By Doris Rhea
I was right out of high school when I moved from Greenwood, Miss., to Detroit. It was 1956, and voting in Mississippi was a dangerous thing for black people to do. Still, my mother and father made a point of voting in every election. Their determination to be part of this country’s democratic process wasn’t lost on me, so three years later, when I turned 21 in Detroit, one of the first things I did was register to vote.
Back then I was happy to be living in a city where it was safer for blacks to vote, and where, because of strong unions and a thriving auto industry, black families could make a decent wage. The unions, in particular, made Detroit a voting town and place where blacks could parley their experience with union leadership into political leadership. But a lot has changed in my city in 60 years. In Michigan, we now have state officials who disregard the wishes and concerns of long-time Detroit residents. We have a governor who forced the city into bankruptcy, allowing non-Detroiters with more money to take control of vast resources and decide the city’s fate.
State-elected officials’ blatant disregard for Detroiters’ needs and concerns has caused many to question whether voting serves any real purpose. But I know it does. In fact, going to the polls is the only way we can effect any real, continued democracy in this country and closer to home. It’s the only way that we can effect peaceful change, and that’s why I plan to vote on November 4th.
I think so often we get caught up in the loud vibrato of the presidential elections that happen every four years. They are important and exciting, but as they say, all politics are local. What happens in your state and in your town is going to have the biggest impact on you and your family. That’s why voting in the midterm elections, and making sure that you cast a ballot in every primary, general and run-off election, is crucial to getting leadership that will respect and represent your concerns.
This year, Michigan voters are electing a governor, a senator and representatives to Congress. With all that has happened in Detroit, I believe it’s particularly important that black women get out and vote. Eighty two percent of the city’s population is black and almost 53 percent are women. That means that black women have real power to decide this city’s future. We have a real voice on issues like local control of our schools and the police department.
The whole nation is watching our city, because what happens in Detroit will set the tone for what happens in other cities that are experiencing financial challenges and are heavily populated by black residents. For too many years, our elected officials haven’t been listening to us. But Detroiters can change that dynamic by showing up at the polls and voting for leaders who will listen and fight for our interests. That’s why I’ll be voting on November 4th.
Doris Rhea is a resident of Detroit, Michigan, where she lives with her husband. She is retired, but sits on numerous local boards, including the Detroit Institute of Art’s Friends of African Art division.