On Sunday evening, dozens of Michigan residents gathered in Burns Park in Ann Arbor to canvass for gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed.
El-Sayed graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007. He served as the Detroit Health Commissioner to help rebuild the city’s Health Department under Mayor Mike Duggan.
At the event, canvassers gathered in Burns Park before breaking into small groups and knocking on doors in the area to discuss and promote El-Sayed’s platform. The group needed 15,000 signatures to get El-Sayed on the ballot for governor.
El-Sayed addressed the crowd before they broke into groups. He said all attendees have come out for a particular reason, and that in a democracy, everyone has their own values and issues with which they are concerned.
“As you go and you talk to other folks, and you do this work of democracy, they’re going to have their issues,” he said. “I think the thing that I’ve found as I’ve done this is that if you can connect person to person about issues that people to people care about, those are the conversations that matter. People might not agree with you, they might not even see eye to eye with you but the reality is that you’ve connected on something that matters.”
Currently in society, he said, there is a lot of focus given to civic conversation, which seems to be broken, with individuals “polarized” into different sides.
“I think if we are all able to come out today to do this work, to have person to person conversations about the issues that bother us, that keep us up at night, that give us angst and worry, then that’s the way that we’re going to be able to solve this civic conversation,” he said.
He said his campaign is built around such conversations, and he hopes that will continue to be the case in the next 13 months of the campaign.
Adam Joseph, the communications director for El-Sayed’s campaign, said the campaign is working to canvass the entire state. He said early on, the campaign offered a listening tour across the state and have been to over 60 cities and about 30 counties. He said the campaign has been appealing to a younger group of people and has been very enthusiastic in its pursuit.
“We are easily the most active, most energetic, youthful campaign in this race,” he said. “Look around, half of the volunteers of the over 1,000 people who have signed up to work with us — we’re approaching 2,000 now — are under the age of 34. This is a campaign of millennials in a lot of ways.”
Joseph added he thinks in the past, Democrats have made the mistake of not reaching out to as many voters as they could.
“We’re at an interesting moment in this state in particular,” he said. “It’s a state that went for Obama twice, then Bernie in a primary … then Trump in general.
He said he thinks there may have been an opportunity for the parties to reach out and start having conversations with voters about issues that concern them — something the El-Sayed campaign is trying to do.
El-Sayed said his campaign is focused on five principles, which are not mutually exclusive. These relate to economics, education, health care, environment and clean government. He emphasized too many people are “locked out” of the economy. Labor participation has stagnated and real wages have fallen, disproportionately hurting the working class.
“When we think about economy, we have to be able to build the kind of economy that is a 21st-century economy,” he said. “It’s focused on jobs that aren’t going to go away … that really focus on building the kind of local manufacturing opportunities that need to exist here; really doubling down on things like food processing, which we should be able to do in Michigan as the second most diverse agricultural state in the country; be able to really focus on human care work and training up into those jobs and unionizing those folks so they can really demand the kind of incomes that they deserve for that work; and then being able to think about what the future of our knowledge economy in Michigan looks like.”
He said such economy has been automotive for a long time, but feels renewable energy is another outlet through which to encourage the economy.
Moreover, El-Sayed advocates for universal health care in Michigan. He said the state needs to think differently about ways to secure public health.
"That could take the form of a public option, it could take the form of a full-on single-payer system, it really depends on what happens with the AHCA, with this new Obamacare repeal, and then we have to reinvest in public health," he said. "That means, right now, public health is 1.5 percent of the state budget. We need to really invest in thinking about building health into place."
El-Sayed detailed more of his positions and policies, adding it is important for him to improve the state government, adding that Michigan is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.
"We are one of the least accountable, least transparent governments in the country, and we have to be able to clean that up," he said. "We have to make sure that you can't continue to invest four times as much in a state legislative race as you do in a federal legislative race in Michigan. We have to make sure that we have people who are parenting government rather than just babysitting, because of term limits. We have to make sure you know what's happening in the governor's office and state senate and state house because you can FOIA them."
He believed canvassing is a good way to engage with the community and allow one-on-one converesations.
“The way that politics has emerged over the last 40 years that is so corporate-driven, that is so insider-focused, that’s not the kind of politics that I believe in and that’s why we’re campaigning this way,” he said. “It’s also because I don’t see a campaign as being simply the means of elevating somebody to a particular office. It’s about building a movement and about building the kind of movement that inspires people to believe in politics that is more focused on people and more focused on the things we can do together when we're willing to embrace them.”
Alexander Deatrick, a student at Amherst College, is an internship coordinator specifically for the field aspect of the campaign; he helped coordinate the canvassing event.
Deatrick said each group would cover a specific area or neighborhood, talk to voters, try to get their signatures and then mark down whether or not they got a signature. Canvassers utilize the Voter Activation Network — a voter database based on public information that helps the campaign keep track of how they feel they’re doing with voters in the neighborhoods.
“We’re going to have a better sense as a campaign about how we’re doing in these areas, and about how we can better follow up, continue our grassroots strategy in all of these different neighborhoods,” he said.
Deatrick said he first heard El-Sayed speak in March at the University.
“I was struck immediately by the energy he brings to this election,” Deatrick said. “I think that we need fresh blood in Michigan politics. I think there is way too much same old attitude still dominating Lansing politics, and I see someone like Abdul who revitalized an entire division of Detroit’s Public Health Department, and I see his qualifications … and I think that that’s exactly the kind of person we need to bring that fresh back to Lansing.”
Among the canvassers were Francis Maniaci and Jenafer Turk — teachers who are from Wisconsin, but have recently lived abroad. They first learned about El-Sayed at a science march that took place at Eastern Michigan University in April. They brought their baby daughter to Sunday’s event.
Maniaci said their daughter is allergic to milk.
“One of the biggest things on our mind is the dreaded Trumpcare and the pre-existing conditions,” he said. “So does my wife qualify for health insurance because she had a baby? Does my baby get health insurance because she is allergic to all milk? I (have) lots of allergies — tree nuts, three of the main types of antibiotics so this is a real thing that impacts me.”
Maniaci said it’s not just the government, but insurance companies who have power over insurance plans. He said insurance companies have used all sorts of reasons to limit and excuse petitions and applications for health insurance.
“I feel that Abdul, having worked within, as the Detroit Health Commissioner, he’s familiar with these types of things in the past,” he said. “I think that if he was elected governor, one of the things that he would be able to address on the state level since that seems to be the man thing — put it back on the states — he would be adamant about getting legislation signed that would prevent us from being disqualified.”