Abdul El-Sayed, a Democratic candidate for Michigan's upcoming gubernatorial race, hosted a town hall Saturday evening at the University of Michigan’s Michigan Union to garner campaign support from Ann Arbor residents. Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour and Winnie Wong, the founder of The People for Bernie Sanders’, were among speakers featured at the event.
El-Sayed graduated from the University in 2007 and went on to receive a doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and later, a medical degree from Columbia University. El-Sayed became the youngest health official of a major American city at the age of 30 when he was tasked with rebuilding Detroit’s Health Department.
“I never intended to run for office, I'll be honest with you, I hate politics,” El-Sayed said. “But sometimes there is a project that you want to complete and that you see needs completion and you have don’t exact tools, so you deal with the tools that you are given, politics is the tool that we have right now.”
Throughout his speech, Abdul discussed the need for people to come together for something greater than themselves. He referenced the influence of his family and described the world he imagines for his 19-day-old daughter.
“As we think about where we are headed and where we are, I want us to ask ourselves why it is we come together in spaces like this,” El-Sayed said. “When often times we talk about unity, we focus on shared strengths and what it is we can do together. But to be honest the reason we need each other is not about shared strength, it’s about shared needs, it’s about the fact that all of us as human beings … Well, we need each other.”
Sarsour spoke in support of El-Sayed, saying she was grateful to see someone from the Muslim-American community running for office. Sarsour compared El-Sayed with Senator Bernie Sanders, who she noted was another inspiration of hers.
“I am here because I am fired-up and I want to make history and put a true progressive and the first Muslim governor in the country in office in 2018,” Sarsour said.
As a national surrogate, Sarsour believes in Michigan and its large Arab, Muslim and immigrant community. She focused primarily on three issues: Economic justice, immigration rights and environmental justice.
“I know that Abdul cares about economic justice, he cares about all of us having access and all of us being able to have a fair share,” Sarsour said. “Immigration is a very important issue and Michigan is a very important state 100 miles from the border and I care deeply about this issue. I also care about environmental justice, there is no point of fighting for justice if we do not have a planet to live on and Abdul understands that on a very fundamental level.”
While attending this event independently of Women's March, Sarsour discussed how the future of Women’s March can affect El-Sayed and his campaign. She discussed the Women’s March official endorsement process for the 2018 election, in which candidates can submit a request for endorsements from the Women’s March network. Women’s March has not endorsed any 2018 candidate yet, but El-Sayed is in the running for an endorsement, according to Sarsour.
“I am looking forward to our network learning more about Abdul and being inspired by the message that he brings that aligns with us as (the) Women’s March,” Sarsour said.
Sarsour mentioned the controversy that follows her personal endorsement of Abdul El-Sayed in a campaign in which a female candidate is running, Jennifer Kurland for the Green Party.
“Abdul aligns with my values more and Abdul has solutions to the problems that we have,” Sarsour said during her endorsement.
Wong, longtime social justice and political activist, said she is excited to meet the diverse electorate of the state of Michigan. She said she looks forward to being in a room of young people who continue to be excited about the Bernie Sanders "revolution." She said she also looks to Abdul El-Sayed’s historic campaign for governor with anticipation.
“It’s time to elect a Muslim-American governor for this great state who is a progressive, who is a Millennial, who speaks to this issue of Millennials and who speaks to the issues of people of color across this country,” Wong said.
LSA freshman Amytess Girgis said she works on the El-Sayed campaign because she is inspired by El-Sayed’s pursuit of equality and justice.
“He is not focusing so much on his religion and his ridiculous amount of qualifications, instead he is focusing on ‘how can I help the people of Michigan the most?’” Girgis said. “He’s legitimately looking to serve the people and it's not about glory.”
She looks forward to Abdul El-Sayed’s newly released water policy in which he aims to push toward higher water quality for all and increase funding to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“I would say that is really exciting to me because a lot of people haven't been paying attention to that,” Girgis said. “There are so many equity and race issues tied in with the water problems in this state that it's really awesome that he's taking a stand on that.”
The Michigan gubernatorial primary election is on August 7, 2018, with the general election on November 6, 2018.
“Abdul for me represents hope, he is a beacon of light as we go into 2018,” Sarsour said. “We need him more than he needs us, he is doing this because he believes in you, he believes in us and he believes in our country.”