Has Biden Completely Lost Michigan? Voters are “Uncommitted.”
A new campaign in Michigan is urging voters to vote “Uncommitted” in the upcoming presidential primary instead of President Joe Biden. One of the leaders of the campaign says “a vote uncommitted is a vote for humanity.”
People vote at an election site in Michigan in 2020. A new campaign is urging voters to choose "Uncommitted" in the upcoming presidential primary on Feb. 27 instead of choosing incumbent President Joe Biden. Photo by Seth Herald/AFP
More than 30 elected officials in Michigan have pledged to vote for “Uncommitted” in the state’s upcoming presidential primary on February 27 — and are calling for voters to join the campaign and do the same — in what is a resounding rebuke of President Joe Biden’s support for the Israeli assault on Gaza.
The “Vote Uncommitted” campaign from the organization Listen To Michigan is also the latest sign that Biden is polling poorly in critical swing states like Michigan and signals the steep climb the incumbent has made for himself and the Democratic Party in their effort to defeat Trump in November.
“The ongoing tragedy in Gaza is an affront to our shared humanity. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been massacred by the Israeli government, and more than two million have been displaced,” read a statement from Listen To Michigan that was addressed to “Fellow Michiganders.”
“Let us be clear: we unequivocally demand that the Biden Administration immediately call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza,” the statement continued. “We must hold our president accountable and ensure that we, the American taxpayers, are no longer forced to be accomplices in a genocide that is backed and funded by the United States government.”
Signatories on the statement include city council members, commissioners, members of boards of education, state legislators and mayors like Abudllah H. Hammoud of Dearborn.
“Under the direction of President Joe Biden @POTUS, our government has failed to act to protect the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Worse yet, President Biden and his administration have suggested that there is an exception to this rule when it comes to Palestinian lives,” Hammoud wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“We demand a better future and we intend to make our voices heard on Feb. 27,” he wrote. “I encourage you to join me in taking the pledge to vote ‘Uncommitted’ in the upcoming presidential primary election. To take the pledge and learn more, visit ListenToMichigan.com.”
Eman Abdelhadi, an academic, activist and writer who teaches at the University of Chicago, interviewed the “Vote Uncommitted” campaign manager, Layla Elabed, about the effort. Their discussion is below.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and structure.
EMAN ABDELHADI: Is Michigan lost to Biden? Is there anything Biden could do to win it back at this point?
LAYLA ELABED: Before we can even talk about Biden getting support at the ballot box, the very minimum that the Biden administration would need to do, for us to talk about what support would look like come November, is support a permanent cease-fire and a reevaluation of our policy of unchecked, unconditional military funding to Israel.
ABDELHADI: How did the “Vote Uncommitted” campaign come about? What has your role been?
ELABED: I’m the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan’s “Vote Uncommitted” campaign. This came about because of the frustration and the discontent that so many Democratic voters feel right now. Especially because some 80% of Democratic voters are pro-cease-fire. Talking with other Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, our pro-ceasefire community, our anti-war community, we really were like, “What can we do? How can we leverage our political power at this point with the Michigan primary election coming up?”
The methodology around “Uncommitted” really came out of the 2008 Obama campaign. In 2008, Obama did not make the ballot in the Michigan primaries, but his campaign was able to mobilize young voters, Black voters and voters of color to vote “Uncommitted” as a rejection of Hillary Clinton, and it really embarrassed the Clinton campaign. And so we took that and applied it to our current Democratic primary with Joe Biden.
One of the reasons it’s not okay to vote for a different Democratic candidate is because the whole institution of the Democratic Party has really turned on their constituency, has turned on their base. We can see the majority of our Democratic leaders, our Democratic elected officials haven’t supported a cease-fire, and haven’t been vocal enough about ending the genocide. We have our champions like Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib (note: Elabed’s sister). But on the whole, especially at the federal level, we’re not seeing condemnation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government. So that’s how this came about. We had a group of young and old Michigan organizers and this campaign is not only multi-generational, it’s multi-faith, it’s multi-racial, and it’s really, really grassroots. It’s being led by community organizers in Michigan and supported by national folks, national organizations, national organizers. But it really is organic.
