By midway through yesterday afternoon, a steady rain had already corroded most of the “No On 2” signs posted throughout campus.
For some students, the election marked the culmination and release of weeks of intensive get-out-the-vote and educational efforts.
For others, it was an intensely personal moment.
For most, it was another day of class.
The morning began gray and quiet.
Two spray-painted “No On 2” signs were propped against the Hatcher Graduate Library railings. “It’s not just a black and white issue,” one read.
Canvassing the Diag was a group of students and outside activists composed mostly of members of One United Michigan, the United States Student Association and the College Democrats.
Among them, LSA senior Kristin Purdy was sheltered from the constant drizzle by a 7-foot donkey suit riddled with campaign stickers.
The atmosphere among the activists was tense, she said, but hopeful that Proposal 2 would fail.
Purdy recalled a campus visit Monday during which Debbie Dingell, wife of congressman John Dingell, heralded the results of a recent Detroit Free Press poll that showed Proposal 2 losing by a margin of about 10 points.
“It’s been the talk of the town,” Purdy said. “It really fired people up, motivated them.”
Jenn Pae, a University of California at San Diego graduate with “first-hand Ward Connerly experience,” said that it was still anybody’s game.
A few students had even bussed in from Wisconsin, which is rumored to be Connerly’s next stop in his crusade against affirmative action.
“Right now I’m feeling positive,” Pae said.
Nearby, LSA senior Kellyn Parker cut his path away from the flyers and pamphlets. Proposal 2 was a big issue for activists, he said, but the student body as a whole seemed mostly apathetic.
“We hear about the issues,” he said. “But we still have to take exams.”
On his way from the precinct at East Quad Residence Hall, Eastern Michigan University student Brendan Keeley paused by a column swathed in warped anti-Proposal 2 posters – some handmade, some carefully crafted and printed.
Proposal 2 is bad policy, he said, a bill pushed past an unsuspecting electorate with a fraudulent title – it’s also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative – and questionable rationales.
But Keeley’s forecast was bleak. Michigan, he said, is a notoriously divided state.
“Outside of Ann Arbor, man, I don’t know,” he said. “Just go north of here. It’s a different world.”
Despite his opposition to the proposal, he said his overall reaction would likely be “much of what everyone else’s is” – simple lethargy.
“It’s a bit of dark thinking,” he said. “But it’s realistic.”
Across campus, near Mr. Greeks restaurant, an LSA senior seemed to confirm Keeley’s fears.
“I barely know Proposal 2,” he said. “I feel that the people on the Diag are so focused on getting you to vote, they don’t take the responsibility to educate you on the issues.”
“Yeah, they did,” his friend interrupted. “You just didn’t take the responsibility to educate yourself.”
“Fine,” he concluded. “I just don’t care. I’m not from Michigan.”
The pale light, shrouded by thick clouds throughout the day, was fading by 6 p.m.
In the Michigan Union, the last ebb of voters were filing through the Pendleton Room. About 20 feet below the thin cardboard booths, others mulled more immediate choices: sandwich toppings and smoothie flavors.
One LSA junior sat browsing study-abroad options for next semester. He’s generally for affirmative action, he said, but didn’t register to vote this year.
“This just isn’t my election,” he said.
Nearby, Business School senior Tim Hodes was finishing his dinner and browsing The Michigan Daily’s sports section.
“Me?” he said, when asked if Proposal 2 would affect him. “Probably not. I’ve been in a majority group for most of my life.”
He said that regardless of the results, he didn’t believe most students’ lives would change.
“I think the University will change over time,” he said. “But for students – juniors, seniors, especially – it will mostly be life as usual.”
About 30 feet away, seniors Cheryl Clark and Sabrina Biggens were studying. Both had voted “no” on Proposal 2 earlier in the day. Upstairs, the polls were closing.
“I’ll be utterly disappointed if it passes,” Clark said. “People don’t feel it will affect them as much as they should.”
But skepticism is just another part of being black in America, Biggens said, particularly since the 2004 re-election of President Bush.
