Hundreds of laid-off service workers are banning together in the last days until the 2020 election to get out the vote in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Many of them are immigrants who lost employment during President Donald J. Trump's time in office over the past four years.
Norberto Meniano is a 49-year-old unemployed restaurant worker originally from the Philippines. As a married gay man, he worries about the direction of LGBTQ rights under a conservative Supreme Court. His husband is currently protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but under a Trump administration, Meniano wonders if the love of his life will be forced to leave. And as a cook on the Las Vegas Strip who’s been out of work since March, he fears he will lose the home he bought last year.
Meniano's full-time job now consists of canvassing neighborhoods in support of Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his vice presidential running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).
“They tell me, ‘Thank you for doing this,’” said Meniano, who became a U.S. citizen in 2012. “It makes me want to knock on 10 more doors, 20 more doors.”
Meniano's story is a common one among canvassers organized by UNITE HERE during the 2020 election. The organization says it has turned out over 1,000 of its members in the swing states of Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. Many of them are immigrants and people of color who have been hard hit by Trump's anti-everything non-White rhetoric. Roughly three out of four of the union’s members are still out of work.
UNITE HERE President D. Taylor said the program has its struggles, but donations by those like former presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who recently gave $1 million to the union’s canvassing efforts in Florida, are keeping their efforts afloat.
A 61-year-old Disney cast member named Madi Portes used to help tourists plan their visit to the Magic Kingdom, but she's been furloughed since COVID-19 forced the park to close. She spends her days now phone-banking for Biden to educate voters on how the Trump administration has created an even deeper divide economically in the U.S. Her pay before being furloughed was only $15 per hour.
“It’s making the poor poorer. And we are not getting any kind of help from the government,” said Portes. “The executives of Disney, the people in the administration ― they need to come down and live a day in the life of one of us.”
Yolette Lareus is a 50-year-old line cook from Haiti who was laid off from the Calder Casino in Miami Gardens in March 2020. She is a single mother of two children.
“I’m not a shithole person,” said Lareus. “Another four years of this president, I don’t see how we can make it. That’s why I’m doing everything I can.”
Maggie Acosta is a 22-year-old single mother of two children who has taken up canvassing for Biden in her home state of Arizona. Acosta said she was livid after Trump’s crowded church rally in Phoenix this past June, where many attendees declined to wear masks. Trump's decision to put her life and others' lives at risk made her ultimately choose to work to elect Biden.
“If they had listened and done what was recommended, I really believe that we wouldn’t be going through all of this,” she said.
With so much uncertainty floating around in her life until the election process shakes itself out, Acosta says canvassing is her "best therapy."