Senator Elizabeth Warren's campaign is betting on a series of intimate gatherings with minority communities in Florida leading up to the state's Democratic primary vote in March.
It’s a strategy playing out in invitation-only meetings between Warren's campaign staff and voters.
A recent gathering in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood drew about 20 influencers and leaders of South Florida’s Haitian-American community. One by one, they filed into the Miami Workers Center where konpa music played gently in the background.
The introduction by Jonathan Jayes-Green, national Latinx outreach director for Warren’s campaign, touched broadly on her platform and why she’s the candidate to elect.
“Her vision is to make our government work for working people, for people across the board—people who have not had political power, who are people who've been disenfranchised, people who have been at the margins," said Jayes-Green.
With Florida’s Democratic primary less than two months away—on March 17th—several of the Democratic candidates are ramping up their efforts to reach voters in this key battleground state.
“I want to learn from communities here in South Florida and across the state, how do we as a campaign serve as better allies in their fight? And how do we speak to them directly?” Jayes-Green said.
He quickly wrapped up and added that this roundtable was designed for the people in the room to talk and for him to listen.
Almost immediately, Francesca Menes, co-founder of the Black Collective, raised her hand and told the campaign they had a problem.
“Don't come into a Haitian community giving us literature that's English and Spanish,” she said holding up one of the campaign’s fliers. “You have surrogates on your team who can help you identify people to, you know, translate this into Creole.”
After English and Spanish, Haitian Creole is the third-most spoken language in Florida. And several of the voters in the room agreed the campaign can’t afford to underestimate the value of speaking to people in their native tongue.
“You’re sending a message that we’re talking to you,” said Santra Denis, who runs a nonprofit focused on Haitian millennials and Gen Zers. “And it’s respect. When you see Creole, you see, you’re talking to me.”
Jayes-Green told the group the campaign is working on getting literature out in Haitian Creole to use in Florida. The campaign later added that literature will also be used in other places with large Haitian-American populations like Boston, Philadelphia and New York.
In Florida, Haitian-Americans represent a strong voting block that largely sways democratic. More than 200,000 Haitians live in the South Florida region alone.
“We understand just how integral Haitian people and Haitian leaders are to the political landscape here,” said Jasmen Rogers-Shaw, Florida’s deputy community organizing director for the campaign.
Sampson Borgelin, a North Lauderdale city commissioner who attended the roundtable, stressed it’s not enough to come just for show.
“The Haitian community has been taken advantage of over and over and over again,” he said.
Borgelin pointed out that Republicans have also tried to sway Haitian-American voters. In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump met with Haitian Trump supporters in Miami.
“You use the community to come and vote for you. Then you tell me you're going to be the champion, but you turn around to say things to denigrate the country,” he said,” referring to how President Trump would go on to reportedly call Haiti a “shithole” country.
Still, many in the room agreed there is power in showing up and showing up early.
For Alexandra Audate, showing up is the first step, she added she wants to hear more on how Warren’s campaign will connect their policies and personalize them to Haitian-Americans.
For example, she said Warren’s strategy around the school-to-prison pipeline and criminal justice reform should resonate in this community if delivered correctly.
“Every Haitian mom who has had a kid who was incarcerated can relate to another mom whose child was incarcerated,” she said.
And when it comes to immigration, nearly all of the Haitian-American voters said they want to see Senator Warren talk directly to Black immigrants about foreign and domestic policy.
“I would like to see some type of reflection when foreign policies are being discussed to also talk about root causes of migration,” said Menes. “We're going to continue to have this influx of issues, whether it's around climate or economics or political instability in other countries.”
Currently, there are thousands of Black migrants stranded at the Mexico border—from Haiti, Cameroon, Liberia and other predominantly Black countries.
“We need a reversal on the policies around asylum,” said Vanessa Joseph, a Miami attorney.”
While Warren’s website does specifically mention Black immigrants in the senator’s plans around immigration, including asylum protection, Joseph said there needs to be more public facing conversations focused specifically on Black immigrants.
“We need a pathway to citizenship. We need a pathway to actually get residency, because what's happening is not just an attack on, you know, unlawful immigration,” Joseph said. “It's an attack on immigration and Black immigrants tend to feel excluded from that space.”
Most of the voters at the round-table said they were still undecided.
Linda Joseph, a union leader, expressed she really likes Elizabeth Warren, but, “My fear is electability. If you could calm that fear, I would go toe to toe for her. I'm just so afraid. I never used to be before Donald Trump.”
Jayes-Green, the campaign’s national Latinx outreach director, said he’s heard that same fear expressed as he travelled around the country. And his answer is always the same:
“We have the best chance to win,” he said. “Senator Elizabeth Warren has been underestimated before.”
At the end of the meeting, Rudy Jean-Bart, a college professor, said Warren is in his top three along with Senator Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang.
“I think what separates Elizabeth Warren thus far though is the campaign's willingness to hear from the Haitian community directly,” he said.