Call to Action
Cold, windy weather could not deter a group of about 40 activists who gathered in Detroit's Krainz Park Monday to gain inspiration from local and national voting rights advocates in a last-minute push to get out the vote. Headlining the event were Linda Sarsour, political activist and co-chair of the 2017 Women's March, and Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, the young woman killed by Louisville police in March. Metro-Detroit Political Action Network was the local sponsor of the event, while the nonpartisan and intersectional social justice organization Until Freedom's nationwide State of Emergency bus tour brought Sarsour and others to Northeast Detroit. The afternoon included canvassing, a rally and a march to a nearby polling place. DeJuana Thompson, founder of Woke Vote, and rapper Trae Tha Truth joined the event as well.
"MDPAN is about empowering people, not just showing up," said Bridget Huff, electoral chair of the organization. "We're not going to tell you who to vote for, but I think we're all here for the same reason."
Activist and MuteRKellyDetroit co-founder Nicole Denson shared her own story of her journey from the last presidential election to the present day. She spoke about her reaction to 2016, and hearing her mother, an elder, cry as Denson held her own young daughter.
"I said to myself, 'I'm angry, I'm frustrated, but I'm motivated.' We have been through a lot as a community … you can look up the past 400 years. So what this did is it got me ready," Denson said. "And I was ready to keep on and charge on."
The day after the election, Denson said she found her white, female colleagues crying. But, "Guess what? When the verdict for Breonna Taylor came, I sobbed and everyone was quiet."
Denson issued a call to action.
"In order to make change, everyone has to be involved — and not just care about what's happening in your backyard," Denson said. "Black women have been the caregivers. The caretakers. We always step up. So protect Black women. We vote. We always vote on the right side of history. I will never — we will never be your targets and your saviors at the same damn time."
Jey'nce Poindexter, vice president of the Trans Sistas of Color Project, emphasized the importance of building coalitions. Yet it extends beyond that, she said, encouraging the audience to have conversations with friends and family members — then go a step further.
"It's not enough to say just 'go vote,'" Poindexter said. "Make that phone call. Send that text. Follow up. Go pick someone up. Whatever that is, make sure that we get our family and our friends — everybody involved because that's the end to this kind of … sadness that we feel."
She encouraged the crowd to follow Congressman John Lewis' mandate to speak up, organize, mobilize and do something about injustice.
"Get involved," Poindexter urged once again. "Get your people involved. Follow up and make sure that they're involved. And we got it."
Herasanna Richards, Michigan deputy coalitions director for the Joe Biden campaign, thanked everyone who came out to canvass.
"I'm just so happy to see how many folks came out and knocked doors and connected with people today to show them that their vote matters because that is the most important thing you can do," Richards said. "The home team wins when we all look out for each other."
Thompson spoke next. She explained the reasoning behind the bus tour.
"When we organized with our partners at Until Freedom, and really thought about the best way that we could be activated and mobilize our people in the last 12 days of the election, we knew that a Zoom call would not do it," Thompson said. "People needed to see us at their doors. To take the risk to come and talk to them because right now, our lives are at risk. And so we are here, to stand with you. We are here to make sure that every single person that wants to vote … has the opportunity to do so."
A Country in a "State of Emergency"
Sarsour introduced Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor.
"The fight for justice for Breonna Taylor is just beginning," Sarsour said. "And justice will be served."
Sarsour said Palmer has become a leader in the movement who has taken a catastrophe and used it "not only to start healing but to heal all of us and remind us why we do what we do."
"I'm honored to be in the presence of so many great people," Palmer began. "So many great organizations. I can't say thank you enough. Like she said … there's still so much work to do. Please continue to say her name and be a part of this movement because that's exactly what it's become."
As someone who worked for ACCESS on immigrant rights earlier in her career, Sarsour is no stranger to Michigan — and Michigan politics. She said the tour could have ended sooner, but, instead, plans were made for one final stop in Detroit.
"We came to Michigan because Michigan didn't do what it needed to do in 2016," Sarsour said. "That's just the bottom line, right? Last time, Michigan allowed for a racist, sexist, misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Black … and I could say a whole lot of other things about the brother that's in the White House. He won this state by [approximately] 10,000 votes. And that's just not going to happen this time around."
Sarsour lauded the organizers who helped pass Proposal 3 in 2018, Promote the Vote, which increased voting access by implementing efficiencies like no-reason absentee voting and same-day registration. She said that Michiganders are already starting to see the fruits of their labors because of it, and that is what compelled them to stop in Detroit.
"We wanted to land in a place that was gonna inspire us," Sarsour said. "That was gonna close out this tour for us strong — and we knew we were gonna be able to do that here in the state of Michigan.
"In this election, I'm not voting for a candidate, I'm voting for Black women," she continued. "I'm voting for Black trans women. I'm voting for undocumented immigrants. I'm voting for little babies at the border that were stolen … I'm voting for the families — the over 218,000 families — who lost loved ones to a pandemic at the hands of an incompetent administration. That's why I'm voting. I'm going to the polls for Breonna Taylor. I'm going to the polls for Ahmaud Arbery. I'm going to the polls for George Floyd and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland…"
She continued to name many others.
The Final Word
Sarsour spoke with Between The Lines about the connection of voting to activism.
"Voting is one of the tools that we have as activists," said Sarsour, who had participated in the neighborhood canvass and called the experience inspiring. "Protest itself is not enough. Activists need to take protest to policy and that means engaging in the political process and that's how we connect the two together."
Earlier in the rally, NAACP Youth Director Tiffany Loftin led the group in a brief visualization.
"Listen to the sound of the wind," Loftin told the crowd. "Feel the proximity of the person next to you … feel your feet on the ground. Remind yourself that you are fucking alive and you made it close to the end of 2020.
"Remind yourself that tomorrow is Election Day," she continued. "Remind yourself of all of the incredible things you've done, all the incredible people you got a chance to meet and work with, all the people that inspired you this year, all the people you may have inspired this year. You did it. And you're standing here. And there are people across the country just as anxious as you are to see the fruits of our work does not end tomorrow but begins tomorrow."
Editor's note: Attendees of the march reported the early voting location, the Farwell Recreation Center polling Place, closed when they arrived at 4 p.m., despite the 6 p.m. posted closing time. It appears that after a few phone calls and some "good trouble" those in line were allowed in to cast their ballots as the crowd cheered them on.
For those who are interested in voting but do not know which candidates to choose, visit mivoterguide.com for a full breakdown of progressive candidates in Michigan. Click here to learn where your polling place is.