ABDELHADI: We know Michigan has huge Arab and Muslim communities, and we know Michigan is also an essential swing state and was part of Biden’s victory strategy. Do you think that Michigan has a particularly important role to play right now? Especially in its place in the primary cycle?
ELABED: Yeah, 100%, because the Arab and Muslim vote in Michigan is pivotal. As demonstrated in previous elections, like the last election between Trump and Biden, our community’s engagement in that election has significantly influenced outcomes. It was largely due to the support of the Muslim and Arab vote in the last election that Biden won Michigan and we need to remind the Democratic Party not to take our votes for granted. Recognizing and addressing our concerns is crucial for our continued support.
ABDELHADI: It looks like we may be heading towards a Trump-Biden election in November. How do you balance this with the specter of a Trump presidency? What do you say to people that accuse Arab and Muslim and other communities of effectively enabling Trump?
ELABED: We are well aware that Trump is not our friend, especially amongst the Arab and Muslim community, because with the Muslim ban, we knew that he was not a friend to our community. He made comments that once back in the presidency, if he were to be elected again, that he would reenact the Muslim ban. We know he’s not a friend to Palestinians, or Palestinian Americans, because it was during his presidency that the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem, which was a huge, huge setback for Palestinians and for Palestinians’ right to self-determination. There’s a long time between now and November for Biden to change his policies and possibly earn support from voters if he were to do the bare minimum of a cease-fire and stop military aid to Israel. But time is running out and Biden’s funding of Netanyahu’s war makes a mockery of the president’s claim when he was taking office, that he would fight authoritarianism and would be for democracy. What we have seen is that the Biden administration has moved away from humanitarian politics. And that is not what his constituency, his base, voted to have him do in office. And I really want to stress that it will be Biden and his administration and his lack of response to his constituency and his core base that will give Trump the White House. It’s not the voters, it is their response to their voters.
ABDELHADI: That’s a great point. I’ve posted various vows not to vote for Biden on X (formerly Twitter) and other social media, and I’ve been somewhat surprised by the intensity, the violence, of the reaction of other Democrats to these posts. And I know that other Muslim public figures have been getting similar reactions. Is there any fear that Arabs and or Muslims will face retaliation or backlash if Trump wins the election?
ELABED: That could possibly be the narrative that the press and very institution-type Democrats might create, but I think we have a larger narrative. It’s not just Arabs and Muslims that feel this way. Like I said, 80% of Democratic voters are pro-cease-fire. So to reduce it down to just Muslims and Arabs not wanting to vote for President Biden would be a disservice to our allies and a disservice to the folks who want to be on the right side of history when it comes to vocally ending support for a genocide.
ABDELHADI: You mentioned that this is a multiracial and multi-faith campaign. What other communities have been active in the campaign so far?
ELABED: We just had our press conference launch on February 6. We had our supporters and organizers from within the Jewish community. We’re working with Detroit Jews for Justice, we’re working with Jewish Voice for Peace, we are working with Black leaders, young people, one of our speakers was an amazing young organizer from Wayne State who was the president of the Black Student Union. We are working across faiths, across our ethnicities, our backgrounds. This is a very attractive campaign because voters are looking for a way to voice their concerns, not even just their concerns, concerns is not the right word for it, but they’re looking to voice their frustration and their discontent with Biden and the Democratic Party. They want to see a change and voting uncommitted targets President Biden’s policies because many of us have directly lost friends and family due to the unchecked and unconditional military support provided to Israel by his administration. Genocide in Palestine is not something that only Arab or Muslim Americans care about. It’s something across the board. Really, a vote uncommitted is a vote for humanity.
