Congressional candidate Summer Lee calls for ending 'racist' systems at Detroit summit

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. congressional candidate Summer Lee wants to "dismantle racist institutions" like policing, the government and the two-party political system, but the Pennsylvania Democrat acknowledged during a speech to a Detroit community group Saturday that her goals won't be easily attained.

Lee, who won a May primary for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat and was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual neighborhood summit organized by the nonprofit community group Detroit Action.

Summer Lee, who won a May Democratic primary for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat, speaks at a Detroit Action neighborhood summit in Detroit on Saturday, June 18, 2022.

Saturday's event was billed as a Juneteenth celebration and a "Mackinac Conference for the People," a reference to the annual Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island in which elected officials and business leaders gather to discuss economic growth and other issues.

"We're fighting to dismantle racist institutions and systems, whether it be policing, or our two-party monopoly, or whether it be ... government," Lee told about 35 attendees at the Farwell Recreation Center on East Outer Drive. "All of these things are not things that just have to exist in perpetuity. They don't have to just keep on existing."

Detroit Action, which describes itself on its website as "a grassroots community-based organization building power for workers and Detroiters of color throughout our metro region," works to ensure citizens' concerns are heard, said the group's campaign manager Joanna Velazquez.

"We call this the 'Mackinac Conference for the People' because this is about the things we in the community care about," Velazquez said. "I find it crazy that the (Mackinac Policy Conference) takes place as far away in Michigan as you can get from the population centers."

Velazquez said the rally also aimed to stave off what she said was a "relentless push by the GOP to put in Jim Crow election policies."

Summer Lee, who won a May Democratic primary for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat, speaks at a Detroit Action neighborhood summit in Detroit on Saturday, June 18, 2022.

Lee said neither political party embraced her during her campaign.

"Your party doesn't want you, the other party doesn't want you," she said, reflecting on what she said was resistance during the primary. "They came at us hard. They put $4 million in hate ads. ... They said I'm going to dismantle the (Democrat) party, which ..."

She didn't finish the sentence, which prompted chuckles from the audience.

"We deserve to have people in our community who come from our community who represent us," Lee said. "We deserve a system where we're sending people to it, not where they're sending representatives to us.

"Too often we have a system that sends us representation and we're supposed to be OK with it," Lee said.

"The reality is, as Black folks, as brown folks, as abolitionists ... we need to start asking ourselves not just 'where do we fit in?' but 'what isn't fitting in with our idea and our vision for that better world that we're building?'" Lee said.

Velazquez said change has to start from the bottom up.

"We need to take responsibility to come together and organize, and that's what this (event) is — a chance to get together and see what we're going to do," she said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN