Haverhill City Councilor Andy Vargas addressing delegates last Saturday in Worcester. (Courtesy photograph.)
When Massachusetts Democrats gathered last Saturday in Worcester for their annual convention, they heard from a 23-year-old Dominican-American from Haverhill.
Haverhill City Councilor Andy Vargas, the city’s first Latino elected official, lobbied delegates to make civic education in schools and reducing barriers to voting among the party’s top goals.
“I stand before you today as a product of an immigrant family—fully understanding that there are few places in the world where our story is even possible—the story of my father working in the last shoe factory in Haverhill to then raise a son who would one day become the first Latino elected official in that city,” said Vargas, according to his prepared remarks.
He advocated for the passage of civic education legislation as championed by Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler. The legislation would make understanding how federal, state and local government works a student graduation requirement. “We must prioritize this legislation—for civic education is perhaps the best investment we can make in our democracy,” he said.
Vargas also railed against efforts across the country to redraw voting districts to favor the political party in power, reduce voter locations and increase barriers to voting.
“Democracy is not just a word. It is a promise. The promise of a government and society that sees us as truly equal. The promise of a society that offers opportunity to all of its people,” the city councilor said.
He urged the party to oppose voter identification laws which, he said, “disproportionately disenfranchise low-income, minority, disabled, elderly and new voters.”
“We do this not out of party interest, but out of American interest. Because we know that a government that reflects its people is one of the greatest measures of a healthy democracy,” Vargas said.
Acknowledging the divide between Democratic and Republican party voters, Vargas argued, “it is imperative that we recognize valid debate and dissent without retribution, as the cornerstone of healthy progress within our party, Commonwealth and country.”