ABDELHADI: You mentioned this is part of a national campaign. Have other states reached out? Are similar things happening? Did you have any contact with people in New Hampshire? I know that at least 1,500 people wrote in “cease-fire” in the New Hampshire primary.
ELABED: We’ve had folks that are on our campaign that were kind of digging in with the folks in New Hampshire when they were having their write-in campaign. We’re talking to folks across the United States from different states that want to know how they can do something like this in their states. Unfortunately, there’s only seven states that have the ability to vote uncommitted. In other states, I can’t remember exactly what the language is, but there’s another way that they can vote that doesn’t vote for a specific candidate. But we are talking to folks from other states that have reached out to us and said, “You know, we’d like to replicate this in in our own states. How do we do that?” After our Democratic primary here in Michigan, our hope is that we will be able to offer support to those states.
ABDELHADI: It sounds like there’s a lot of energy and a lot of organizing happening.
ELABED: There’s a lot. There’s a lot of remote field stuff, but we’re also doing a ton of relational work, which I think is going to be one of the key components of this campaign being a success. The amazing thing about it is we haven’t had to do a lot of outreach or reasoning or convincing folks to jump on this campaign. We’re getting calls: “How can I plug in? I want to plug in my community, how do I do this?” And so it’s a lot of that relational work across communities, across organizations, across block clubs, all of those social clubs, that are really spreading this campaign, and making it as large as it’s getting. Just this morning, we had Mayor Abdullah Hammoud plus 35 other elected officials sign on to their support for the “Vote Uncommitted,” Listen to Michigan campaign. That number has grown even more because so many elected officials are listening to their base, listening to their constituents. So that is really catching on.
ABDELHADI: Have you received any communication or any response or reaction from the Democratic Party, either on the national level or the state level? It sounds like many Democratic politicians like Abdullah Hammoud are signing on. But has there been any reaction from the party establishment or even from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer?
ELABED: No, we have not heard anything from any other state-level elected officials. We do know that the Biden administration is planning on sending some top officials from the White House to come and talk to some leaders in the community. How that is going to be received, I don’t know. I know that when the Biden administration sent his campaign manager, we said absolutely not. And to us, that was a slap in the face to send your campaign manager to come speak to a community that is being directly affected by what’s happening to Palestinians in Gaza, and our Lebanese American voters, what’s happening in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen …
ELABED: Iraq, exactly. We have a huge, huge community here. We have a huge community that’s being directly affected by what Israel is doing. So it was a slap in the face. But I think what is unique about the opportunity for Thursday, February 8, when one of the top officials coming is Samantha Power. I think this is going to give us the opportunity to clearly send our core message and let these top officials know how they have ignored these communities. I think this is our time to be at the table and let them know that they have lost our support and that these are the things that are on the table as a bare minimum to even talk about what support could look like. So I think we can use those meetings effectively. And we know that our leaders, like Hammoud, who has not been shy from criticizing Biden and his administration and the Democratic Party, we know that when he meets with those top officials that he is going to have his community’s back.
ABDELHADI: Anything you want readers and listeners to know about this campaign?
ELABED: I would just stress that voting “Uncommitted” on February 27 in the Michigan Democratic primary is really going to be a vote for humanity — more than any time we’ve ever needed it. Despite whatever political ideal that you have, if you are anti-war, if you are pro-cease-fire, and if you want to bring humanitarian politics back into our democracy, then your vote should be vote “Uncommitted.”
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Eman Abdelhadi is an academic, activist and writer who thinks at the intersection of gender, sexuality, religion and politics. She is an assistant professor and sociologist at the University of Chicago, where she researches American Muslim communities. She is co-author of Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052 – 2072.
Layla Elabed is the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan in her own capacity as a regional organizer with We the People in Southeast Michigan. She is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, number 12 of her 14 brothers and sisters, and mother of three. Layla organizes around energy and environmental justice issues, equitable housing, voter rights and movements that amplify justice and the voices of BIPOC communities. She engages and uses her learning to organize communities toward powering sustainable change.