Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, a University of Michigan alum, held his final rally of the semester in Lorch Hall Thursday night, featuring Alex Ebert, the lead singer of rock band Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
About 100 students attended the “Start of Summer Rally” to launch the campaign’s “People’s Summer”, which that focuses on mobilizing young people to vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary August 7.
Intended to draw participants from across the state, the event was live-streamed to several other universities including Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, Oakland University and more.
El-Sayed graduated from the University in 2007 and then went on to receive a doctorate degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and later a medical degree from Columbia University. El-Sayed served as health officer for the city of Detroit from 2015 to 2016, and became youngest health official of a major U.S. city at age 30 when he served as executive director of the Detroit Health Department. He said he was called to public service through his experience with various positions in the Detroit area as well as his desire to see systematic change on a local level.
“Every single responsibility we took on led to the closed door of a politician –– people whose doors don’t open for people like you and I, that only open for the moneyed folks,” El-Sayed said. “And I realized that I was done waiting at that closed door.”
El-Sayed’s platform focuses on various issues, ranging from gun reform to affordable public education and health care. At the rally, the campaign highlighted the need for policy change by including personal testimonies from Aarica Marsh, a University alum who graduated in 2016, and current Skyline high school senior Aisha Soofi.
Marsh focused on her experience coming from a lower income household in Michigan public schooling and as a first-generation college student. Marsh explained she and many of her peers came from unstable households and were not provided the resources to graduate high school. Though she expressed gratitude for the opportunities in her life, her problems did not end upon coming to the University, and her financial struggles were a constant difficulty throughout her college experience. Marsh expressed her support for El-Sayed, having worked on his campaign for more than a year.
“I know that Abdul is incredibly empathetic — he actually understands the problems that people like me and my family face,” Marsh said. “He knows that standardized tests don’t often measure the successes of our schools, but rather where poor and disadvantaged families are located”
Soofi focused on El-Sayed’s pro-gun control policy, saying she, her peers and teachers at school should not feel they are in danger of gun violence.
“There is only one candidate in the state who is saying enough is enough,” Soofi said. “Only one candidate who is standing up against the NRA, who is standing for reasonable gun reform, and who is fighting for an assault weapons ban.”
As a younger candidate, a Muslim and a person of color, El-Sayed said, he is disadvantaged in popular discourse and often not taken seriously by other politicians. He added, those factors also play into his strengths, principally his ability to mobilize young people and otherwise overlooked communities. He asked the audience to think about the world they want their future children to live in, alluding to the birth of his first child in November.
“When you have a child, the set of questions that you want to ask about the world changes. Because the sense of your longevity extends beyond your life, and you see in another human being what it is that you want to leave in the world,” El-Sayed said. “So when you ask yourself what you’re working for, I hope that you extend beyond the arc of what you can see right now, and ask yourself: What will the world have been because you decided to get up and in 2018, make the difference, and make the future that you wanted to live?”
LSA freshman Celia Frey works as a volunteer on the Abdul for Michigan campaign and expressed her confidence in his track record as a public servant through his work as health officer. She specifically cited his partnership with Vision To Learn, a program which administers free eye exams and glasses to elementary school students in Detroit.
“I’m volunteering with him because from what I’ve seen out of all the democratic candidates in the primary, he is really the most progressive and the one with the most track record of actually getting things done,” she said. “I think that there are other candidates that have been less willing to really have progressive agendas, and be aggressive about things like gun laws, whereas he has really come out in the extreme. I feel the most confident in him actually being able to get those progressive agendas accomplished.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Republican candidate Bill Schuette has garnered attention for his work as Michigan attorney general on issues such as anti-bullying campaigns and human trafficking. In a previous interview, University of Michigan lecturer Rusty Hills, director of public affairs for Schuette, said he believes Schuette’s current work as attorney general prepares him in fields El-Sayed does not have experience in.
“I think he’s doing an outstanding job as attorney general, and the most important thing you can do for future office is a good job in the office you hold,” Hills said. “So on a wide range of issues, I feel like Bill Schuette’s done a great job as attorney general. I think that will help him in this race for governor.”
The event closed with an interactive musical performance by Alex Ebert and local Ann Arbor musicians.