It’s late afternoon at the office of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), and I’m interrupting a big work session. Specifically, I’m interrupting activist and organizer Dulce Valencia’s “Magnificent Workplan Extravaganza Jamboree,” the ambitious three to five-year voter registration strategy she is drafting.
It’s not the only work session going on, although it’s the only one with such a jolly title. PLAN communications director Laura Martin and other organizers are working on multi-year plans for activism areas around key issues: immigration, mining, and mass incarceration. Together, the team is putting people and planet first as they prepare to ramp up their efforts ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections.
The upcoming elections are important for many reasons, but here in Nevada the stakes are particularly high. Attorney General Adam Laxalt – who signed Nevada onto the anti-DACA lawsuit in 2015 and in 2017 issued a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Trump administration’s executive order cutting off funds to sanctuary cities – is running for governor. According to Laxalt, California’s sanctuary cities are a “threat” to Nevada safety. He has also fought against gun control and is refusing to implement a background-check ballot measure that was passed in the 2016 elections, calling it “defective.”
With so many critical issues riding on the 2018 election in Nevada, it’s no surprise PLAN is already getting organized. As a former employee and current volunteer of PLAN, work sessions like this one are comfortably familiar for me. Everyone sits together in the conference room, chatting and providing feedback, including Dulce Valencia.
Dulce joined PLAN as a volunteer five years ago, and has been working as an organizer for the last three years. State Director Bob Fulkerson gave her the nickname “PLAN Dulce,” a play on the Mexican dessert pan dulce. The name fits – for much of our talk, Valencia is smiling sweetly, her face lit with enthusiasm for her work. For this year’s voter registration and awareness campaign, she’s focusing on the tried-and-true methods that have been successful in the last two years.
“We go directly to the people,” she says. “Last year in 2017, we did canvas and push people to vote in the county elections and the way we did that was strategic. We went back to the same people we had in 2016. One thing that I enjoy that PLAN does is that we don’t just do voter registration every election year, that we continuously do it, that’s part of what we do, so that helps to continuously keep the momentum going,” she says.
But despite that momentum, Donald Trump still made it into the White House, along with 241 Republican representatives and 52 senators, maintaining their control of Congress. It was an uphill battle convincing people that their votes mattered and could make a difference back in 2016; will they believe us when we try to tell them the same thing now?
“It’s certainly easy to feel hopeless when you’re going into an election, when you see who’s president,” Dulce concedes. “I definitely feel where [that is] coming from, but my response to that is we have to push back. This does happen, systems are flawed…we have to look at everything that’s going on, but then we also have to look at elections that have been decided by one vote.”
Ironically enough, Dulce herself cannot vote. She is here on a U-visa, and while she has a work permit, she isn’t eligible for DACA. But it is that disenfranchisement that sparked her passion for voter registration and organizing. As a high school student, Dulce urged her peers who were eligible to vote for her. The first time she spoke to a class about voting, only one person registered. Now, as a volunteer with PLAN, Dulce has helped hundreds of Nevadans get registered, get informed and get out to vote.
Dulce knows that a big part of her work, this year and every year, is education and awareness. “I actually had a lot of conversations at the door [with people] who had no idea there was an election this year, and that just shows the amount of work we have to do and why we can’t stop every two years and take a break.”
This year, Dulce’s going straight to the people: at grocery stores, supermarkets, swap meets – wherever communities gather – to make registering as easy as possible. She is also taking advantage of her recent admission to University of Nevada Las Vegas’ theater program, setting up a voting demonstration near campus and organizing ballot parties, where students can get together to discuss their ballots and who they want to vote for and why. Dulce, for her part, already knows who she won’t be voting for.
“Adam Laxalt never stood behind immigrant families, and now he wants to have the most powerful position in the state. I think that’s something we need to highlight and focus on so that he doesn’t win because we cannot go backwards on immigration, and he represents such a real threat to our communities here on a state level,” Dulce says.
In addition to her volunteer work, Dulce is an aspiring actress and writer. It’s a long-standing dream for her, one that was put on hold when she graduated high school while she was undocumented and realized she could not go to college. It was during that time that she found PLAN, but she hopes to pursue both paths – at least for now.
“I think there is going to be a point where I want to focus on what my personal dreams are, but I’m never going to leave organizing behind,” she says. “I’ll always care about the issues and I’ll always do my best to advocate for the issues I care about. I know that there will always be another fight to fight, and I plan on being there.”