Opinion: Vote, for Detroit

After a devastating census, recent data on Detroit has confirmed what has been apparent for years: the make-up of our city is changing. While the outer neighborhoods continue to lose population, Detroit’s core is experiencing a wave of newcomers, intrigued and inspired by what the city has to offer. It’s no secret that, generally speaking, these groups share little in common. However, if there’s anything that all Detroiters can agree on, it’s that local government sucks. 

After decades of watching city leaders concentrate resources downtown on “magic bullet” projects meant to “turn things around,” longtime residents have lost hope that the city will do anything to help with blight, crime and violence in their communities. Some neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have the resources to address these problems, (and there is something to be said for taking responsibility for our own communities) but local government should be meeting its citizens halfway.

New residents aren’t exactly eager to get engaged either. Some are here simply to take advantage of the amenities and incentives being offered to coax them out of the suburbs, uninterested in connecting with Detroit on a deeper level. Even for those involved with projects seeking to improve life in Detroit, engaging with local government – whether in a personal or organizational capacity – is just too risky.

Hopelessness; lack of services; car insurance; emergency manager – we can think of a lot of reasons why many of our fellow Detroiters do not vote.

But here are a few reasons why every resident should:

1. City-council-by-district means that for the first time in nearly a century, Detroiters will have direct community representation. Detroiters voted for council-by-districts in reaction to a local government that failed to meet every neighborhood’s needs. Voting in November will reflect that desire for local representation, which matters now more than ever.

2. Responsive and effective government attends to communities with high voter turnout. Many Detroiters feel that there is no use in voting when no one in city government cares about individual neighborhood needs. But it’s just the opposite; neighborhood needs will remain neglected without voter participation. Our votes are the most important commodity to elected officials. Those communities with the loudest voice – votes – are the winners. If we want to ensure that all Detroiters’ needs are met, we must all vote.

3. Not voting does not convey your criticism of the system or your dissatisfaction with the candidates. All it reflects is that you don’t care, or that your needs don’t matter. As we have seen over the last decade and beyond, disinvestment, corruption and weak leadership all thrive in a community that fails to take an active role in the political process. Regardless of your personal motivations, every non-vote reflects the same thing - acceptance of the status quo.

4. Yes there are buy-in costs, but look at the overall cost/benefit equation. Having lived, worked, and driven cars in this city for more than a decade, we understand the costs that come with a Detroit address. Insurance is expensive. You need to take an active role as a consumer to shop around and share good rates among your neighbors. High insurance can also be balanced with some of the other cost savings within the city including, among other things, affordable housing options and time and money saved by a quick commute.

5. Voting is the best way to express our belief in the ideals and efficacy of democracy. Because with all the uproar over the state takeover of our schools and our local government, what better way is there to demonstrate that we value democracy in this city and this state? 

6. We are at a critical moment in Detroit’s history. It is imperative that we have good leaders in office working with the Emergency Manager and to take over when he is gone. With Kevyn Orr in town, one might wonder whether there is any point in voting for elected leadership. In truth, no one knows what the council and mayor’s exact role will be under receivership, but those elected in November will continue to represent the voice of Detroiters regardless. When local power is restored, it’s crucial that we have effective leadership ready to take the reigns. 

7. Detroit will not move forward without politically engaged residents. Voting is an exercise. It requires taking time out of busy lives to register, study issues and candidates, and get to the polls. The results are not immediate; our problems are monumental, and it will take time to reverse the trends of the last six decades. Whatever may be holding you back from voting will not change without your voice. If you live here, if you love here, VOTE, for Detroit.

For more information about why, how, and where to vote, go here.

Kimberly Ross Clayson is an attorney with over six years experience practicing bankruptcy law with Schneider Miller, P.C. She is co-treasurer of the Detroit Waldorf Board of Trustees, a Declare Detroit Drafter and former President of the Villages CDC. She lives in Indian Village with her husband and daughter.

Ellen C. Schneider is a recent graduate of Wayne Law and fellow attorney at Schneider Miller, P.C. A lifelong Detroiter, Ellen is involved with a number of efforts to promote civic engagement in the city, serving as co-founder of DetroitFREQ radio and Vote Detroit. She currently resides in Woodbridge.
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