OPINION

Opinion: A creative plan to achieving Latino unity? Let's organize and elect a leader

COSTA MESA, CA - APRIL 01:  Seven-year-old April Palazios, whose parents came from Guatemala, waves Guatemalan and US flags as protesters march to decry pending federal legislation aimed at reducing illegal immigration on April 1, 2006 in Costa Mesa, California. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people participated in today's demonstration including members of the Mexican American Political Association, Hermandad Mexicana Latino Americana, and Service Employees International Union participated in the rally.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

COSTA MESA, CA - APRIL 01: Seven-year-old April Palazios, whose parents came from Guatemala, waves Guatemalan and US flags as protesters march to decry pending federal legislation aimed at reducing illegal immigration on April 1, 2006 in Costa Mesa, California. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people participated in today's demonstration including members of the Mexican American Political Association, Hermandad Mexicana Latino Americana, and Service Employees International Union participated in the rally. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2006 Getty Images)

A week ago, on the eve of the national Hispanicize event that I organize, I published an op-ed piece that argued why the only way Latinos will achieve true respect in the U.S. is finding the courage and creativity to corporately unite behind one national leader.

Today, I want to address the hurdles to unity and how with some true leadership, selflessness and imagination we can solve the cultural crisis Latinos are encountering in the U.S.

Similar to how the political parties have their delegates pledge their allegiance to the final party candidate, the Latino Leadership Congress should seek a written pledge from each of the participating organizations’ leaders to support whomever is elected leader of this historic vote, which should be conducted with strict parliamentary procedures.

- Manny Ruiz

The Obvious Hurdles

I should begin by acknowledging that there are several hurdles to achieving the unity we need.

For starters, the nation's 55 million U.S. Latinos are comprised of 20 different nationalities, all of which can be further divided into Hispanics who are English- and Spanish-dominant, bilingual, bicultural, first generation, second generation, etc.

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A second obstacle is that many Latinos believe that a unifying leader should rise on his or her own, “organically” over time.  

A third strike against my idea is that some Latino leaders themselves may never support a super leadership structure because they will not want to disrupt how they operate or they simply believe it’s not necessary.

Finally, many leaders don’t even think Latino unity is worth the effort because they say what we should do is wait to show our political muscle at the ballot box this November. (Predictably I think this means "we'll show the Republicans" because that is what Latino leaders routinely do — with often embarrassing results).  

I hear the skeptics of the unity leader idea loud and clear, and while some of these people’s points range from fair to pathetic, I believe our greatest problem is a lack of good old fashioned imagination.  

A Historic Precedent

For example, our nation’s own history can be a source for ideas and inspiration.

In 1775, under pending attack from the British crown, our forefathers created a loose union of 13 American colonies called the Second Continental Congress. Even though these colonies had significant differences, interests and quarrels amongst them, history forced them to unite and they did. In hindsight, even though it was difficult for them to agree to this, history changed when they put their collective destiny in the hands of George Washington, the Virginian who would lead the Continental Army to victory.  

Structuring Our Latino Leadership Congress

I believe creating a Latino Leadership Congress, our version of the Continental Congress, would be a critical first step towards unity because without this I don’t think even one strong candidate would risk their career and/or family to play the sacrificial role that this historic position requires.  A Latino Leadership Congress would set the bar high for our community and its leaders to demonstrate that we are serious about harnessing our collective voices.

This Latino Leadership Congress should be created by organizing a core group of ten Top-50 Latino organizations (by number of members) who wholeheartedly believe that identifying a national Latino leader is a moral imperative that must be tackled immediately. The Top 10 organizations should in turn recruit 300 to 500 additional Latino organizations from across the country to form a national Latino Leadership Congress that is representative of various nationalities, professions and age ranges.  

These top 10 organizations should build the criteria for conducting a national leadership search that will culminate with an emergency convention somewhere central in the United States and whose primary mission is to vet nominees for this special role and to vote someone into this position. Similar to how the political parties have their delegates pledge their allegiance to the final party candidate, the Latino Leadership Congress should seek a written pledge from each of the participating organizations’ leaders to support whomever is elected leader of this historic vote, which should be conducted with strict parliamentary procedures.

The significance of this emergency congress cannot be lost on us as it would be unprecedented and would generate significant media and social media coverage. In fact, a key strategy behind the national pledge from participating organizations is that it will give this leader immediate national recognition and the necessary gravitas to lead.

Once this leader has been selected, it is strategically critical that this powerful congress inform all media, Latino and non-Latino alike, that from this point forward this leader will be heavily favored and monitored by Latino organizations and leaders from across the country, all of which would treat him or her with special deference usually accorded in the mainstream press to presidential candidates. 

This leader’s voice would not negate other Latinos but would instead reinforce the idea that we now have a coherent, consistent voice that can speak to what the Latino brand stands for on a daily basis and what our positions across many topics are.

In the age of social media virality, it is not only feasible to have someone like this recognized overnight — it is virtually guaranteed. Social media would not only help introduce this person to the Latino community but it would allow them to create unprecedented conversations quickly, efficiently and consistently in a way that has simply not been possible before. Used intelligently, social media and traditional media can play an essential role in bringing organic, national recognition to our leader quickly —  and that is half the battle.

Let's Crowdfund Our Leader

In order to avoid financial conflicts of interest, our leader should be crowdfunded and economically fully dependent on the Latino movement that will be formed — without launching yet another non-for-profit.   

Crowdfunding may sound unconventional but it’s effective because it will enable him/her to speak and act with their conscience rather than with the concerns of losing their funding from government organizations, corporate sponsors, charities or private individuals who would otherwise exert financial control over them. (If they are independently wealthy, they can decide to forego crowdfunding).

Crowdfunding is also extremely democratic and will enable the Latino community (not just leaders and other elites) to get excited and show support for the movement, something which I think our community morally needs to do.    

With regards to the amount that should be crowdfunded, it should be significant enough to generously provide for this person, their family and for the support staff that will be needed to do the work.  

A Council of Mentors

Even though our unity leader will possess a strong array of skill sets, they must receive mentorship and resources. To properly equip them we must give this person the fullest support system possible and between all of our respective organizations we should form a Council of Mentors that specifically will be this leader’s go-to resources for legal, marketing, social media, leadership, resource and organizational advice.  

The Council of Mentors will not have any undue influence or powers over this leader but will instead be the collective backbone of the leader’s movement.

We Went to the Moon

I know these ideas may seem far-fetched to some but so was the one-time crazy notion of landing on the moon. If we can put a man on the moon, something far more difficult and with as much at stake as the great crisis Latinos are engulfed in, I think we can do anything.  

A little imagination is all our Latino community needs to be unified.

Manny Ruiz is the Cuban-American CEO of Hispanicize Media Group, the parent company of the annual Hispanicize event that is the nation's largest annual gathering of digital creators, journalists, marketing execs and entertainers.  He can be reached at manny@hispanicize.com and @MannyRuiz on Twitter.

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