For immediate release
December 12, 2020
Union Canvassers From Six Different African Countries Aim to Knock Doors of An Estimated 40,000 Voters for Senate Runoff
CLARKSTON, GA—Georgia’s only team of African immigrant canvassers celebrated the launch of an ambitious door-to-door canvassing operation that aims to knock on the doors of an estimated 40,000 African immigrants, urging this population of naturalized U.S. citizen voters to support Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Canvassers were joined by Congressmen Hank Johnson and Luis Gutierrez, State Representative Elect Zulma Lopez, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, and additional political and community supporters.
Through their union UNITE HERE’s Get Out the African Vote Initiative (GOTAVI), a team of 25 African immigrants and first-generation U.S. citizens from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon, the Gambia, Liberia, and Nigeria are canvassing door to door in the heavily African communities of Dekalb County outside Atlanta. These voters are part of a growing population of Georgia residents who were born in Africa, which grew from over 40,423 in 2000 to over 114,000 in 2018—a 184% increase. It is estimated 40,000 of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are registered to vote in the State, and they that could tip the balance of the close runoff elections for the two critical Georgia Senate seats.
“Welcome to Clarkston, where we speak over 60 languages!” said Clarkston Vice Mayor Awet Ayasu, who is also part of the canvassing team, “We are working together to make our voices heard and to participate fully in our democracy, by getting out the naturalized African voters and through the union activism of UNITE HERE.”
“All I want is a chance to achieve the American Dream, but I am really worried about my immigration status. Since Trump has been President, it has been hard. Our rights have been threatened,” said Hanna Alamu, a canvasser and member of UNITE HERE’s Culinary Union in Las Vegas. “Trump and the Republicans try to scare people like me and tell us that we don’t belong, but by getting out the vote, we’re making it clear that immigrants do belong, and that we’re going to fully participate in the democratic process.”
“Today, we gather in the place called the Ellis Island of the South to celebrate the strength of our diversity,” said Clarkston Congressman Hank Johnson, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime champion of refugees and immigration reform, “Working together, we can help hold America to the true meaning of the Constitution. As a generous and compassionate country, we have a long, proud tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants to our shores—and I want the world to know we are still that country.”
Most GOTAVI canvassers are UNITE HERE members who have been laid off from their jobs in the hospitality industry as a result of COVID-19. Many have previous experience canvassing in swing states during the 2020 presidential election, and form part of a larger group of 500 UNITE HERE canvassers that aims to knock on one million doors in Georgia. They and other working people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic urgently need a Senate that will pass meaningful relief for their families, including extended enhanced unemployment benefits and health care.
“Many immigrants from Africa came to America looking for freedom, safety and the ability to provide for our families. But in the last four years we have not felt safe while living under an administration that treats all immigrants poorly, and living through a pandemic that has caused the loss of millions of jobs,” said Wafae Said, a 20-year old canvasser from Virginia, “Myself, my mom and my dad went to Philadelphia to help deliver a win for President-elect Biden and now me and my team are out here in Georgia doing everything we can to flip the Senate!”
Canvassers were supported by Rep. Johnson; retired Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a nationally known champion of immigration reform; AFL CIO Executive VP Tefere Gebre, himself a former refugee from Ethiopia; and State Representative-elect Zulma Lopez; and Clarkston City Councilman Awet Eyasu.
“There are 114,000 people born in Africa who live in Georgia, and 51,000 of them have already gone through the extensive process of becoming U.S. citizens. This means they paid a significant fee, learned English, passed an oral and written test on our U.S. history and culture, and then raise their right hand and swear that they will carry arms to defend the USA and our Constitution.” said former Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, a national champion on immigration reform. “Today, these UNITE HERE members are showing their faith in that democracy through both their active work in this election and in their union for dignity at work. This African Canvass Team and the Africans living in Georgia are a beautiful addition to our nation, and what our nation’s symbol of the Statue of Liberty is about.”
UNITE HERE Local 23 is a labor union that represents 3,000 hospitality workers at military bases, hotels and the Atlanta Airport in Georgia. Through grassroots organizing they’ve been able to raise wages and gain crucial workplace protections.
UNITE HERE has over 300,000 members working in the North American hospitality industry. Over 75% of its members are still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, down from a peak of 98%. During the 2020 presidential election UNITE HERE ran the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation in the United States.
Congressman Hank Johnson will soon begin his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District – which encompasses parts of DeKalb, Gwinnett and Newton counties and all of Rockdale County. He has distinguished himself as a substantive, effective lawmaker and a leading national progressive voice. Hank is widely known as a champion of the working people and a strong proponent of human rights, consumer and environmental protections, health care, economic security and safety for senior citizens, women, immigrants and refugees, children and the disabled. His legislation to reform the police and hold them accountable are part of the landmark George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.