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In the wake of Joe Biden’s triumph over Donald Trump in the presidential election, one question is whether the mobilization of Black and Latinx voters will give progressive grassroots groups leverage over the direction that a Biden Administration will take.

The stage is set for a power struggle over what direction the incoming Biden Administration should take, between the party’s left flank seeking a transformative agenda and moderates pining for a “return to normal” after Trump.

During Barack Obama’s eight years in office, more progressive grassroots groups were corralled into what liberal blogger Jane Hamsher called the “Veal Pen,” referring to the weekly conference calls set aside for them. But now, they have evidence their efforts to mobilize voters—knocking on thousands of doors, making millions of phone calls, sending millions of texts—were crucial to Biden’s victories in states including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

“We knew the path to victory for Pennsylvania and the presidency ran through communities of color, which is why our members worked day and night contacting 1.3 million voters in crucial communities of color across the state,” says Maegan Llerena, state director for Make the Road Action in Pennsylvania, a working-class, immigrant, and people of color advocacy organization.

Make the Road Action concentrated on the more than 500,000 Latinx voters in the Pennsylvania cities of Philadelphia and Reading, and the Lehigh Valley. It didn’t simply parachute in during election cycles but made a long-term commitment to organizing to build power. 

Biden carried the areas where Make the Road Action concentrated, with margins of 7.5 percent in Lehigh County (Allentown) and 4.4 percent and 26 percent in Bucks County and Montgomery County, in the Philadelphia suburbs. In Berks County (Reading), where Make the Road Action PA engaged more than 178,000 voters, 75 percent of Latinx folks voted for Biden. The number of Latinx individuals who opted to vote early increased more than ninefold compared to 2016.

“We were never the hardcore Biden supporters. That was never us,” Llerena says. “That was never our base of members. They were not pro-Biden. They were about their issues. They decided to choose each other as opposed to choosing a candidate.”

Casa in Action, which has 100,000 members in the mid-Atlantic region, led a robust ground game across southern Pennsylvania, from the Philadelphia suburbs to Harrisburg. 

In Pennsylvania and Virginia, the group reached1.2 million voters, through 661,000 calls, 525,000 texts, and 52,000 knocks. Casa in Action  and Make the Road Action are calling for comprehensive immigration reform, including a moratorium on all deportations, an expansion of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, COVID-19 relief that includes everyone, and real police accountability. 

Like Make the Road Action, Mijente, a national member-led organizing hub for Latinx and Chicanx voters, endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders during the primaries. After Biden was nominated, they launched Fuera Trump (Trump Out), a digital grassroots-based campaign, to support his candidacy. With a focus on Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona, Mijente contacted more than 500,000 voters, knocked on more than 200,000 doors, and held more than 50,000 conversations with voters. 

“We said we were not choosing our savior, we were choosing our opponent,” Mijente executive director Marisa Franco says in an email. 

In Wisconsin, Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz shared a similar sentiment, emphasizing that Biden’s platform represents progress from Obama’s term. The Obama Administration, she says, decided to pass health care first, and then immigration would be next.

 “Clearly, that was a mistake,” Neumann-Ortiz  says. “We have to demand and expect more,” she adds. 

UNITE HERE, which represents 300,000 union workers in hotels, casinos, and food service, mobilized members to knock on nearly 600,000 people’s doors in North and West Philadelphia. The union was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with upwards of 90 percent of its members laid off in the initial lockdown. 

For Briheem Douglas, thirty-six, now a union leader and previously a worker at Philadelphia’s baseball stadium, Citizens Bank Park, the pandemic had exacted an even more personal toll: On September 15, he lost his twenty-one-year-old niece Brianna, two weeks after she was diagnosed with the virus, on her graduation day. 

“If we had a different President that took this disease seriously, maybe my niece would be here,” he says. “And my family wouldn’t be dealing with this heartache and pain like so many American families.” 

Douglas says his support for the Biden campaign is premised on the President-elect fulfilling his promises to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and lead a competent, public health-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In South Florida, Harry East, another UNITE HERE canvasser, worked as a banquet server for more than twenty years at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood. In March, he and more than 1,000 others—750 of them union workers—were laid off. 

Frustrated with the lack of leadership at the federal and state level to get a handle on the pandemic and struggling to access unemployment benefits, East has put in thousands of volunteer hours alongside other UNITE HERE Florida housekeepers, cooks, servers, and dishwashers to elect progressive candidates to the Miami-Dade County Commission, to secure Mayor-elect Daniella Levine Cava’s victory, and to help flip Jacksonville to the Democrats.

He argues that the new administration needs to tackle the pandemic in order to make it safe for people to travel, so hotel workers can earn a paycheck again. UNITE HERE also wants to extend hotel workers’ recall rights for another two years and ensure that longtime employees get first dibs on jobs once the hospitality sector reopens. 

Overall, UNITE HERE’s 1,700 canvassers knocked on the doors of three million voters in Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. The union’s phone-bank operation called ten million numbers. But Kenneth Williams, Detroit Action’s communications director, says that while Trump lost, the small gains he made among Black and Latinx voters mean the movement can’t fall into complacency.

“I think it is important for community organizations like Detroit Action and our allies to take a look at what was alluring to Black and Latinx Midwestern voters about the Trump platform,” Williams says. 

The evidence for a swing toward Trump is more complex than it first appeared. 

“I think that with the data we have now, it is unclear if there was any appreciable shift of Black voter support to Trump from 2016,” says Dr. Katrina Gamble, president of Sojourn Strategies, a social impact consulting firm. “In Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Black support for Biden was well over 90 percent.”

