Column: Our first 100 days

Abdul El-Sayed

As Lansing insiders reflect on the annual Mackinac policy conference, I remember what many of the same people told me when I decided to run for governor: The politics of the moment were too polarized and too partisan for a candidate with my name.

I’m an American of Egyptian descent. I’m Muslim. My parents immigrated to Detroit in the late 1970s looking for a better life for themselves and their children. My name, “Abdul,” reflects that complex background.

In the first 100 days of our campaign, my team and I have been in 61 cities, 27 counties and hundreds of rooms. We’ve spoken to thousands of voters in town hall-style gatherings. We’ve had hard conversations — about a flailing economy, faltering schools, failing public health, threats to our environment, and our broken infrastructure.

We’ve learned a lot, and I want to share some lessons about our state that can tell us a lot about our future — one that I think looks bright.

First, contrary to what politicians in Lansing think, our state has never been more unified on the issues than it is today. Michigan is failing Michiganians in some clear and agreed upon ways. Whether they’re working people in places like Detroit or Ishpeming, Michiganians are concerned that the economy will lock them out, that our children are getting a subpar education in crumbling schools, our infrastructure is decaying, our environment and our Great Lakes are at risk of being poisoned or exploited, health care is too expensive, too hard to manage, and poor quality, and that our state government isn’t working for us. And while Michiganians may use different languages and draw on different experiences to tell their stories, they share the same plot line and cast of characters.

Second, most Michiganians agree on the solutions. We need a 21st century economy that provides economic opportunities for everyone, not just the elite. We need to fix public schools so that they can be the engines of social mobility they were meant to be. We need universal pre-K to help our young minds flourish. We need to protect health care for all Michiganians. We need to embrace renewable energies and create the jobs that will save our Great Lakes.

Third, we have been conditioned to believe that people who see the world a different way are unreasonable, unintelligent, or even heartless. This is how the culture of fear works: it tells us that we cannot reason with people who don’t see the world the same way we do. So we revert to our echo chambers that reinforce our stereotypes.

We must resist this culture of fear. And even as we stand for our causes, we must be willing to sit, speak with, and learn from people who see the world differently. The words “I disagree” are, in fact, some of the most powerful in the English language because they imply that we are sharing a conversation in the first place. That conversation — open, honest and humbling — is the single most important tool we have to address the challenges nearly all Michiganians can name.

We are having those conversations in small towns and big cities across our state. I will fight to ensure that this conversation continues beyond November 2018, because it’s our best shot at building the future we all want for our families, our communities and our children.

Abdul El-Sayed is a Democratic candidate for governor.