Detroit voters speak truth to power

November 26, 2020

From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters

Underlying the joyous celebrations by mostly Black Detroit voters of the results of the 2020 election is a steely determination to hold on to nationwide power—not to return to an old normal or a new normal, but to face the realities of racism, police brutality, economic disaster and a broken healthcare system and to reach for a better future. People writing, posting and speaking for themselves express this best:

From Curt, a nationally-recognized Detroit artist: “White Republican Challengers are trying to intimidate and challenge the votes. Republican Trump COVID-19 Super Spreaders have come by the truckloads, surrounded and entered buildings, cutting up and trying to obstruct, chanting ‘Stop The Vote! Stop the Vote!’ The Orange Man is losing the presidency in Michigan and his FOX Super Spreadin’ Super Losers are losing their minds beggin’ stop the count.

“GOP, listen to me. Noah warned the people in the Bible days, it was going to rain. The people laughed at Noah and partied at their MAGA Covid Trump rallies. They clowned and didn’t wear masks or social distance. They said rain was a hoax! But the rain came.

“I’m Curt The Hurt and I approved this message!!!”

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From a non-partisan election challenger: “In all three polling locations in Northwest Detroit, the poll workers were universally serious about respecting every voter and helping each one to achieve a valid vote. Experienced poll workers helped new ones. Voters, too, were patient and serious—wearing masks and maintaining appropriate distances.

“The State of Michigan ‘partnered’ with the city to support and correct its elections processes, notorious for years for major errors. A $7.2 million grant from a non-profit helped the city raise pay and hire and train enough poll workers, open early voting centers and install secure ballot drop boxes.

But the massive turnout and absentee and early voting came from the community, self-organizing, as we realized the extent of the voter suppression efforts. One resident gratefully observed a letter carrier place several absentee ballots into a drop box, rather than risking the Trump administration’s engineered mail slowdowns.

There was a general feeling that Detroit held the fate of the nation in its hands.”

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From BridgeDetroit.com: Inside Detroit’s election: Black women’s stories of the count and the mayhem.

Olivia Lewis: “We’ve always been so focused on the front end, getting out the votes, it never occurred to me how much was needed to actually protect the vote…I was surprised by the level of aggression that I saw from some of the Republican challengers. I became angered when they were demanding entry. Certainly, I thought it was intimidating and threatening, and a violation of the law.

“They started chanting, ‘Stop the vote, stop the vote.’ But I tell you, the City of Detroit election team…didn’t engage. They weren’t provoked, they didn’t cower…They kept us encouraged. So when the chanting was going on, they got on the mic to say, ‘Stay focused, keep working.’ And we did…. We were determined that we were going to do our jobs, and no one was going to stop that.

“We need to do a better job of engaging with the community on a regular basis so that…all the infrastructure that gets put into making sure people vote and vote for their candidates could be used to make sure that basic services are being met, that people’s needs are being addressed and that the community is taken care of. The energy needs to exist around the clock, not just around election time.

“I have never, in my 43 years, experienced what I’m going to call the angry white mob that you see in the history books. The people who were standing at the entrance to the schools that were trying to be integrated, and actively arguing, with anger and hostility, towards children. People who were against busing. People who were against integration…This was my first taste of it. And baby, let me tell you, that is something—it’s powerful. It is negative and it undermines the fabric of this democracy.

“You [the mob that stormed the absentee ballot counting center] came down here with a specific agenda…. You were going to assert that on a group of people who you thought were just gonna lay down and take it; but it’s a different day. I was proud of the response of Detroiters, of those Black women and Black men who stood up to make sure that wasn’t gonna happen. Not in our city, not on our watch, not today…. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about how much progress we think we’ve made, because the angry white mob is still there and they’re ready.

“But I definitely feel more aware of how important the right to vote is and how voter suppression is still very real… We know the history.… Detroiters need to understand we should not ever take our power for granted…. I want Detroiters to understand and to really own our power and our voice and how we are game-changers…”

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From Elena H., community activist: “So although we are glad Trump is—well, sort of—gone, be aware that the actors who left Detroit to drown in a debt we did not create are at the helm here. They don’t want us to have universal healthcare. They won’t protect us from the bankers. Be aware and don’t get alarmed. Stay steadfast and stay awake.

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Michigan Liberation, organization for social justice and prison abolition: Saturday, Nov. 7, we took time to breathe, to cry and to rejoice. We celebrated the power of marginalized voices and that nothing will stop us from having our voices heard, and votes counted. On Monday, we will get back to work because we know this election changes the players on the field but too many of the rules continue to work against marginalized groups.

—Susan Van Gelder

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