Over 250,000 Detroiters voted on Election Day. (BridgeDetroit photo by Ralph Jones)

Multiple Detroit-based grassroots organizations and local churches worked together to increase outreach efforts and mobilize Black voters in the presidential election. The efforts, which focused on Black, brown, first-time and infrequent voters in the city, paid off as the battleground state certified the election results Monday, granting president-elect Joe Biden its 16 electoral votes.

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“This is a historic and teaching moment for everyone who participated in this election from the voters, workers, organizers, challengers and even the board of canvassers — locally and statewide.” Ponsella Hardaway, executive director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES) Action Fund, told BridgeDetroit. 

Five local organizations — Community Change Action, Michigan People’s Campaign, Michigan Liberation Action Fund, MOSES Action Fund and Mothering Justice Action Fund — along with the help of local churches were able to make more than 850,000 calls, send more than 95,000 text messages and knock on more than 8,000 doors. The strategy was to focus on historically overlooked voters such as people of color, young people, formerly incarcerated people and women. 

“Many of us intentionally designed programs focused on getting out the Black vote in the current climate of the pandemic, police brutality, economic and housing insecurity, and perpetuated fear,” said Hardaway.

The efforts paid off as voter turnout was higher this year at 49.56 percent versus 2016’s turnout of 48.61 percent when President Trump narrowly won the state by 10,700 votes. According to results on the city’s website, Joe Biden received 94 percent of the votes cast in Detroit. 

In previous elections, traditional methods of encouraging Detroiters to vote were door-knocking, in-person events and using local churches as a hub of voter information. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected almost 20,000 Detroiters, organizers were forced “to embrace innovation in more ways than one,” Detroit Action, a grassroots organization that helped with turnout, stated in a news release. 

They used methods such as social media, mail, volunteer and paid canvassing programs and relational organizing, where people call or text their family and friends to have meaningful conversation about issues that matter and to encourage them to vote. “People trust the messenger,” Hardaway said. 

The strategy resulted in 60,000 friend-to-friend conversations, the equivalent of knocking on 400,000 doors, according to Domenica Ghanem, media relations manager at Community Change Action. 

Along with the virtual strategy, MOSES used a new method of reaching out to local influencers to increase voter engagement and education. 

“We used four influencers for this experiment: Tyra Kaymore, June Shelton, Corzetta Bose and Ian Jones. These were Gen Z or Millennial voters with a total social media reach of over 40,000 followers. They helped their followers think through logistics of creating voter plans,” DeJuan Bland, community organizer at MOSES, told BridgeDetroit.

However, Hardaway said she “just could not let go” of the concept of knocking on doors. The organizers were able to go door-to-door by teaming up with the Detroit Public Health Department, which supplied personal protective equipment such as face masks, gowns, gloves and face shields. Efforts were focused in west and northwest Detroit. It turned out people were willing to talk and organizers and volunteers had “a lot of meaningful conversations.” Overall, Hardaway said they tripled the amount of people they engaged from 3,255 in 2018 to 11,874 in 2020.

“From this day forward I think voter apathy is a thing of the past. Everyone is invested!” said Hardaway. “Our young Black boys and girls will remember this year and how powerful Black voices were heard and demonstrated —  just like the Black boys and girls who remembered Selma, Alabama in 1965.”


This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

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