can read a Spanish article with testimonials here, and a video explaining last year’s mobilization here.
Today, we face the same scenario we did in 2012: How do we help citizens galore to mobilize hundreds of miles from a multitude of cities to New Orleans?
This time around we had less than 30 days to organize and execute the mobilization. Is it a logistical nightmare? Perhaps. But Venezuelans everywhere are rising up to the occasion because they want to be a part of their nation’s political life. They are empowered to create positive changes in their country through their vote, regardless of where it needs to be casted. And the Venezuelan civil society in South Florida has the know-how to make it happen. Again.
De Miami Pa New Orleans is a multimedia Spanish communication platform that Se Habla Venezolano Foundation created in June 2012 to facilitate the dissemination of timely and reliable information about the travel. The webpage compiles information about the different alternatives to mobilize by bus, plane, and car routes. There's also a Facebook page with over 5,000 likes and a Twitter account that has over 5,300 followers.
De Miami Pa New Orleans created an online forum called Operación Canguro, where people who are driving to New Orleans can get together to plan carpools and travel groups. Moreover, De Miami Pa New Orleans recorded our first viral video on March 31, a Harlem Shake that you can watch here. We will be recording a Gangnam Style video on April 6 in Doral. Everyone, regardless of nationality, is invited to participate. VotoJoven is a Venezuelan organization that is present in over 40 countries of the world. It promotes voting and youth civic participation as the best tool that citizens have to attain positive changes in Venezuela.
Our organization has launched #YoEstoyDispuesto, which translates to “I am willing,” a social media viral campaign that promotes participation in the upcoming elections. You can see behind-the-scene pictures of several Venezuelan artists who joined this campaign here, the #YoEstoyDispuesto video here, and the man-on-the-street video here.
But more importantly, VotoJoven in the United States launched a change.org petition to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council requesting that they officially announce the voting center where the 19,542 citizens registered in Miami will vote in New Orleans. On April 1, the National Electoral Council announced that the polling center will be located at the Pontchartrain Civic Center, on 4545 Williams Blvd. in Kenner, Louisiana.
Having already discussed all these online communication tools, all I can say now is that I sincerely hope that this mobilization is as massive as last year’s. In the end, I will mobilize to vote in New Orleans because my compromise with democracy is not measured in the hundreds of miles that pave the way between these two cities. I truly believe that my vote can make a difference – just like the vote of however many Venezuelans vote in New Orleans. Personally, I am deeply convinced that my country needs a positive change, and I want to be part of that process. Even if it means going all the way from Miami to New Orleans.
FIU Political Science student Emily Bello-Pardo is the National Coordinator of VotoJoven in the United States and the executive director of Se Habla Venezolano Foundation.