“Even looking at the election return data, I don’t see clear evidence of Trump performing better with Black voters,” says Tom Bonier, chief executive of TargetSmart, a market research, polling, and consulting firm. “I’m basing this off precinct level returns in urban areas at this point.” But there were some signs of movement toward Trump in heavily Latino counties. Trump won 45 percent of the vote in Maverick County, on the border northwest of Laredo, Texas. Downriver, he got 47 percent in Starr County and carried Zapata County with 53 percent. 

Maverick County Republican Party chairman Alfredo Arellano III, nineteen, told me the reason for the shift was that the Republicans “had a strong party foundation” in the three counties for the first time in years. Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, a resident of the Rio Grande Valley, told The Wall Street Journal that his party failed to counter Republican messaging on pandemic shutdowns, oil jobs, and abortion—three important issues to Tejano voters.

Elizabeth Bille, Texas state director of the nonpartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, stresses that “the Latino community is not monolithic. Regardless of party affiliation, Latinos, particularly young Latinos, turned out to vote in record numbers.”

The stage is set for a power struggle over what direction the incoming Biden Administration should take, between the party’s left flank seeking a transformative agenda and moderates pining for a “return to normal” after Trump.  

“While traditional Democrats avoided ‘big structural change,’ ” says Williams of Detroit Action, “we ran a campaign that talked to Detroit voters about COVID-19 relief, ‘defund the police,’ or defund and refund, and what housing justice could look like in our community. We firmly believe that in order to win and mobilize voters in our community, we should be talking about big ideas and policy that inspire them to vote.”

Citations

[1] Hamsher leads left away from W.H. - POLITICO ➤ https://www.politico.com/story/2009/12/hamsher-leads-left-away-from-wh-030131[2] Make the Road Pennsylvania ➤ https://www.maketheroadpa.org/[3] Pennsylvania Elections - County Results ➤ https://www.electionreturns.pa.gov/General/CountyResults?countyName=Lehigh&ElectionID=undefined&ElectionType=G&IsActive=undefined[4] Pennsylvania Elections - County Results ➤ https://www.electionreturns.pa.gov/General/CountyResults?countyName=Bucks&ElectionID=undefined&ElectionType=G&IsActive=undefined[5] Pennsylvania Elections - County Results ➤ https://www.electionreturns.pa.gov/General/CountyResults?countyName=Montgomery&ElectionID=undefined&ElectionType=G&IsActive=undefined[6]https://twitter.com/realMABarreto/status/1324903627635388417/photo/1[7] Young Latinx Voters Dominate Early Vote Across Battleground States Heading into Election Day - Voto Latino ➤ https://votolatino.org/media/press-releases/young-latinx-voters-dominate-early-vote-across-battleground-states-heading-into-election-day/[8]https://www.casainaction.org/#about[9]https://casainaction.org/pressroom/immigrants-people-of-color-latinos-black-real-election-winners/[10] Temporary Protected Status | USCIS ➤ https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status[11] Mijente ➤ https://mijente.net/[12] Beating Trump in November is up to us - #FueraTrump ➤ https://www.fueratrump.com/[13] Voces De La Frontera ➤ https://vdlf.org/[14] Who We Are - UNITE HERE! : UNITE HERE! ➤ https://unitehere.org/who-we-are/[15] UNITE HERE, union that knocked on doors of 3 million voters—including 575,000 in Philadelphia—celebrates victory for Biden/Harris - UNITE HERE! : UNITE HERE! ➤ https://unitehere.org/press-releases/unite-here-union-that-knocked-on-doors-of-3-million-voters-including-575000-in-philadelphia-celebrates-victory-for-biden-harris/[16] Unite Here Is 85% Unemployed and Still Fighting Like Hell - In These Times ➤ https://inthesetimes.com/article/unite-here-union-unemployed-workers-biden-campaign-door-knocking-canvassing[17] Laid Off Hospitality Workers Got Out the Vote for Florida’s Primary Elections - UNITE HERE Local 355 ➤ https://www.unitehere355.org/2020/08/laid-off-hospitality-workers-got-out-the-vote-for-floridas-primary-elections/[18] Statement from Wendi Walsh UNITE HERE Florida Political Director re declared victory for Mayor Daniella Levine Cava - UNITE HERE Local 355 ➤ https://www.unitehere355.org/2020/11/statement-from-wendi-walsh-unite-here-florida-political-director-re-declared-victory-for-mayor-daniella-levine-cava/[19] Jax goes blue with a few caveats ➤ https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/columns/nate-monroe/2020/11/06/jax-goes-blue-few-caveats/6177737002/[20] UNITE HERE, union that knocked on doors of 3 million voters—including 575,000 in Philadelphia—celebrates victory for Biden/Harris - UNITE HERE! : UNITE HERE! ➤ https://unitehere.org/press-releases/unite-here-union-that-knocked-on-doors-of-3-million-voters-including-575000-in-philadelphia-celebrates-victory-for-biden-harris/[21] Social Impact | Sojourn Strategies ➤ https://www.sojournstrategies.com/[22] HOME - TargetSmart ➤ https://targetsmart.com/[23]https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/05/us/texas-election-results.html[24]https://www.maverickcountyrepublicanparty.org/county-chairman/[25] Why Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy - WSJ ➤ https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-democrats-lost-so-many-south-texas-latinosthe-economy-11604871650?st=efie45fb4pxd28h&reflink=share_mobilewebshare&fbclid=IwAR3585ejgIqiNfnJZq4FRt_mzcp0GMGD-3eP3XUYLF-kAHhd1fAs8SnyhPU[26] Trump Didn’t Win the Latino Vote in Texas. He Won the Tejano Vote. - POLITICO ➤ https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/11/17/trump-latinos-south-texas-tejanos-437027[27] NALEO Educational Fund ➤ https://naleo.org/