Cheers of “Let’s go, Joe” filled the gym of Renaissance High School in Detroit on Monday night, the eve of the Democratic primary, as supporters gathered to rally for presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Cal., Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Biden on the stage in a final push for his election before Tuesday.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan opened the rally in support of Biden, referencing the former vice president’s commitment to helping rebuild Detroit’s economy following its 2014 bankruptcy.
“He got us new buses, he got us housing … When the rest of the country had written us off, he was there,” Duggan said.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist explained his support for Biden using three factors: his record, his results and his relationships. Gilchrist said he voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2016, receiving a mixed response from the crowd, but explained he believes these three qualities set Biden apart.
“The difference is nobody with the records, results and relationships of Joe Biden was on the ballot and what we need in 2020 is somebody who is gonna have a vision that includes all of us,” Gilchrist said. “When Joe Biden looks to build a coalition, he doesn’t look away from any person, he doesn’t look away from any community, instead, he looks to empower people to help make a difference.”
Biden’s record resonated with some University of Michigan students in attendance as well, including Information junior Harrison McCabe, who said he finds Biden the most trustworthy of the remaining Democratic candidates.
“I trust Joe,” McCabe said. “He has a record of getting things done, and he’s the most ‘get-it-done’ person left in this race.”
LSA freshman Kenny Larson, who is involved with Students for Biden at the University, said he felt a sense of coalition while waiting in line for the doors to open to the rally.
“Just based on what we've seen walking through here, this rally reflects a really diverse coalition of voters, whether that be across age, race, ethnicity, sexuality,” Larson said. “I think that really speaks to sort of Joe Biden's message of unity.”
Whitmer spoke to this coalition in her speech in support of Biden, pointing to the diversity of the crowd.
“What I love about Joe Biden, though, is he knows how to build a coalition,” Whitmer said. “I’m ridin’ with Biden and everyone else has a seat too. It takes coalitions to win. And this campaign looks like this country and it looks like this city.”
LSA freshman Adam Grimes, who is a member of Students for Biden and attended Sunday’s rally for Sanders, felt that the crowd at the Biden rally was more diverse and indicative of a stronger coalition to beat Trump. He pointed to Biden’s victories in Southern states as evidence of his ability to turn key states democratic.
“Bernie’s crowd yesterday actually made me a little bit nervous,” Grimes said. “It was just the same young, generally white voters that he's been getting and that's not what's gonna win the election against Trump.”
Booker mentioned this sense of unity while also appealing to Detroit natives, speaking about his mother’s roots in Detroit and his grandfather being a United Auto Workers assembly line worker.
“This party is not the party of ‘me,’ it’s the party of ‘we,’” Booker said. “It’s the party that believes in this radical concept — I don't know if y’all ever heard of it — it’s called science.”
Booker listed other issues important to the Democratic party as well, such as civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights. Harris, taking the stage after Booker, spoke more to some of these central party issues.
“Michigan: Justice is on the ballot in 2020,” Harris said. “Economic justice is on the ballot in 2020. Reproductive justice is on the ballot in 2020. Healthcare justice is on the ballot in 2020, environmental justice is on the ballot in 2020, racial justice is on the ballot in 2020, and Joe Biden is on the ballot in 2020.”
Biden came out after Kamala’s introduction, thanking those who spoke before him. He specifically thanked Whitmer, citing one of her campaign’s catchphrases.
“When I hear that great line you say, ‘Let’s fix the damn roads’ — let’s fix this country,” Biden said.
He began his speech by talking about how just over a week ago, the press and Congress had declared the campaign “dead,” a ruling that, according to Biden, was overturned by South Carolina and Super Tuesday primary results.
A few minutes into his speech, Biden was interrupted by Anti-NAFTA protesters, who had large banners and began chanting. Biden responded with, “This is not a Trump rally,” telling people in the crowd to let the protesters go. The protesters were quickly escorted outside, after which the crowd resumed chants of “Let’s go, Joe.”
Soon after, about 25 protesters from Sunrise Movement, a climate activist group that endorses Sanders, and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a Black youth organization dedicated to social justice issues, disrupted the rally with the chant “Joe must go.” They carried banners reading “Green New Deal Now” and “Green Jobs For All” as they marched and chanted.
Allie Lindstrom, midwest trainer and co-founder Sunrise Ann Arbor Hub, said they hoped to interrupt the rally and ask Biden questions about his ability to appeal to youth voters.
“My intention was to call attention to the fact that Joe Biden does not have widespread youth support and many of the policies that excite young people and excite new voters — he has not spoken (about), he has not committed to any change, and we wanted to highlight that ahead of the primary,” Lindstrom said.
However, police escorted the group out quickly after their disruption began. Lindstrom said the crowd also ripped up protesters’ posters and shoved them.
Biden responded that the disruptions are indicative of the tension of contemporary political climate.
“This is what’s wrong with American politics,” Biden said. “I’m not going to worry — this is a reflection of the world of American politics today.”
He went on to talk about some of his campaign’s goals regarding health, such as accessible healthcare, lowering drug prices and protecting rural hospitals.
Biden also spoke about his role in the Paris Agreement, saying he will have the U.S. rejoin the agreement “first thing” on day one of his presidency.
“We have to up the ante,” Biden said. “We’re 15 percent of the world’s problem and we will get to natural emission. But, the rest of the world, if they don’t, it won’t matter.”
He also talked about his plans for teachers and public education, emphasizing the importance of raising teachers’ salaries in order to make quality education accessible to all regardless of their zip code.
As a political science major, Larson said he hoped to hear Biden expand upon his stance on foreign policy at the rally.
“It’s something that I’m very passionate about, in sort of understanding the way that Joe Biden deals with other foreign leaders, the sort of policies he’s articulated,” Larson said. “I think the United States needs a strong presence abroad …(not just) in terms of his cooperation with world leaders but also his willingness to engage with the countries.”
Biden spoke to the importance of regaining trust from America’s allies, denouncing Trump’s relationships with “thugs and dictators.”
He concluded by urging attendees to remain hopeful and continue to fight for what they believe in.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is; let’s let him know who we are,” Biden said. “We choose hope over fear; we, Americans, choose unity over division; we, Democrats, choose science over fiction and we choose truth over lies, let’s get up and let’s take this back now.”
Reporters Iulia Dobrin and Angelina Little can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org