Early in the morning of July 20, Susan Minato, co-resident of Unite Here Local 11, stuffed her suitcases, computer, and other necessities into her gray SUV rental car and made her way from her home in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles to one 600-kilometer drive to Sun City West, on the northwestern edge of Phoenix. She had a mission: to knock on as many doors as possible and help turn Arizona blue for Joe Biden.
It was the height of the pandemic, and then it was Arizona one of the Covid hotspots in the world; Nowhere else in the United States were the infection rates so high. But Minato, a small, spirited woman who has worked with the union in organizing efforts for nearly 30 years, did not shy away from potential dangers. For months she had taken the lead, urging sometimes reluctant coalition partners in Mi AZ (Spanish for “My Arizona”) and other networks to work with Unite Here to develop a comprehensive floor game for personal address in the battlefield state.
Minato only took a toilet break and stopped for gas – just over the state line since gasoline prices in Arizona are cheaper than those in California. Five and a half hours after leaving, she came to a large, salmon-pink ranch house with a brick wall around it and a wrought-iron entrance fence. The house, with its crushed rock garden and two-car garage, was in a solid conservative neighborhood, a quiet area of posh, recently-built homes with large American flags flapping proudly in the desert breeze in many front yards. It belonged to Minato’s sister and had the added benefit of not being far from where her elderly mother lived at the time. It was a 45-minute drive northwest of downtown, where Unite Here’s Phoenix offices were.
Minato, whose union represents hotel, restaurant, airport, and events staff who wanted to spend four months there while coordinating their army of recruiters.
UOperating in Southern California and Arizona, nite Here local 11 has been at the forefront of progressive activism in Los Angeles for more than three decades. In 1989, an insurgent campaign for the presidency of Maria Elena Durazo (now a Californian State Senator) wrested control of the place from a more conservative leadership and created the conditions to turn left in the following decade. The majority of Unite Here activists who later took center stage were women who opposed the anti-immigrant stance of then-governor of the state, Pete Wilson, and who were determined to shape California politics.