On a windy, cloudy morning two days before Election Day, Wendy Caldwell-Liddell is out at the State Fair Transit Center hassling strangers. Are they registered to vote? Have they already voted? Do they know where to go? Will they go?
The 29-year-old community organizer and grant writing consultant is on a mission to boost Detroit voter turnout. At the time, she had no idea whether the work she was doing would even matter, but a few days later she’d have her reward: Almost 50 percent of eligible Detroiters voted, not the record some expected, but a robust turnout and an improvement upon 2016 that helped Democrats defeat President Donald Trump in Michigan.
Caldwell-Liddell, co-founder of a group called Mobilize Detroit, spent three days a week from August to November promoting voting in one-on-one encounters all over the city. Whether it was approaching people at bus stops or knocking on doors, she was relentless about the importance of city residents embracing their right to set the course of the state and nation. On Election Day, she and other volunteers even provided free transportation to the polls.
“We were just one of many [groups] that decided to put forth that work this year,” says Caldwell-Liddell, mom of a 10-year-old and 2-year-old. While Democrats across the country didn’t do quite as well as preelection polls anticipated, “what I’m more proud about is the fact that we got to increase our community’s conscious level.”
The chief goal, she says, was to oust Trump, whom she views as a racist, even if the campaign of President-elect Joe Biden didn’t excite her. Biden went on to receive 94 percent of the vote in Detroit to Trump’s 5 percent. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drew 87 percent of the Black vote nationally, according to NBC exit polling, so America’s Blackest big city outpaced that.
“We have a lot to be thankful for that we have Biden in office, who we know is not just immediately going to hate us and do things against us at all times,” the Detroit native says. “But there’s still a lot of accountability that needs to be on the table as well, because Black people just saved America.”
The work was difficult but rewarding, Caldwell-Liddell says. Emblematic of her successes was a woman at the Rosa Parks Transit Center who was not registered to vote and had not voted since the 2008 election. Caldwell-Liddell saw the same woman days later; she had taken the bus to the clerk’s office to register and vote on the same day they met.
“It put a little tear in my eye because that’s what it’s about,” Caldwell-Liddell says. “She got to the polls. She said she was happy she had this information. She was happy that I had talked to her. … It’s all those little seeds you plant that absolutely matter.”