US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.
Trump has been focusing on “law and order”, Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement, and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.
As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.
Occupation: Executive Director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada
Residence: Clark County, Nevada
Voted in 2016 for: Hillary Clinton
Will Vote in 2020 for: Joe Biden
Top Election Issues: Healthcare and Tribal Issues
Will you vote? Why or why not?
“Yes, I will be voting in this upcoming election. I think it’s extremely important to really emphasise the tribal issues that are happening. I mean, it’s across the board with Native Americans, both in tribal spaces on reservations, and then people like me that are in urban spaces.
“Without the federal government, we can’t get the resources that we’re entitled to, and that’s really the issue with Native people. In particular, we interface with the federal government in a way that normal everyday Americans do not. Because of those treaties that we are entitled to and have been signed, all of our stuff comes from the federal government. So it’s really about getting Natives and people to understand that this isn’t just about the presidential election, and this one issue, and Donald Trump is bad— it goes very far and [it is] very encompassing beyond that.”
What is your number one issue?
“I think it’s sort of a split decision. I’m really big on healthcare – I became disabled at 19 years old, so healthcare is essential for me, and I’ve really interacted with the healthcare system in a way that most 26-year-olds haven’t. I have fought with my insurance companies, I’ve been to tertiary centres, I went to Mayo Clinic, so I know how much things cost. And I know how important healthcare is. Even something as simple as covering pre-existing conditions – that’s extremely important for me – because I wouldn’t be able to have healthcare if they don’t cover pre-existing conditions. And it was a really big decision for me too, in getting married – I have been with my husband for 10 years, and we couldn’t get married before now because I would be kicked off of my parent’s insurance. So stuff like that is extremely important.
“And then, on the other hand, I work for a Native organisation, I am a Native, and tribal issues are really important to me. My tribe is from Central California, but the issues that are affecting my tribe in California are affecting the tribes here in Nevada. The federal government, as it is right now, is just not interacting with tribal governments the way that previous administrations have. I was speaking to a tribal leader from Walker River, and she said, you know, we used to get invited to the White House at least once a year to come and just tell our issues, and even if it was a little bit shallow, they still were interested in having us around. But with the Trump administration, that just hasn’t happened. And we see that Natives are the first to get their resources taken away, whether that’s a natural resource, whether that’s money coming in from the government – it’s always us that gets the short end of the stick.
“So those are the two issues that are biggest to me. It’s kind of a split decision, but I think in this particular scenario, there’s not a lot of nuance to it. It’s not like, ‘Wow, the Trump administration is really good on healthcare, but really bad on Native issues’, or vice versa. It’s a pretty straightforward decision on who’s better in [this] case.”
Who will you be voting for?
“I’ll be voting for the Biden-Harris ticket.”
Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?
“I picked Biden because he has at least tried to do healthcare policy, he’s at least tried to work with Native American governments. The Biden campaign has so far at least released a Native American – what they call ‘Indian Country’ plan, and that’s encouraging to me. They’re hiring folks from Indian countries to help formulate that policy. They’re trying to give back to those communities and trying to really see what we need. And I appreciate that. And I think there’s still a lot of space for growth.
“Is Joe Biden as far left as I would like? No, but I think there’s room for growth. And I think we, as progressives, need to swallow our pride and vote, but then push him as far left as we possibly can. It’s a difficult decision for sure – I went back and forth on that. I’ll say this – I haven’t talked to one Native that has been Biden from the start. But we’re used to having to make the compromise, having to just kind of [say], ‘you know what, this isn’t exactly what we want, but that’s fine’.
“I’m slightly concerned about Harris’s record on Indian country in California. But I know that it’s been such a big issue that’s been brought to her attention that she’s at least pushed back on it and been like, ‘okay, moving forward, I’m not going to do those things. That was an issue within California. I understand now.’ So I’m encouraged. But I think we need to push them a lot farther left than they are right now.”
Are you happy with the state of the country?
“No, I’m incredibly unhappy with the state of the country. I’m not going to say that this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to Native people, this is the worst thing to ever happen to disabled people because it’s not in any sense of American history. But we’re certainly not where we should be for a developed country, for a very wealthy country. Our people are struggling – there’s still people in North Dakota that live on reservations that don’t have heat. There’s still people in the Navajo Nation that don’t have running water. And that hasn’t changed in 44 administrations, and I’m really hoping that moving forward, we can really start to make some meaty change in Indian country.
“And I think now we’re getting a lot more attention, and I do think that that’s pushing our narrative forward. It’s been a really good political cycle for Native people. We have gotten a lot more attention than I’ve ever seen in any other cycle before – you have candidates coming to reservation[s]. The Bidens have been really good about coming to the Navajo Nation, they come to different reservations, they really try to interact with that tribal government, because what people don’t realize is [that] it is a government to government relationship. And it’s very precarious the way the two have to interact with each other. So, I’m encouraged.”
