The Power of Migrant Vote – Lesson from the US Elections

‘We need to be targeting places of power at every level’ 

On the evening of Thursday, January 28th, Migrants Organise launched its #SolidarityKnowsNoBorders online events series, aimed at supporting and informing the movement for migrant justice. The webinar is the first in a series, held alongside the organising work under the banner of the FIRM Charter, a list of demands and principles around which a migrant justice movement is being built. 

The next webinar, The Struggle for Racial Justice in Britain: Lessons from History will take place on February the 18th at 6pm, please register via the link! 

The Power of the Migrant Vote

The first event, The Power of the Migrant Vote: Lessons from Immigrant Organisers in the US Elections, brought together a number of organisers instrumental to the successful community and electoral organising in the United States. They discussed the role of migrant communities in key states such as Arizona, Georgia and Colorado, and how long-term community organising contributed to electoral victories there. 

The purpose of the event was to spark discussion and debate as to how similar initiatives can be replicated here in Britain with initiatives such as Promote the Migrant Vote. The speakers at the event were Nicole Melaku from the National Partnership for New Americans, and Jamila Hammami from the Free Migration Project. The event was chaired by Marzena Zukowska from POMOC – Polish Migrants Organise for Change and previously an organiser in the US.

Don’t Assume Anything

Speakers discussed the need to approach organising with questions, rather than answers. Many of the migrant communities they engaged with were highly mobile, and were often not in the same place for long, so communities were difficult to track and the issues that mattered to them were not known to organisers or the wider community. 

Starting from this mapping and identification of needs became the route into longer-term organising, and for more substantive discussions about strategy. Both speakers highlighted that their work began, however, by meeting people where they are, seeking to understand what was at stake for them, showing up in community and walking alongside them through the challenges they were confronted with. 

They explained how approaching work in this way created many of the campaign demands and frameworks that emerged organically from these conversations. For example, the Abolish ICE campaign relied on deep and historical organising traditions, but was driven in its strategy and demands by people in the middle of their deportation proceedings, those separated from their loved ones and forced into prison. This is how actions for change can emerge from, and remain rooted, in the communities fighting on an issue.

Combining the Long-term with the Short-term 

Throughout the talk, speakers discussed the relationship between long-term strategy and short-term campaigns. They explained the need to combine a grand vision, with strategy, and smaller victories that build towards bigger change. 

For example, Jamila explained how the Shut Down Berks Coalition, together with the Free Migration Project, built a campaign to prevent the deportation of 28 children who were being held in detention. The families have begun to be released as a result of a campaign that targeted Congress, engaged lawyers, mobilised the community and had an online presence that was picked up and disseminated by Tik Tokers. The campaign engaged people across generations and groups, laying the groundwork for election based organising. 

The Importance of Data 

Longer-term organising helped building up the electoral infrastructure that had been lacking. It gave organisers, who otherwise would have started from scratch, a picture of the composition of communities and the location of engaged and less engaged groups. This was particularly important for migrant groups who often did not have a voter file, either due to the frequency of their moving or because they just acquired citizenship. This report from NPNA maps out the rising power of immigrant vote across key states in the 2020 US elections. 

Importantly, this also fed into an understanding of the messaging required to get out and mobilise communities. Speakers advised against uniform messaging that targeted a generic voter, arguing instead for a sector specific focus that dealt with the issues that mattered to migrant communities, and that reached them through their community infrastructure. 

Unifying Coalitions

All speakers highlighted the importance of creating broad-based coalitions in order to build power for long-term change. They explained how, for example, the electoral victory in Arizona was the result of a long-term strategy that engaged migrant groups working across different communities and issues. At the epicenter of some of the worst immigration laws in the country, and sharing the border with Mexico, the state was at the frontline of the struggle. Promise Arizona was able to establish focused, issue-based campaigns that fed into the broader electoral organising and that united a coalition across the state.

Coalition-building was also explained as a constant practice that informed how groups approached their political work. This involved deep conversations and fierce dialogues about the role of different groups, how campaigns and language could accommodate different positions and creative connections between campaigns. For example, a campaign demanding the abolition of ICE, could argue for those funds to be redirected to migrant integration – bringing together groups working on both issues. Connecting the dots in this way helped build a people-centred movement that could unite across issues. You can watch the full recording of this informative and inspiring discussion  here.