Detroit Cass Tech principal Lisa Phillips has had some famous people visit her high school, including 2006 graduate Big Sean, Atlanta rap trio Migos, and Ice Cube, among others. But none created more buzz than former president Barack Obama, who visited the high school on Friday for a “Get Out The Vote” rally to endorse all of the Democratic candidates on Michigan’s General Election ballot.
Thousands waited hours in the cold and rain, with tickets that did not guarantee entry, to hear Obama campaign with Senator Debbie Stabenow, gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer and running-mate Garlin Gilchrist II, congressional candidates Matt Longjohn, Gretchen Driskell, Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and other statewide and local elected officials and candidates.
The last time Obama was in the city of Detroit was in 2016 when he spoke at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources during his visit to the Detroit International Auto Show.
“It is good to be back in Detroit,” Obama said in front of a crowd of over 4,000 inside of Cass Tech’s gymnasium. “The Pistons are 4-0 and a lot of good things are happening in Michigan. But, I’m here for one simple reason. I need to make sure that all of you vote, in what I believe might be the most important election of our lifetime.”
With election day approaching, Obama took the stage at Cass Tech and weighed in on President Donald Trump, health care, the importance of voting, and other critical issues.
Channeling his past calls for hope and change, Obama warned those in attendance in the overflowing gym that the failure to vote in the general election could have serious implications for a country now led by President Trump and a Republican-led Congress.
“The stakes in this election are really high,” Obama said. “The consequences of sitting on the sidelines in this election are dangerous and profound because America is at a crossroads right now. The health care of millions of Americans is on the ballot. Making sure families get a fair share is on the ballot. But, maybe most importantly, the character of our country is on the ballot.”
Attorney General of the United States under Obama and current Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Eric Holder, also attended the rally. As Michigan voters are set to decide on Proposal 2, a measure that would create an independent commission to manage the establishment of the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, the two noted the importance of gerrymandering in the state.
“I’m proud to support voters and not politicians,” said Holder. “This is a citizen-led movement that is going to give power back to the people. Michigan is one of the most gerrymandering states in the country. I’ve been all around this place and you got it bad here in Michigan. We can do something about that if you vote for proposal two on November 6.”
Michigan Democrats traditionally struggle to turn out voters in non-presidential election years, particularly in urban areas like Detroit. Beyond Whitmer’s running mate Gilchrist II, Democrats are offering a predominately white statewide ticket to voters in the majority African-American city.
But Obama is the Democratic party’s biggest rock star and he brought that star power to fire up the Democratic base in the city. State Representative Sherry Gay-Dagnogo blew the doors off the gym with her rendition of the national anthem, Rashida Tlaib and Jones were in a heated race for Michigan’s 13th congressional district in August and stood at the podium together urging Detroiters to vote. U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence used her time to fire up the women’s political movement and Gilchrist received a huge applause from his home city as he and Whitmer campaigned for the governor’s race.
“I’m proud to stand alongside all of you in Detroit as we work so hard to elect democrats all the way up and down the ballot who share our same values,” Gilchrist said. “Gretchen (Whitmer) and I believe in something amazing. We believe that every person in the state of Michigan deserves opportunity, access to a high-quality education from a public school like Cass Tech, and access to high-quality affordable health care.”
Fans packed the floor, bleachers and indoor track of Cass Tech, where the high school marching band led by Sharon Allen punctuated Obama’s punch lines with drum fills and cymbal crashes. Supporters cycled between “Yes we can” and “Obama” chants. A woman even yelled out, “ We want you back.” Obama quickly replied, “I can’t do that baby. I follow the Constitution of the United States.” An elected president is limited to two terms in office, which Obama has exhausted.
While he rarely addressed Trump by name, Obama repeatedly criticized his controversial successor and his tenure in office in a fiery speech that took aim at other Republicans as well. He attacked Trump’s promise to make tax cuts before November’s election, Republicans blaming his tenure on the struggling economy, and Trump’s pledge to fight corruption in Washington D.C., among other topics.
“Well, they’ve now racked up enough indictments to field a football team,” he said. “You know, I didn’t have anyone in my administration get indicted. It’s not that hard.”
Michigan is another battleground state in the Midwest that Democrats lost in 2016, despite Obama’s visit the day before the election. In 2008, Obama beat late U.S. Senator John McCain in Michigan by 57-41 percent and in 2012, he bested former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who grew up in Michigan, 54-47 percent. So he knows the importance of Democrats winning the Great Lakes State.
“I’m hopeful Michigan,” he said. “I’m hopeful that despite all the noise, despite all the lies, we’re going to come through all that. We’re going to remember who we are, who we’re called to be. I’m hopeful because out of this political darkness, I’m seeing a great awakening.”
While Obama was in Detroit on Friday with Democrats, Vice President Mike Pence will travel across the state on Monday to campaign with Republican candidates, including gubernatorial hopeful Bill Schuette, U.S. Senate candidate John James and U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga at a Monday evening rally in Grand Rapids and a Monday afternoon stop at Oakland International Airport in Waterford with Lena Epstein, who is running for the 11th congressional district seat and U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, who is running in the 8th district.