“There’s a disenchantment between voting and what will actually happen,” she said. “We know it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t seem like it matters.”
By 9 p.m., early reports showed Proposal 2 passing by about 30 percent.
For many campus activists, the day culminated at Leopold Brothers, a bar on Main Street, or in an East Jefferson living room, where the College Democrats held their victory party.
At Leopold Brothers, members of the Graduate Employees Organization and Students of Color of Rackham were gathered around the bar’s long wooden tables. It was a time for them to loosen nerves taut from three weeks of intensive phone banking and canvassing with beer and nachos.
“People here are hopeful, but trying to be realistic,” said Courtney Cogburn, president of Students of Color of Rackham. “If (Proposal 2) does pass, we’re thinking about how things will change.”
When asked how he thought it would turn out, Students Supporting Affirmative Action member Hugo Shi shrugged. “We’ll find out soon.”
On East Jefferson Avenue, Purdy had shed her donkey outfit. In a College Democrats shirt, she joined the mass of students packed in small blue living room of College Democrats member Molly Bates’s house.
Spirits were still high. Over Jell-O shots, Purdy pointed out that the first reports were from Alpena – not the most representative section of the Michigan population.
“We’ve had high turnout in Detroit and on campus,” she said.
By 10 p.m., more reports were streaming in.
Granholm’s victory was met with cheers.
Stabenow’s with louder cheers.
Dingell’s lopsided win with mostly laughter.
Proposal 2 alone bred silence. Its advantage was eroding, but not fast enough.
LSA senior Staci Daniels made a trickling motion with her hands, showing that the precinct counts were working their way southward, toward more liberal parts of the state. “Detroit will balance it out,” she said.
As she spoke, a Proposal 2 victory party in an East Lansing Marriott Hotel was gearing up. Ryan Fantuzzi, chair of the Washtenaw County Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, was jubilant.
“I feel great. In about half an hour we’re going to be breaking out the champagne,” he said. “We’ll finally be able to focus on the real issues.”
Alongside Ward Connerly, he described an atmosphere of relief and triumph. “You can feel it in the air. It’s very light. It feels like it’s Christmas Eve.”
Also in Lansing, a slightly more cautious, but equally pleased Andrew Boyd, chair of Young Americans for Freedom, offered his reaction. “At least one part of Michigan is going in the right direction,” he said, referring to the other races, which ended in almost exclusively Democratic victories.
“I’m very encouraged, very happy,” he said. “It’s great we’ll finally have equality.”
Back in the living room on East Jefferson, the Democrats were conflicted.
As CNN announced that national Democrats had taken control of the House, the room erupted in applause. Just a few were silent. Proposal 2 hadn’t been called yet, but it had a sizeable lead.
Purdy and Daniels took the opportunity to exit quietly, saying little and keeping their emotions in check.
“We put hours of work into it,” LSA sophomore Brent Durr said. “I thought we probably had a chance because of the way it was phrased.”
Durr, who said he marked white on his University application despite his half-black, half-Mexican heritage, opposed Proposal 2 in part because of his personal experiences with racial prejudice.
“A lot of people have said ‘you don’t dress or talk like those people’,” he said. “Who are ‘those people?’ I’m one of ‘those people.’ “
Back at Leopold Brothers, Shi’s voice was tense. “This is bad for us, bad for the state, and bad for the University.”
Others remained hopeful.
“I think no matter what happens, the campus will be changed in a dramatic way,” said LSA senior Wendy Earle, a leader in anti-Proposal 2 campaigning with the Stonewall Democrats. “A dialogue has been opened up that has never been there before.”
Earlier, near the Diag, an LSA sophomore and freshman admitted that they had not heard of Proposal 2 before yesterday.
“I don’t think they should totally ban (affirmative action),” one said, but added she hadn’t registered in time to vote.
“I really should be registered,” she said and turned toward her friend. “I’ll be registered soon.”
“Well, it’s a little late now,” he responded.