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My name is Sean Stiles and I am currently interning through Semester in Detroit with Frontline Detroit voter outreach. When arriving on campus in Ann Arbor as a transfer from UM-Flint, Diana Seales and Craig Regester, my instructors for the spring 2020 class, “Grassroots Community Organizing in Detroit for Changing Times”, encouraged me to take part in the Semester in Detroit classes and minicourses, as well as this opportunity for interning in Detroit. Every Sunday, a group of high school seniors, community leaders, and I walk the streets of Detroit handing out literature pertaining to each individual community. Considering the barriers put up by COVID-19, the amount of people in the city of Detroit whose voices could be left unheard is a rising issue. Our objective is to get people to fill out their census, register to vote, make a safe plan to do so, and get them involved in their community.
The experience gained through door-knocking with Frontline is different from experiences I have had in the past, as the issues we bring up to the citizens are often non-partisan and, thus, interest within the community is abundant. There are different dynamics of communities depending on where you are in Detroit, and community leaders like Darryl Jordan and Piper Carter help in the understanding of the struggles each community faces. When I asked Darryl why he thought this work was important as a member of the street team for EMEAC (Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Committee) he said, “It is important that we get out in the community and engage with the citizens in different communities, because even outside of voting, there are varying issues in many places and everyone needs to be involved.” Initially, due to the restrictions set by the pandemic, the organization lacked funding to effectively canvas through the election. Thanks to contributions from multiple Detroit community organizations, however, we are now able to continue our work through Sunday, November 1st.
In the time that I have been involved, we have canvassed in three different communities. For example, in Highland Park we were encouraging people to get involved and get educated in their community by joining a new organization called “The Highland Park Fellows” whose objective is to organize advocating for energy democracy and sustainability. Another community we canvassed was near Lincoln Park by the Marathon Petroleum Refinery, where the air in Detroit is heavily and regularly polluted. I have really appreciated being able to get involved in enabling activism in these communities in a safe way.