When Ronald Rivera graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with an accounting degree in 2015, he had no inkling he would soon embark on a career with the Nebraska Democratic Party.
“It’s something I never thought of doing,” he said.
Rivera. who was born in Los Angeles to El Salvadoran immigrant parents, was a political neophyte testing the job market. His first job out of college found him going door to door for a cable television company. He didn’t like selling services or collecingt payments. But it proved good training for Rivera when recruited by a friend to work on an anti-death penalty campaign.
“I started off as the volunteer coordinator training other volunteers on how to phone bank, do door-to-door. write letters to the editor. From there I became an organizer, then a district director, and now I’m a statewide director.”
Each job got him noticed by state Democratic Party leaders as he went from volunteer to salaried staffer.
Getting the job done is something he and his high achieving siblings draw on from their blue collar parents.
“When we’re given work, we just do it until it’s completed,” he said.
All five Rivera children have graduated from college or on track to.
“We’re just trying to make our parents proud. We’re trying to show them that what they taught us all our lifetime has helped us come this far.”
Ronald’s first big move within the state party was as the South Omaha Field Organizer for the Heath Mello mayoral campaign in 2016.
“I recruited volunteers to spread the word. We talked to business and grassroots leaders about what Heath Mello stood for and how he helped with DACA and Dreamer students being eligible to receive drivers licenses and work permits.”
Rivera and his team educated residents about the election process and the importance of casting a ballot in national and local elections. Many residents had never voted or didn’t know about the election. Some didn’t realize there was more than a presidential election every four years. They were told about mid-terms, municipal and state elections, et cetera.
“People were grateful (to be informed),” he said.
Rivera enjoyed using his bilingual fluency to communicate with Spanish-speaking first-time voters.
The more work he did, the more it felt like a good fit.
“I enjoyed talking to people and knowing their concerns. I liked getting involved in the community and learning more about what’s going on.”
His first taste of community activism came as a student volunteer with El Centro de las Americas in Lincoln. Along with his work on the anti-death penalty and Mello mayoral campaigns, he said, “It opened my eyes to new things I had never seen or experienced.”
He’s since gone to Washington D.C. for training.
As 2nd Congressional District Coordinator he recruited volunteers to canvas for the 2018 election. He added more responsibilities when hired as the party’s statewide Data and Field Director last November.
The former math minor manages and analyzes data, “seeing what we’ll target for 2020, setting up field plans, helping candidates target and talk to their base,” he said. He knows first-hand “there’s a lot of work behind” the machine that makes campaigns run.
As Block Captain Coordinator, he oversees hundreds of volunteers tasked with influencing neighbors to vote.
“Block captains are the point persons letting people know about elections, polling places, who’s running, the last dates to vote by mail. The key is keeping them involved. We had over 500 block captains in 2018. Voter turnout increased. It’s something we’re implementing again in 2020. Our goal is to have a thousand block captains so that we can inform more people.”
Rivera, 27, has found his niche.
“I like behind the scenes helping people out.”
He supports the Dems attemps to make things better for underserved people and making Nebraska a blue state.
“There’s more work to be done. We keep going, keep battling, one step at a time.”
He’s encouraged by Latino participation in the party.
“We have a good Latinx Caucus chair, Dulce Sherman. We’re reaching out to Latinos every day. think this is going to be one of the more important elections for Latinos voting because of everything that’s happened nationwide with immigration.”
He realizes “people need to learn more about the voting process and how they can participate.” That’s why he’s determined to “let Latinos know they can vote, they should vote, by keeping them informed.” “Hopefully, we’ll see a lot more at the polls.”
“Although I want people to vote Democrat,” he added, “in the end I just want them to go vote. No matter where you stand, you have the opportunity to voice your opinion, and if you have the chance to vote, then why not do it? It’s what people in some countries can’t do .”
He considers the party a second family.
“We’re honest with each other, we won’t hold things back, so that we can get better with what we’re working towards. As we gear up for next year, I’m feeling pretty good about it. The energy’s good. We’re slowly but surely getting ready.”
Relocating to a rural community to continue his party work may be an option. He sees a need for more education there about elections due to language and access limitations faced by Spanish speakers.
Rivera, who’s shed 80 pounds since learning he was pre-diabetic, is conscious of being an example for the next generation of young Latinos.
“Hopefully, seeing what I’ve done and what I’ve overcome will show how they can better themselves and help guide them to the right path.”
He’s helps create opportunities for Latinos as a Metro Young Latino Professionals Association board member.
“I’m looking forward to what comes next.”
For now, he said, “I like behind the scenes,” but serving on a more public stage has crossed his mind. “I haven’t fully sold myself on being out there yet to run for office. Eventually I want to, but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.