With Gretchen Whitmer the gubernatorial nominee for Democrats  after a bruising primary campaign, the party seems poised to show unity  this fall. Hoping there will be less infighting between the progressive wing of the party and card-carrying members, including establishment loyalists, Democrats are banking on votes in Detroit for a November victory.

But expecting Detroit, the party’s largest base, to save the day would be wishful thinking if Whitmer doesn’t get out to the streets and work to capture the hearts and minds of the men and women who are not traditional voters. The election would not be won by a complacent or convenient nominee of either party. The victory belongs to a candidate who is willing to move beyond the traditional boundaries of civic engagement and talk directly to individuals and families who have long been disconnected from the political process.


There is anger in the streets of Detroit about how the party over the years hasn’t done much to court its biggest and most loyal base, while the Republican Party struggles to offer a realistic and compassionate alternative for voters in the city. There is frustration about how politics in Lansing fails to deliver for those who need the most help. There is suspicion regarding which of the gubernatorial candidates has the best interest of Detroiters at heart.

“This election is going to be a street fight. You have to grab the imagination of the streets,” said Keith Williams, chairman of the party’s black caucus. “You have to broaden the conversation beyond skills trade. We have to talk about access to capital and entrepreneurship for the brothers and sisters out here.”

He added, “Gretchen will have to get the people who have not been voting to come out. She and her team will have to go to places they have not been before.”

Williams makes a point. A real grassroots campaign that reaches disenfranchised voters is what will determine the outcome of the election. In the past, the party operated in safe and convenient spaces and always deferred to a select group of so-called political gatekeepers whose influence over city residents is overblown. They in turn decide how the party would engage Detroit voters and how resources are allocated for voter empowerment campaigns.

That explains why the Hillary Clinton campaign lost to the Bernie Sanders movement in Wayne County during the 2016 election. Sanders’ campaign operatives rejected the traditional line of outreach in favor of a nontraditional model of voter participation. That’s how they won the state. 

The governor race should offer no less in adopting an unconventional model that will inspire people to believe that politics can truly improve their lives.

Let’s face it. People want real solutions to their problems not just well-crafted talking points recited like a daily prayer at every campaign stop.

“What we have right now is a systemic and cultural depression because people have a sense of hopelessness. There is a lack of trust in our political system,” Detroiter Sabrina Cesaire said. “It is really difficult for people to get excited to come out and vote. The hope is that what transpired in 2016 should serve as a learning experience.”

Cesaire said the candidates should go to voters, not the other way around.

“It is imperative for you to come out and meet the people where they are and follow through with the promises you are making,” she said.

Both Whitmer and Bill Schuette, the Republican candidate for governor, have an extensive record of public service that needs to be scrutinized fairly and thoroughly.

The candidates should explain in detail what they will do to enhance the lives of struggling residents. The single mother with three kids who has two low-wage jobs and still isn’t able to make a decent living deserves to hear what Whitmer and Schuette will do to help her family. The middle-aged man who just got out of prison and is looking to become a productive member of society ought to know how the candidates plan to help  Detroit’s returning citizens. These are the voters politicians don’t normally talk to.

It’s time to move beyond the periphery.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

Read or Share this story: