WARREN, Mich. — When Malcolm Wright moved here 23 years ago, this predominantly white, Catholic, working-class Detroit suburb was known as a home of “Reagan Democrats” — traditionally Democratic voters who voted en masse for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. Now this suburb may switch again and vote Democratic for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. What a difference decades of far-right policies make, some would say.
Wright, 87, a retired teacher and former executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, predicts Obama will take Warren and all of Macomb County.
Warren is changing and people’s attitudes are changing, says Wright, a lifelong Democrat. The community is 90 percent white, he said, but new people are moving in and you can find African American, Asian American and Arab American families on every block.
Judging by the response he is getting from people when he goes door-to-door, he sees many supporting Obama as he does.
“The prospect of Obama becoming president is the prospect of hope,” he said. “And the prospect of McCain is more of the same.”
Wright, formerly president of his AFT local, served as a pilot in World War II and worked for Chrysler for 10 years before getting laid off and becoming a teacher.
For older people like him, Wright said, it’s important that Obama would preserve Social Security while McCain wants to privatize it, “just like Bush.” And if Obama is elected the prospects are much better for universal health care, another key issue, he noted. Also important, he said, is Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and his pledge to get our troops out of Iraq, where there was no reason to go to begin with.
Despite various ailments, Wright has been out canvassing his precinct for Obama and getting to know his neighbors as voters.
Recently, he said, he proudly wore his Obama button at a monthly social event for seniors in his community where people eat, drink, mingle and dance. Wright said he was proud to wear his Obama button there.
Just south of Warren is Detroit, long known as the home of the auto industry and well-paid union jobs. Today the city and its residents are experiencing tough times.
Walking through downtown, one could argue it looks abandoned. A city whose population once approached 2 million now has fallen to about 800,000 residents. Eighty-five percent are African American. Unemployment is nearly 10 percent and one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.
“My biggest concern is the economics of this country,” said Ike Ayler, 64, an African American store manager who sells African artifacts, jewelry, clothing and Obama T-shirts in the student center at the Wayne State University campus in Detroit. “The Republican regime has slowed the economy down and people are losing their homes, mortgages, cars and their jobs and it’s affecting everybody,” he added. “And the jobs that we do have are not quality jobs to sustain a family. The auto industry here is imploding. We can’t afford to buy a car and we can’t keep making them.”
Ayler said he supports Obama because he is the best qualified and “genuine.”
“Eight years of Republican control is enough. It’s time for a change and Obama is the change we need,” Ayler said.
Tim Boraaly, 20, a history major at Wayne State, said gay rights and women’s reproductive rights are morally important to him and he is supporting Obama because of his positive positions on those issues.
Boraaly, who is white, lives about 15 minutes outside of Detroit and works at Meijer, a big box store. The poor economy is affecting Michigan badly, he said. Many people he knows are unemployed, or forced to take jobs that pay much less than the ones they lost. “I know a few people who recently lost their jobs in the auto industry and are coming to Meijer to work to get their feet off the ground,” Boraaly said. “One of them is a guy is in his 40s and he is working there so he can support his family.”
Another Wayne student, 19-year-old Richard Diggs, an African American who lives on Detroit’s East Side, said, “I believe every American should have health insurance.” He asked, “When will our voices be heard? Who is going to speak for us? I believe Obama understands our problems and our issues.”
Late last week McCain pulled his campaign out of Michigan. Recent polls show Obama leading McCain in the state by 7 to 10 points.