Candice Fortman (left), a Detroit resident and media executive; Piper Carter (right), an organizer, environmental justice advocate, and entrepreneur who worked on the 2012 Obama campaign. Collage illustration: Renald Louissaint; Photography: Rikki Wright.

Searching for the Other Midwestern Swing Voter

Spoiler: She’s Black and lives in Detroit

Wendy S Walters
ZORA
Published in
15 min readOct 29, 2019

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FFor two evenings in late July, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates debated at Detroit’s Fox Theater, often invoking appeals to a mythical Midwestern voter through their proclamations of values and lamentations on the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Andrew Yang emphasized the inevitability of automation taking over assembly-line positions; Pete Buttigieg pointed to “an economy that’s not working for everyone”; Cory Booker spoke of his paternal grandfather, a member of the UAW; and Tim Ryan argued for changes in production, saying, “We’ve got to fill these factories in Detroit, in Youngstown, that used to make cars and steel. We’ve got to fill them with workers who are making electric vehicles, batteries, charging stations … make sure they’re making solar panels.” After a reference that might have seemed oblique to the rest of the country, Julian Castro received a strong acknowledgment when he said, “Just go and ask the folks that just received notice that they’re getting laid off by General Motors.” He was referring to the GM Warren Transmission plant in neighboring Macomb County that was slated to close by the end of the week, meaning a loss of 262 jobs because of relocation and layoffs.

Just a mile away from the theater, dozens of Detroiters gathered at McShane’s Bar in a neighborhood called Corktown for a viewing party hosted by the nonpartisan coalition CitizenDetroit. A lively, mixed crowd paused to listen to each of the candidates’ responses before scoffing, erupting in applause, or throwing out follow-up questions that would never be answered. Here were some of those “real” Midwestern voters — active, concerned, skeptical, and invested. Gazing around the room, I wondered whether the candidates truly understood who the Midwestern voter really is; the group that outnumbered the others here were Black women.

That so many Black women in Detroit are the primary wage earners and are often the principal caretakers of children and parents brings to…

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Wendy S Walters
ZORA
Writer for

is the author of Multiply/Divide: on the American Real and Surreal and two books of poems.