CLEVELAND — Education is first on Baldemar Velasquez’s agenda.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee president is at the Republican National Convention marching with other grassroots organizations and participating in the country’s democratic system. Mr. Velasquez spoke about farm labor and income inequality during a panel discussion hosted by Policy Matters Ohio at Cleveland State University before taking part in a rally with several dozen members of the FLOC Homies youth program.
At the center of his message is increased wages for farmers and farm workers, a segment of the population he feels is being marginalized.
“We need to pay attention to the income inequality issue to create an economy that gives an opportunity to those on the lower rungs of our communities,” Mr. Velasquez said. “It’s not enough to just do political soundbites. There are concrete things that need to be done in order to bring quality jobs that are required to raise a healthy family.”
Marching alongside FLOC was the Lorain Ohio Immigrant Rights Association, which includes illegal immigrants as its members. One of them, Anabel Barron, could be going back to Mexico, a possibility she greatly fears if Mr. Trump is elected.
"I'm the mother of four American citizens," she said.
Mr. Velasquez, who believes U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was best fit to serve as president, has concerns about Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton. He thinks Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexicans will impact his Hispanic support, while Mrs. Clinton’s actions on trade will adversely affect her standing among farmers.
“They’re both equally bad,” Mr. Velasquez said. “The most insidious things about it is the complicity of the Mexican government. The oligarchy there that controls the politics that sold the citizenry of Mexico down the tubes for personal gains of the very rich in Mexico. It’s one of the most evil things of the last 50 years.”
Those same trade deals, in Mr. Velasquez’s opinion, have led to Mexicans leaving their country for the United States.
“Farm workers in particular have suffered tremendously,” he said. “You’re trying to cover a deep wound that we’ve created ourselves. We’re reaping what we sow and we can’t just cover it up.”
Trade has taken center stage since the primary campaign. Mr. Sanders used President Bill Clinton’s NAFTA deal to his advantage, winning the Michigan primary and forcing Mrs. Clinton to play defense on the issue. Since Mrs. Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee, Mr. Trump has continued the critique Mr. Sanders started.
Competing with Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Central America in the global supply chain is nearly impossible, according to Mr. Velasquez. The United States can’t compete with marginal workers in those countries because they’ll always provide cheaper labor.
The discussion is all part of an education process that he hopes leads to mobilizing voters and having them use their vote intelligently.
Last week, FLOC knocked on 1,000 doors in South Toledo. It resulted in 400 people being registered to vote. Upon returning returning from Cleveland, they will canvass in East Toledo.
“The reality is the Democrats and the Republicans are going to run away with the show,” Mr. Velasquez said. “We have to weigh in critically on those candidates and make some impact on their voice and the positions they're going to take.”