There are supreme moments in our lives where the notions of what we have and who we are come into play. This is most serious when it is part of political process because what we face affects the very foundation of our democracy.
We normally put our trust in our elected officials and our political leadership because they are said to be connected to our needs and desires and are there to do our will. In this moment, it is not enough, and it is not enough because there is a greater need to see our country into the next stage of its history.
This requires the imposition of our personal and individual will in the form of our vote allowed to us by the Constitution of the United States. I know that many times we think that our vote does not count as much as we hear it does because perhaps we have seen in the past that we have not voted and things stayed the same or have voted and have seen our vote go one way and the result of the count taking us a different direction.
We sometimes forget that in a democracy if enough of us think the same way and vote, we can order the change we were looking to make. A great example of this was the Denver election of 1983.
The post-Chicano Movement Latino community in the country was redirecting its energy toward issues and actions that would take it from the margins to a place of mainstream leadership for the greater good. It was out of this murky and somewhat confusing time that Federico Pena, a somewhat unknown leader, came to the forefront and elevated the Latino self image and experience by transforming a battered Denver to a city of global greatness.
It was the year 1983 and the election for Mayor of Denver was extended to include a runoff between Federico Pena, a 36 year old young state legislator and Dale Tooley, the District Attorney for the City and County of Denver. This runoff was held because no one in the regular election got the majority of the votes.
I remember seeing the 7 original candidates that included Mayor Bill McNichols and later Mayor Wellington Webb and thinking that Federico was very much of a dark horse. Yet, he came out of the election as one of the two that received the votes to qualify for the runoff.
Previous to the runoff, a short period was allowed to register new voters. I remember my mother working tirelessly to transport people to the registration office downtown.
I was with her one of those times and witnessed the registration of a Latina she brought to register. When the clerk asked the registrant what party she would like to declare, the person said Federico Pena. Although it was a funny moment, this was a very serious business. As a result of the special effort of the community, 5,000 additional Denverites were registered for the runoff.
Mayor Pena won by 4,445 votes and his campaign slogan asking us to “Imagine a Great City” became a reality. Just look around today and you will see a piece of that dream in places like the Convention Center, Empower Field at Mile High better known as Mile High Stadium, Coors Field and Denver International Airport.
At this moment, there is an existential threat to our democracy that politicians cannot solve. It can be done by us and our vote.