By Sam Bojarski
Barack Obama’s voice was punctuated by blaring car horns at an Oct. 24 drive-in rally in North Miami, as the former president implored Floridians to vote for his former vice president Joe Biden.
“This election requires every single one of us,” Obama told the crowd. “What we do in these next 10 days will matter for decades to come.”
The invite-only event, held at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami, was limited to about 400 volunteers and supporters of the Biden campaign.
The former president did not discuss immigration policy at the rally. However, it was top-of-mind for attendee Paul Christian Namphy. The North Miami resident said the Trump administration has been a huge step backward for the Haitian community.
“[The administration] is threatening everything we have gained,” said Namphy, 50, a civil engineer. “If they remain in office for four more years, the damage will be irreparable.”
Early voting turnout numbers in Florida have already broken records this week. Voters like Skeigh Morris, 18, who planned to cast a ballot for the first time after seeing Obama speak, promise to push those totals higher still.
“Everybody that I know is [voting],” said Morris, a college student in Boca Raton, Florida. “This is the generation where voting is the most prominent. … Everybody cares and everybody wants to make their voices heard.”
Obama, who won the state of Florida in 2008 and 2012, began his speech by asking Floridians to vote, either by mail or in-person. He was particularly critical of President Donald Trump for not acknowledging the reality of the coronavirus crisis, as single-day case increases reached their highest level on Oct. 23. Obama also defended his landmark Affordable Care Act and said Biden would stand up for workers, higher wages and affordable housing, if elected president.
Rally participant Farah Juste, an activist and musician who resides in North Miami, said the Trump administration’s attempts to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an estimated 50,000 Haitians living in the United States is the issue energizing her to vote.
“I am supporting Joe Biden because I am an immigrant. I was in this country a long time, I delivered three kids here,” said Juste, whose daughter Karen Andre serves as a senior adviser for Biden’s campaign in Florida. “This country was made with immigrants.”
As of Oct. 23, nearly 203,000 people in Miami-Dade County had cast ballots since early voting began Oct. 19, the county election office reported. The number is half the 344,000 votes that Democrats and Republicans cast in Miami-Dade during all 14 days of early voting in 2016.
Rally attendees said voter enthusiasm has been high, compared to four years ago.
“We are determined, we’re not going to take it for granted again like [in 2016] for Hillary Clinton,” Juste said.
For Morris, Biden’s plans to reduce student loan payments are a major reason she is voting Democrat in the presidential race. Biden has released plans to make higher education free at public colleges.
Morris attended with her mother, Bernice Fidelia-Morris, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in 1980. Fidelia-Morris said she is most concerned about protecting TPS and health care ‒ particularly for senior citizens struggling with chronic conditions like hypertension.
Having two Haitian-American senior advisers in the Biden administration ‒ Andre and Karine Jean-Pierre ‒ is a chance for the community to have its voice heard, said Fidelia-Morris, 58, of Miami Shores.
“At least you have somebody you can go to in this administration,” Fidelia-Morris said.
During the stump speech, Obama did not mention the Haitian community, which comprises about one-third of North Miami’s population. In closing, he emphasized the shared values Americans can uphold in the Nov. 3 election.
“There are a lot of folks who share the values of looking out for one another, and doing right for one another,” Obama said. “We’ve just got to make sure our politics reflects that, and we do that by voting.”
While enthusiasm was high among the Democratic faithful at the rally, Trump supporters made their presence felt afterward. A crowd lined the roadway waving “Trump 2020” flags, as attendees exited the FIU campus.
Enzo Alcindor, who carried a flag, said he has been attacked on social media by liberal friends.
“They figured, how can I, a Haitian or Black man, post things that are for Republicans?” Alcindor said. “I was like, ‘you know what? I was not going to vote, now I’m going to campaign for Trump and vote for Trump.’”