What would you like to see change?
“I would like to see more infrastructure investment in Indian country. We need economic investment, we need healthcare investment. If I wanted to go to an Indian hospital for Indian health services, I would have to go to Phoenix – that’s the closest place. And those are things that are in our treaty obligations, the federal government is supposed to supply us with those things. And so [there] just needs to be more infrastructure investment all around, [in] Nevada we do okay, but there are a lot of parts of the country that are so rural, they’re not getting invested in via anything, really – it’s very much a forgotten nation of people.
“Indians are a thing of the past – very much ‘cowboy in Indian movies’ and headdresses. Most of the curriculum in the United States doesn’t even teach Native American history past 1900. But we are still a surviving people! And that history is very rich, and needs to be taught. So what we need is sort of an overhaul of our systems and an overhaul of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“We need change and [in] a very systematic way. Even the people that do work for these organizations and do work for these parts [of] the administration don’t necessarily care about us and what our issues are. And that’s why we see land grabs, we see things like the Dakota Access Pipeline or Mauna Kea in Hawaii. If there’s something to go wrong, it’s always on Native land. It’s a big change that needs to occur, for sure. We’re trying to undo – [what’s] 400 years of colonisation? – that’s going to take a little while to undo. And I don’t expect one vote to change that. But it’s a very good start.”
Do you think the election will change anything?
“Casting a vote is so important. But it’s the very first step – casting a vote is the bare minimum of what you can do as a citizen and what you can do as a responsible person in this country, and as an ally, and as a just general good person.
“I think there needs to be a balance struck – yes, this is so very important, and it will change things in some regard – but don’t think that your life is going to be 1,000 percent better with a new administration, because a lot of the issues that we’re having now with the Trump administration are systemic things. Those are not things that are a Trump problem. Did Trump exploit the system? Yes. But that system was already in place. The system to abuse people of colour, to take away Native land, to put children in cages – that was already there and was already happening. I’m extremely happy that it’s been exposed under this administration, and I think now white people are understanding what it’s like to be a person of colour in this country. And I think that’s fabulous.
“But there’s no person of colour, there’s no Native that was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know things were so bad until Trump got elected.’ We knew. So will it change things? Yes. It’ll allow us to start getting back to normal, it’ll allow us not to be the laughingstock of the world, which is great. But people need to go further than that. It’s beyond that, at this point, you need to be participating in society in a way that civil rights activists were and women’s rights activists were – you need to do more now.”
What is your biggest concern for the US?
“Right now coronavirus is the biggest issue that we’re facing. And I can’t believe that people are just so okay with other people dying. And I don’t know if it’s that they maybe don’t believe that they’re dying, or they just don’t see the severity of it, but the way people are so nonchalant at this point – and I understand it’s been a long time under lockdown – but this is still happening. And it’s still very much happening in Indian country. And that’s a disturbing piece that people don’t care about.
“I saw a lot this summer about tribal governments deciding to close their recreation centres, or their land, or their roads, and middle America was extremely angry about that. How could you? ‘I want to go out and camp, I want to go out and do this … you can’t just do that.’ Well, yes, we can. We’re our own governments and we decided that our people are more important than you going out camping. I’m very sorry, but that’s what it is.
“I think just the lack of urgency in the coronavirus response has been very upsetting. It’s been very upsetting [to see] the lack of infrastructure given to Natives. I mean for humanitarian organisations to have to respond to the Navajo Nation’s coronavirus outbreak is absurd. Our government has the resources to do that – and they have the obligation to do that for our people – but decided that other things were more important or ‘that organization’ will do it and that’ll do it. That’s absurd!”
Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you want to share?
“I want to really emphasise the part about voting being the first step. Yes, casting a vote for people of colour is revolutionary in one regard, because people don’t expect Natives or Latinx or the Black community to show up. But when we do, we’re a swing vote in a big, big way. And so yes, voting is so important. But I just don’t want that hype to stop after November 3, and after we move forward and whatever the transition of power is going to be, I want the heat to stay up.
“I want people to continue that activism. I want more for Black lives and Native lives and all of the things that are happening in this country. It’s not going to stop if you vote, and it’s just very frustrating for me to see white middle-class people put so much hype on just voting. I see a lot of ‘performance activism’ in there – ‘I voted’ stickers, their ‘vote’ shirts. That it’s such a thing right now to vote, vote, vote … that’s the biggest thing you can do. But it’s your civic duty, that’s what you’re supposed to do! Don’t feel like you’re the greatest person in the world for doing the bare minimum – show up, and then show up again after November 3.”