Black voters have the numbers and the power to determine the direction of Michigan’s support. Here’s how the campaign is making its way across the state to ensure votes aren’t “taken for granted” in the historic election.
LANSING, Mich.—The 2016 election was decided by fewer than 11,000 votes in Michigan. Many voters opted to stay home, saying they couldn’t find inspiration in either candidate Hillary Clinton or then-candidate Donald Trump.
The Biden-Harris campaign is learning from the party’s past mistakes.
In the last month alone, representatives from the historic political ticket have visited the battleground state nearly a dozen times—and most of those visits have targeted Michigan’s coveted Black electorate.
Over the years, Black women have anecdotally been called the “backbone of the Democratic party.”
“We’ve heard it over and over again,” Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, told The ‘Gander. “[Black women] donate to campaigns, we register voters, we knock the doors, we make the phone calls, and vote at the highest rates of any demographic work.”
Dr. Jill Biden
Educator, mom, and potentially the next FLOTUS (first lady of the US) Dr. Jill Biden campaigned for her husband in western Michigan in September. Rather than attend a large rally or event, Dr. Biden visited with military families in Grand Rapids, saying the Biden-Harris campaign isn’t taking “one vote for granted.”
During her visit to the state, Dr. Biden also checked in with Kids’ Food Basket, a grassroots effort to provide farm-grown meals to Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, and Muskegon counties in West Michigan, which have some of the state’s highest concentrations of Black residents, after Flint and Detroit.
“We were honored to host Dr. Biden and share our mission and critical work,” Kids’ Food Basket Communications Manager Alyson Ramirez said. “Her visit was about Kids’ Food Basket making sure that every one of our kids in West Michigan have access to good, healthy food—that is our goal, that is our vision. We are a nonpartisan organization and welcoming of anyone who wants to experience the good work we’re doing.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris had been making the rounds in Michigan long before joining the Biden campaign. She officially kicked off her candidacy for the vice presidency at a virtual event in Detroit, hosted by Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, and has visited across the state several times since.
In October, she kicked off a canvassing event, thanking campaign supporters for their contributions. She also emphasized how critical Detroit was in turning Michigan blue.
At the time of her visit, almost 100,000 Detroiters (and about 2 million Michiganders overall) had already cast ballots in the historic election.
“You in Michigan are going to decide who the next president of the United States—and vice president of the United States—[will be],” Harris said to the crowd of cheers and honking horns. “In 2016, [an average of] two votes in each precinct in Michigan determined the outcome of the election.”
Harris is the first woman of color to be nominated for the vice presidency by a major political party. She’s a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc., the first Black sorority of its kind in the US.
The prestigious group for college-educated women boasts more than 1,500 members on its Facebook page in support of the Congresswoman alone. Other Black Greek Letter Organizations that were founded after AKA have also pledged support of the Biden-Harris ticket, including local chapters of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
Joe Biden has been an elected member of American government for almost 50 years. In that time he has made mistakes, like advocating and voting for the 1989 crack laws and the infamous 1994 crime bill.
In the years since these decisions, Biden has publicly admitted his wrongdoing and misunderstanding of Black communities.
“What I was against was giving states more money so they could build state prison systems,” Biden said during a 2019 town hall. “Now, 93 out of 100 people are in a state prison because they built more prisons… It was a mistake.”
Biden has repeated the admission on debate stages, in town halls, and on live streams since. The candidate is no stranger to Michigan, thanks to the familiarity with the state he gained on the Obama campaign trail and for his eight years serving as the administration’s vice president.
“We’d see him so much that we started to joke that he was from Michigan,” Barnes said of Biden’s frequent trips. “He’s a Michigander, at least, in heart.”
Biden is courting the Black vote locally through representatives, friends and family members, and nationally through conversations with popular Black programs like iHeart Radio’s The Breakfast Club and stops through Instagram Live Verzuz battles produced by music-producing icons Timbaland and Swizz Beats.
Having former President Barack Obama stumping for Biden hasn’t hurt, either.
If the celebrity and appeal of Barack Obama weren’t enough to get people to pay attention to the Biden-Harris campaign, homegrown celebrities like Magic Johnson and Lizzo have been campaigning on behalf of Biden and Harris across the state.
Johnson was born and educated in Lansing before becoming a superstar NBA player for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He returned to the state early in October to talk politics at the city-hall-equivalent of every Black neighborhood—the barber shop.
Johnson talked shop with Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, State Rep. Jewell Jones (D-Inkster), and Detroit activist Teferi Brent outside Rayfield’s Barbershop on Cadillac Street on Detroit’s east side.
“The reason I’m here is to tell young Black men they can’t sit on the sidelines,” Johnson said. “You have to bring about change with your voice and your vote.”
Singer Lizzo is also lending her voice to the Biden-Harris campaign, encouraging her millions of social media followers and her Michigan family to vote for the historic ticket. The vocalist and flautist took to the streets of Detroit and Harper woods in late October after not being on a plane since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“But when I heard about all you guys are doing out here in Detroit, working so hard, getting on a plane was the least I could do to say thank you in person.”
Michigan voters have less than a week to cast ballots in the 2020 election.