The Michigan Democratic Party held its annual convention Saturday at the Cobo Center in Detroit. Politicians from across the state, regional and federal governments emphasized unity while laying the groundwork for 2020.

The state's top Democratic office holders gave speeches, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Gilchrist highlighted the necessity of building a foundation for successful organizing in the coming year.

“The work of organizing is an everyday, an eternal enterprise,” Gilchrist said. “I need every one of you to keep organizing as well. I don’t think we have enough voters in Michigan. We have 10 million people in Michigan and more of them need to vote. You know how we make that happen? We make that happen by starting right now.”

Attendees included delegates from a variety of districts across the state. In the morning, congressional districts and interest groups hosted caucuses – a meeting of supporters dedicated to a specific political movement – including the Progressive Caucus, the LGBT & A Caucus and the Environmental Caucus.

After individual caucuses, attendees gathered in the main convention room. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters also spoke, along with Reps. Debbie Dingell, Andy Levin, Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens and Rashida Tlaib. The speakers congratulated Michigan Democrats for coming out in a “blue wave” for the midterm elections while urging them to stay focused and keep organizing for 2020.

Sen. Gary Peters, who is up for re-election in 2020, emphasized the importance of unity.

“We won because we were united,” Peters said. “We came together … and we campaigned as one, united party.”

Peters credited the Democrats’ success in the 2018 midterm elections to unity and expressed  he did not approve of the Republican agenda because he believes it pits Americans against each other. He told the crowd  he did not like this idea of America divided.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is not the America that I love,” Peters said. “That is not the America that I believe I live in. We are going to prove in 2020 that that is not America. We are a country that is united as one people and we will not tolerate division anymore.”

Whitmer began the night with a passionate speech about the importance of continuing their efforts for 2020.

“We’ve made history, yes,” Whitmer said. “We can celebrate, sure. But we must keep working. We must keep our foot on the gas because the reality is this: I still have a legislature I got to work with and because of gerrymandering it’s controlled by the other side of the aisle. So we need the public to stay engaged.”

Whitmer also touched on the importance of unity and said that helping the community should not be politically alienating.

“Fixing the damn roads should not be a partisan issue,” Whitmer said. “Clean water should not be a partisan issue. Educating your kids and supporting the people that dedicate their lives to it should not be a partisan issue.”

Jeffrey Taite, a resident of Choctaw and Creek, Michigan, said he was disappointed with the lack of the Native American caucus.  

“I’m Choctaw and Creek Indian, which is a southern tribe,” Taite said. “But I grew up in Michigan. They didn’t say anything about the Native American caucus earlier. I was trying to get this caucus from the state of Michigan, so that we start getting our voices heard.”  

Taite agreed with the message of unity and believes communication is the best way to break down barriers.

“You have to communicate,” he said. “If you don’t communicate about each other’s lives, you have no idea what people are going through. We’re supposed to be a united nation.”

All speakers had a general feeling of optimism. However, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, said she was also optimistic, but joked that she would continue to be “Debbie Downer.”

“We cannot take 2020 for granted,” Dingell said. “So Debbie Downer is here for the next two years. We all have a lot of work ahead and we’re going to deliver for working men and women in the state of Michigan.”

The speakers also criticized President Donald Trump, especially with regards to the funding of his proposed wall at the border of the southern United States. Rep. Andy Levin told an enthusiastic crowd that when he meets with the President this Tuesday for the joint session of Congress, he will make it known there will be no funding for a wall.

Once the speeches were wrapped up, delegates nominated their choices for Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, as well as one female vice chair and one male vice chair. Lavora Barnes was elected chair. Mark LaChey and Fay Beydoun were elected vice chairs.

Barnes reiterated the fact the party needed to keep going and could only succeed by working together.

“We are a team,” Barnes said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us. I have no doubt in my mind that if we continue to stand as one and fight not just for what we believe in, but for each other, we will get this done. This election is about building on what we have achieved and looking ahead to what we can do together to reach to even greater heights.”

Michael Briggs, LSA sophomore and chair of Progressives at the University of Michigan, attended the event. Briggs said he appreciated the messages of unity and persistence.

“I was excited about the amount of people here,” Briggs said. “I was excited about the message of unity that really seemed to transcend over everything and the motivation going forward. There’s still that excitement. Even though we won a lot in Michigan, there’s still that drive to continue to win. I think that if the Democrats stay focused and continue to lead with a progressive agenda, we’ll be successful in 2020.”

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