No longer waiting for a savior, we are saving ourselves in southwest Kansas

“The New Frontiers Project holistically approaches civic engagement in our own community of southwest Kansas through addressing the root causes of cultural disenfranchisement and apathy,” writes Alejandro Rangel-Lopez. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Alejandro Rangel-Lopez is a Dodge City native, a public administration and political science student at the University of Kansas, and the lead coordinator for the New Frontiers Project in southwest Kansas.

“We need to engage more people of color!”

“They’re the majority, why aren’t they voting?”

“What can we do to get them out to the polls?”

“The other side is awful, it’s obvious how important this election is.”

These are some of the things I’ve heard across the state since I became active in civic circles in 2017. It’s a perennial question, one that I am asked whenever I have the opportunity to participate in a discussion related to the topic. What do we do about voting in southwest Kansas?

There is unquestionably a huge need for action on the issue of Black and Latino engagement in our civic processes. However, folks making the decisions about which resources go where fail in their efforts for two main reasons: 1) the organizers they hire are not locals or, in southwest Kansas, don’t even speak Spanish and 2) the resources they allocate are short-term, leaving no room for any long-term empowerment. It is a transactional process that leaves folks feeling like their interactions with these organizations are purely one-sided and not advantageous to us. In short, there is no basis of trust or mutual respect in the endeavor.

That’s where the New Frontiers Project comes in. The New Frontiers Project holistically approaches civic engagement in our own community of southwest Kansas through addressing the root causes of cultural disenfranchisement and apathy.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, I grew disenchanted with electoralism after seeing how political entities treated minorities as a given and monolithic body of people. By creating intentional relationships with the folks who live in our communities, we can tackle power structures that are designed to ensure Black and brown folks have a more difficult time traversing America’s economic and social strata and thus, disparate outcomes in succeeding on this journey. These hurdles are what we like to call “frontiers.”

Days are gone where this word referred to the uncolonized land between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. The issues we face today fall under six frontiers in our vision: food insecurity, justice and liberation, physical and mental wellness, representation, equity, and sanctuary.

For minorities to become civically engaged and take back the power that belongs to us in local governance, we have to address the issues that prevent our participation to begin with and create the proper conditions for us to feel empowered. Only then will we elect public officials that are representative of those who live in the areas they serve. In dealing with abstract and academic conceptions of governance, social theory, data, etc., those who are privileged enough to have a college education or the free time to study political theory forget that there are actual people behind these blocks of text and lists of numbers.

But that’s exactly why they should vote — so they can get people in office who care!”

Say the folks who I’ve explained this to. To which I ask, “Why would someone from my community go out to vote when they know it won’t help them find the next meal to feed their family?”

One must feed their body before they can feed their soul. By ignoring the needs of our community, we fall further and further behind on the economic ladder, creating the vast economic disparities we see now. As they’ve seen this proven time and time again, my neighbors do not trust the government to either care about or solve their problems.

Educate. Engage. Empower.

By educating, we can connect an issue our community is facing to a systemic problem. Then, we can engage our neighbors by asking for their input on the solutions and how they can help. Empowering comes in the form of giving these folks the resources and knowledge necessary to craft a future that they want to see, not telling them what they should want.

The million-dollar question is not, “What can we do to get them engaged?” It is, “What can we do to empower them?”

This is not a short-term endeavor. Change takes time and, most importantly, steady commitment. There is an intersection of political advocacy and mutual aid that has yet to be utilized, and the New Frontiers Project sits on it.

This is not to say that it will be easy. It won’t be. However, it is necessary, and that is why we do it. Those who want to help can join us and keep up to date by following @ournewfrontiers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Southwest Kansas is done waiting for a savior. It’s time for us to save ourselves.

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Alejandro Rangel-Lopez
Alejandro Rangel-Lopez

Alejandro Rangel-Lopez is a Dodge City native and third year undergraduate student at the University of Kansas studying public administration and political science. He has been active in local and state politics since 2017 and is now working as the lead coordinator for the New Frontiers Project in Southwest Kansas, creating a blueprint for holistic approaches to civic engagement at the intersections of mutual aid, community building and political advocacy.