by Javier Tovar
After losing her housekeeping job at a California hotel, Iris Acosta grabbed her most comfortable pair of walking shoes and headed to Arizona to drum up support for Joe Biden.
Acosta is part of a small army of union workers who have rushed to Arizona — a battleground state won by Donald Trump in 2016 but considered a toss-up this time around — in the hope of tilting the vote in favor of the veteran Democrat.
Her union Unite Here Local 11 — which represents workers in hotels, airports, restaurants and sports arenas — endorsed Biden and encouraged about 100 Los Angeles area members to move temporarily to Phoenix to canvass for him.
While Biden is a sure bet in California, Arizona is a far harder prize for the former vice president to win.
“We’re here because we want this state to turn blue,” said Acosta, who hails from Honduras.
For her, the November 3 election will not only decide the future of America, but also her own future, given her temporary immigration status which, like for many others, has been called into question by the Republican incumbent.
Sporting a mask and face covering under a beating sun, the 54-year-old spoke with AFP as she crisscrossed a working class neighborhood of Phoenix, where the Latino vote could make the difference in tight races.
No one answers the door at the first house or the second. One resident says she hasn’t received her ballot yet, while another voter who identifies as a Republican says he is not sure which candidate he will back.
Acosta listens and hands over campaign flyers detailing Biden’s policies on health issues and his promise to do a better job than Trump on managing the coronavirus crisis.
‘More people need to vote’
At one house is Christopher Lowe, who has practically finished filling out his ballot which, like in many other states, contains various measures put to voters beyond the main races.
Acosta eagerly explains those proposals to him in detail.
“I think it’s great because more people need to vote,” said Lowe, a 33-year-old therapist, referring to canvassers like Acosta.
“I don’t think enough people turned out last election and look where we’re at.”
In order to be able to hire people to knock on doors outside its home state, Unite Here merged with another union in Phoenix in 2017, thus allowing its members to hit the streets in Arizona’s biggest city.
The canvassers, many of whom lost their jobs in LA because of the pandemic, earn up to 20 dollars an hour and keep their health insurance.
Their main focus has been to zoom in on working-class neighborhoods where voter turnout is usually low, but the Biden activists also venture into more wealthy, traditionally conservative areas.
“I don’t mind walking all day,” said Acosta, a cancer survivor. “It’s not easy but it’s doable.”
Some 15 miles (24 kilometers) away from where Acosta is knocking on doors, Miguel Vargas, 48, finishes up his day of canvassing for Biden in a well-to-do neighborhood at the foot of a mountain.
Vargas said he decided to put all his energy into helping the Democrat’s White House bid after losing his job at a casino restaurant near Los Angeles.
“A waiter on the campaign trail,” he jokes. “Who would have believed it!”