As the United States counts its ballots in the 2020 election , Rev. Joe Summers of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice imparted his wish on the crowd gathered on the University of Michigan Diag by paraphrasing a poem by Langston Hughes.

“Let America be America again,” Summers read. “The land that never has been yet, and yet must be the land where everyone is free. I swear this oath America will be.”

A few hundred students, community members and local activists met on the Diag Wednesday afternoon for a “Count Every Vote” rally, one of many across the state. We Make Michigan, a coalition of grassroots organizations, labor unions and congregations, organized the rallies. 

In nearby Detroit, election workers were still tabulating Wayne County votes in the TCF Center. Once former Vice President Joe Biden took the lead in Michigan over President Donald Trump Wednesday morning, Republican election watchers showed up to the TCF Center trying to gain access to the counting room, banging on the windows and chanting “Stop the count!”

The Associated Press called the state of Michigan for Biden during the rally while Trump baselessly tweeted his campaign would “hereby claim the State of Michigan.” 

Organizer Eleanore Ablan-Owen, co-director of the Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice, told The Michigan Daily the rallies are to make sure the election takes all votes into account. 

“If necessary, we’ll be in the streets to make sure that every vote is counted,” Ablan-Owen said. 

The rally alternated between speeches and musical performances of old and new protest songs. 

Desiraé Simmons, co-director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, thought back to her grandmother, who was born before women had the recognized right to vote, as hope for the future. 

“I think about what was not allowed for them,” Simmons said. “What couldn’t they imagine? Today, people say ‘I don’t think this could happen.’ … When I might be a great-grandmother, what can I not imagine?”

LSA senior Amytess Girgis put the election in context with a summation of all of 2020’s turmoil. Speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented scale of this summer’s protests after police officers killed George Floyd, she told attendees they should be concerned not just with electing a certain candidate but with “building a future.”

“When we think about yesterday and this week, we have to think about, ‘Is this it?’” Girgis said. “‘Is this everything?’ No. While it’s critical that we make every vote count and count every single vote, especially as our president just filed a lawsuit to stop that from happening, we have to ask ourselves why — towards what end?”

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s campaign announced it was suing to halt the counting of votes in the state. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called the legal action “frivolous.”

At the rally, Rackham student Kathleen Brown said while Biden’s centrist approach may ultimately win the election, the narrow margin of victory shows a more progressive vision is needed.

“It is an absolute shame that we are here in this situation, that this vote is so close,” Brown said. “Enough with pandering to the centrists. Enough with pandering to the white suburban middle class. We need a transformative vision.”

The University’s Graduate Employees’ Organization has threatened to join a general strike if Trump illegitimately claims the election. Rackham student Karthik Ganapathy said he heard about the protest from the GEO. 

Ganapathy worried that many of the votes wouldn’t be counted.

“I’m also worried that the Democratic Party won’t act accordingly, that they won’t actually do everything necessary to stop that from happening,” Ganapathy said. “So I think it’s up to the general public, especially workers, who have to actually make demands to the Democratic Party to make sure that they don’t give this away to the Republicans.” 

LSA senior James Stinnett said he heard about the protest from the Roosevelt Institute, the University’s chapter of College Democrats and the Washtenaw Action Council. He said because no one has a “crystal ball,” the election would be close and messy. 

“I think it’s clear that Republicans are getting down in the muck and I think it’s going to be a question of whether Biden and the Democrats are gonna be willing to get in, too, to try to ensure the right result,” Stinnett said.

LSA freshman Jolie Kaplan attended the rally after volunteering for Students for Biden Tuesday. She said with the close election, it was nerve-wracking to hear about the legal challenges.

“Just the idea that there are claims of fraud in our election, it kind of ruins this idea of integrity and democracy,” Kaplan said. “It would be nice of candidates to not claim fraud when they appear to be losing.”

Jill Runstrom, an English teacher at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, said she heard about the protest from an email sent by her education association. Runstrom said that she’d “been around for a few presidential elections” and that this election was the “most unique.”

“At this point, I’m feeling pretty hopeful that there’s gonna be change,” Runstrom said. “I’m just really, really hoping that whoever it is that wins starts to listen to the other side, and that we can try and find common ground as a country because I feel like we’re really divided right now.”

Nora Zorich, a resident of Ann Arbor, said she felt concerned about the president declaring victory before all of the votes had been counted. Zorich said the president’s speech made her want to “come out the next day” to protest. Zorich said there was a “huge amount of work we have to do to rescue the planet.” 

“It isn’t like we have decades to figure out what to do next,” Zorich said. “My biggest concern about another four years of Trump is exploiting the planet for gain, and that so many people are willing to let him do that without intervention.” 

Thomas Filardo, a resident of Ann Arbor, said he was scared for the future of his children and grandchildren. He said he hoped the U.S. isn’t “over” by the time they grow up.

“I’m old. I’m almost out of here,” Filardo said. “I’m not gonna be here for a long time. Your generation is going to be here for a long time, I hope.”

Daily Staff Reporters Calder Lewis and Jared Dougall can be reached at calderll@umich.edu and jdougall@umich.edu

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