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Lizzo in Detroit: 'Michigan is going to be crucial' in election

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the presidential election approaches, singer Lizzo had a strong message Friday for supporters of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, urging residents across southeast Michigan to vote and reminding them of the state's key role in choosing the next president.

"I don’t have to tell you guys that this is the most important election of our lifetime," the entertainer told an audience on Detroit's west side. "Michigan is going to be so crucial, and how Michigan votes is going to be so crucial between trying to make America great again or finally bringing America together."

Lizzo speaks Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, at a volunteer canvass launch at Harper Woods High School, one of two Metro Detroit events the singer held to encourage voters to turn out for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The music star and native Metro Detroiter campaigned for Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Harris, a U.S. senator from California.

Lizzo spoke first outside Focus: HOPE to about 50 participants, rallying volunteers to canvas and boost turnout.

A second event took place in Harper Woods as part of the Black Students for Biden “On the Yard” series. It featured Michigan Lt. Gov. Gilchrist II and focused on issues affecting young Black voters.

During the Harper Woods event at the city's high school, Gilchrist said he was concerned about undecided voters, adding: "If you don't vote, you're passing up an opportunity to show the world how powerful you are.

"Most people don't want things to happen to them, they want to make things happen," he said, according to a pool report. "Nonvoters, things happen to nonvoters. But voters make things happen. Voters decide who is in leadership."

In Detroit, some who greeted Lizzo, the rapper, singer and flautist born Melissa Viviane Jefferson and who once lived in Grosse Pointe, saw her appearance as another way to help spur turnout.

“Now that we’re less than two weeks away, it’s exciting to see everyone get hyped up about voting,” said Lucie Rosenthal, 22, of Huntington Woods, who braved thunderstorms to show her support in person rather than digitally.

The events came a day after Vice President Mike Pence appeared in Waterford Township and Biden and President Donald Trump sparred in their final televised debate.

Singer Lizzo (from right) speaks at a volunteer canvass launch at Harper Woods High School with Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Caprice Jackson, chair, 14th Congressional Youth Advisory Council to highlight importance of volunteering with the campaign on Friday, October 23, 2020.

Biden spoke at events in Southfield and Detroit last week; Trump's campaign announced Friday that the president would appear Tuesday at a rally in Lansing.

On Tuesday, Biden's wife, Jill, addressed dozens of local officials and Arab American community members during a voter mobilization event outside Shatila Bakery in Dearborn. She also made stops for an urban farm tour at Keep Growing Detroit Farm and Madison Heights at a women's canvassing launch.

Former NBA star Earvin "Magic" Johnson has also stumped for the Biden-Harris ticket in Detroit.

Harris was scheduled to return to the area on Sunday. 

The appearances have increased ahead of the Nov. 3 election as the campaigns seek to carry Michigan, considered a possible tipping-point state in the White House race. In 2016, Trump won Michigan's 16 electoral votes by 10,704 votes, his smallest margin of victory nationally against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Clinton earned 76,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama did four years earlier.

Justin Walker, a Detroiter who attended Lizzo's rally at Focus: HOPE, said he was not enthused when Biden and Harris ran in the primary to seek the Democratic nomination, but his top priority now is "to get Trump out.”

“I feel inspired to go knock on some doors tonight,” the 36-year-old said while wearing an "I Voted Early" mask near the stage.

In brief remarks after removing a mask emblazoned with the word "Vote," Lizzo urged the attendees to recall the demonstrators during the civil rights movement.

Singer Lizzo speaks at a volunteer canvass launch at Harper Woods High School with Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist to highlight importance of volunteering with the campaign on Friday, October 23, 2020.

"Those people didn't know the outcome of their actions. They didn’t know the future, but they knew they were on the right side of history, period," the Grammy winner said. "So thank you for being on the right side of history, by doing your part to help us in democracy."

She went on to underscore what's at stake by referring to a motto Trump has often touted.

"They’re out there trying to make America great again, but we need to finally bring America together again. Because I don't want to go back to the way it was," Lizzo said. "And Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will help us finally bring America together. So thank you for going door to door, in the face of a pandemic, risking everything on the front lines trying to save our democracy."

In a statement Friday, Trump campaign representative Chris Gustafson criticized Lizzo's presence by referencing one of her most famous songs, which sparked controversy related to writing credits.

"Joe Biden knows a thing or two about plagiarism, so it's no wonder he's relying on frauds like Lizzo to campaign for him while he hides in his basement," Gustafson said. "Michigan Democrats will find out the Truth Hurts when Michiganders re-elect President Trump."

Others welcomed the star's support, including Sharon Marshall, a Detroiter who attended Lizzo's appearance in Detroit. She believed the visit would help galvanize young people, a crucial voting bloc. “They’re the future,” Marshall said, adding the diverse audience near the stage encouraged her. “I just like to see people coming together.”

Marshall mentioned she, like others, planned to vote early.

Singer Lizzo addresses the crowd Friday during an event in Detroit for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

This week, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced more than 3 million people had requested absentee ballots before the election and most have been mailed their ballots.  About half of those recipients have sent in their ballots, she said.

The 3 million absentee voters would make up more than half of the 5.9 million voters predicted in Michigan, according to modeling released Tuesday by Michigan State University political science professor Corwin Smidt. The state's record of 5.08 million voters was set during the 2008 presidential election.