Claire Lau: My testimony of David Chiu's bused in elderly Chinese

(Note: this is a cross-post from the original on Facebook)

At around 9:30am, the first bus arrived, carrying several dozen elderly Chinese people. They spoke Cantonese only and got behind the short line that had formed. As a native Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong, I approached them and handed them our slate card, and began telling them about what our slate stands for and how it’s different from David Chiu's slate. Some of them were afraid to engage and avoided eye contact, but others seemed interested and asked me what the other card was about. I told them that the Chiu’s slate is in favor of building of luxury condos, but as a result, regular people like me, a teacher for kindergarteners and lower elementary school children, can’t afford to live in this city. Our slate is for building housing that’s for the regular people, not just for the rich. One woman even said in Cantonese, “Helping poor people, great! I like it!”, waving our slate card. When they used “I don’t know English” as an excuse to not take my card, I handed them a piece of literature about labor endorsing Keith Ellison for DNC Chair (part of our platform), that was translated into traditional Chinese. A few minutes later as I migrated down the line, I heard a man yelling, “NO! These are our opponents! Don’t look at this card! Use this one!” I saw a younger man in a white button up shirt, snatching our slate cards out of the hands of the elderly and stuffing another piece of white paper into theirs. I didn’t know this at that time (as a non-citizen who didn’t get to vote or look at the ballots), but their paper was formatted exactly like the ballot was, with the names of their slate’s candidates in a larger font and circled for easy recognition. Some of my friends at the front of the line said they even saw the “translators” actually helping them fill out their ballots.

I was mostly working at the back of the line, and I had noticed that by the next few bus loads (they came in waves), the elderly Chinese were much more reluctant to respond to me. David Chiu’s camp seemed to have found out that a young Cantonese-speaking woman had been talking to “their people” and had specifically instructed them to not engage with me. They put up their umbrellas and turned their faces away. I was overhearing them complain about how they were yelled at for not heading out early enough, and they were complaining about the long waits in line. At this point the line had circled around almost the entire block. At one point, a Chinese women (maybe in her late 50s) walked up to a group of elderly Chinese in the line, and gestured them to come with her. About a dozen got out of the line and followed her walking towards the front entrance. I could hear her saying, “Not this many, it’s too obvious!”, but the elderly Chinese didn’t want to get back in line. I was infuriated. The line had barely moved for the past hour and everyone had been waiting in the pouring rain and strong winds. There are many other elderly in line, but none of them get special treatment. We had a disability access policy, but these people about to cut the line were perfectly physically capable, running in the rain. So I called up a friend at the front and told him that a group of people were coming to the front to cut the line. From the other end I heard that another couple bus loads of Cantonese-speaking elderly were being allowed to directly cut the line, because they needed to be registered as voters. Now, I do not doubt that most or all of them actually live in San Francisco, probably Chinatown. But from my experience canvassing all over Chinatown during the Democratic Primaries, most of the monolingual Cantonese speakers there were not U.S. Citizen and were not eligible to vote. In fact I’d say about 80% of the elderly I had talked to in Chinatown told me they "weren’t naturalized yet” and couldn’t vote. Plus, there was no requirement of any ID or proof of address during the registration process. As a progressive I don’t want to be implementing laws that prohibit low-income communities from accessing the ballot box. But at the same time, busing in a group of elderly Cantonese-only speakers who have no idea who the candidates are, who are questionably eligible voters, and forcing them to vote a certain way without giving them the opportunity to make their own decisions as to who they should vote for is utterly undemocratic.

I was eventually asked to go to the front of the line, to ask the Cantonese speakers that they have to line up. That was futile. They yelled excuses like “We were just getting coffee!” (which by the way was coffee we purchased my pulling in own meager resources) or “We have to go to the bathroom!”, and there was nothing I could really do about it after a bunch of yelling. I was even more enraged when dozens of these voters came out of the exit and swarmed our food table, take everything we had. I was starving at this point. It was noon time, I had been in the rain for 4 hours, and was looking forward to some refreshments. Extremely angry, I walked up to David Chiu and said, “If you promised to feed your people, you need to be feeding them. They’re taking all of our food and there’s none left for our volunteers or our voters.” He replied, “You can’t really blame people from taking food when they see it. Our food table is over there. You are welcome to get food there too."

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