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ChristenUnie to mobilise African voters

5 February 2006 – The ChristenUnie hopes to obtain a seat in the Amsterdam municipal council for the first time at the 7 March elections. News from Amsterdam asked local party leader Joël Voordewind what his party wants to achieve in Amsterdam.

The ChristenUnie became a well-known party in Amsterdam when Regina Mac-Nack was elected Amsterdammer of the Year, in recognition of her efforts for the food bank in Zuidoost. Mac-Nack has the fifth position on the list of ChristenUnie candidates in the district, but there is a good chance that she will obtain a seat in the council on the basis of preferential votes.

Voordewind doest not consider the food bank a structural solution. “Unfortunately it is necessary because people cannot make ends meet. Fifteen hundred people use the food bank. Recently, so many people applied that registrations had to be put on hold.

According to Voordewind, the real cause of the problem has to be dealt with, and in his view this is how families and schools are functioning. “After a divorce, a mother has to cope on her own, often having to deal with a lower income as well. We therefore argue for policies to support families, like the services of family coaches”.

School drop-out has to be dealt with as well. “Schools must do what they used to do in the past, that is, make home visits to all families. In this way, problems can be detected at a much earlier stage”.

Another problem the ChristenUnie wants to address is youth unemployment, especially among minorities. Voordewind argues for small projects, to be set up in collaboration with churches and other social organisations. One might think of initiatives at barber shops and garages.

“You have to look for an approach that is compatible with the identity and experience of the groups concerned. That produces more results than just cutting social welfare benefits”.

“Those who can work must work, and there is nothing wrong with applying some pressure. But you must not leave it at that. You can make people work in park maintenance for a couple of weeks, but what happens then?”

An important part of the following of the ChristenUnie consists of immigrants from African countries, who live in Zuidoost. Among these groups there is a relatively large share of illegal immigrants, who are now and then confronted by large scale raids.

Voordewind is not in favour of a ‘witch hunt’ after illegal residents. “Let us focus the police effort on the real criminals. Most illegal residents hardly do any damage to our society, and neither do they receive social security. When it concerns criminals, then they have to be dealt with. But apart from that, tracking down illegal residents is not a priority for us”.

“A special case are the victims of the fire at the Schiphol detention centre. We are in contact with an illegal Nigerian who was involved, we have argued on his behalf in the national parliament. We are talking about people who suffer severe traumas, as a consequence of government failure. We should not want to deport these people”.

Another priority of the party is to deal with prostitution and drug addicts. “Alderwomen Belliot wants to create a high rise building in Amsterdam Zuidoost, where free heroin will be supplied. Doesn’t this mean that you are giving up on people? If you look at the drugs policies, we are more concerned about our car radios than about giving real help to the people concerned”.

He stresses that the ChristenUnie is not in favour of a ‘soft’ approach. “In parliament we took the initiative to make a ‘blowverbod’ [ban on smoking hash in public – ed] possible. Fortunately this has now been introduced in De Baarsjes”.

The ChristenUnie wants to create more institutions where people can kick the habit. Voordewind refers to a church initiative in Dordrecht, where fifty to sixty percent of former participants are enduringly off drugs.

At present, the ChristenUnie only has a seat in the Zuidoost district council. According to the most recent O+S poll, the party will this year just manage to obtain one residual seat in the city council.

Every Sunday, the party attends services at evangelical churches to mobilise voters. “That is quite an experience. These services last for three to four hours, and you are treated as a special guest. We are given the opportunity to explain extensively what the ChristenUnie stands for. The visitors of these churches are very close to the Bible. They like what we say about soft drugs and prostitution”.

On 18 February, the ChristenUnie will hold a Gospel Night in the Maranatha Church in De Baarsjes. Besides local politicians, national leader André Rouvoet will attend. Also, a surprise act has been announced.

Four years ago, the party attended church services as well, but now there is a larger team. “We have twenty to twenty five volunteers, and five to six people who can act as speakers”. It also helps that the media pay more attention this year, and that the party is doing well at the national level.

But of course, the votes are not in yet. “We will have to campaign actively. Many visitors of the African churches have had bad experiences with politics in their country of origin; they associate it with dictators and repression. We have to explain to them how the Dutch system works and convince them to vote”.

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