Martha Dominguez takes politics personally.
Being an indigenous person from Honduras left her with no other choice. Though she says her home country’s government fails to be as openly nasty toward indigenous peoples as, say, Guatemala, it's not above shooting protesters and removing fingernails in a most unpleasant manner.
“My father was the first indigenous doctor in Honduras,” she says. “He had his car blown up."
The car bomb was most likely the work of the government, she says. He survived.
The stark reality of the casual murder of civilians by government officials, she says, leaves people with no choice but to speak up. Silence equals death.
Dominguez immigrated to the U.S. in 1959 and almost immediately became involved in the country's political issues. This week, she continues her work with a how-to seminar for everyday citizens wishing to run for political office.
Dominguez says her group, The Coalition to Take Back Our Government, is a nonpartisan grassroots organization bent on reforming the political process by electing candidates more in tune with the needs of their respective communities.
“We started after Kerry ran against Bush and didn’t win,” she says. “Instead of being depressed, we decided to form a coalition to take back our government.”
The coalition is holding the seminar on Saturday, Aug. 19, called “Nuts and Bolts of Organizing a Political Campaign,” which will help potential candidates learn the basics of campaigning, including, but not limited to, advice on fundraising and public speaking.
Dominguez says the event is good for people who "have thought of running for office or are just disgusted [with the current state of the government].”
“A lot of people don’t vote anymore because there are not enough choices on the ballot,” she says.
Dominguez adds that one of the problems facing the political world is the commonly held belief that everyday people cannot run for office, that politicians are somehow larger than life.
Her group has conducted informal surveys in public parks asking people if they would be interested in running for political office. The answers, usually negative, varied from a distrust of politicians to the belief that entering the political arena would inevitably lead to corruption and loss of personal integrity.
“They would say, ‘Well, gee, I don’t think I can. I’m just a person,’” she says. “We want to change that. Any person can learn the [necessary] skills, and that’s what this training is for, to show you that you can make a difference by running for office.”
Linda B. Berg, political action director for the National Organization for Women (NOW), will be the keynote speaker at the event. Berg says she's coming to Albuquerque for two reasons.
“First, we are always looking to motivate people who support women’s rights and progressive issues to run,” she says. “I’m coming to Albuquerque to meet with people who support building a grassroots office.”
She says, secondly, she is coming to meet with NOW-endorsed Patricia Madrid, candidate for the House of Representatives who's running against incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson in November’s election.
The seminar is the first of several and, among other things, will help people learn how to raise money for a political campaign without having to take contributions from large corporations--a trend in American politics that has led to some politicians favoring special interest groups.
Dominguez says taking small donations from individuals as opposed to companies or special interest groups is a way for politicians to remain committed to helping their communities. She offered selling homemade bread to raise money for her coalition as an example.
Though Berg says she will focus more on other issues, she will discuss fundraising because it is an inexorable part of running a campaign.
“Money moves politics,” she says. “A person can’t run without it. It’s part of their base.”
She says she will also discuss how a candidate can motivate others to help himself or herself get elected, such as being sensitive to issues in one’s district, learning to articulate those issues and building a political résumé to position oneself to run.
Dominguez says the seminar is nonpartisan and anyone, regardless of his or her political affiliation, is welcome to attend. The coalition is looking for candidates who are in touch with the needs of the community; that is, the work-a-day community members themselves.
The group also works to change certain aspects of the electoral system, such as faulty voting machines, the electoral college and the two-party system which Dominguez says needs to change. Dominguez favors a “ranking system” wherein multiple parties run candidates and voters choose several candidates in descending order. The party with the most votes gets, say, the presidency, and the top few contenders receive seats on legislative bodies.
Though she has no plans to ever run for public office, Dominguez lives for politics. She calls representatives to make sure they are doing their job, even ones who aren’t in her district. She feels many of our representatives suffer a strong disconnect from the general public, possibly brought on by too cushy an existence. Regular people in office with an inner fire for the issues and a willingness to listen to their constituents would change the face of politics, she says.
“It’s not going to happen until we have candidates that are at a different perspective,” she says. “If you’ve never been hungry, if you’ve never been without a job, you would have had to do some other work to make [yourself] a human being. When you’ve been living a very cushioned life, it’s very difficult for you to see the pain of others.”