Uncommitted: 101,000 in Michigan tell Biden, ‘Ceasefire now!’
Fatima Salman of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., one of the Listen to Michigan grassroots organizers, applauds as she listens to Detroit City Councilperson Gaby Santiago-Romero speaking on stage during Listen to Michigan's election night gathering in Dearborn on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. | Junfu Han / Detroit Free Press via AP

DETROIT—The big takeaway in the Michigan primaries Tuesday night was that tens of thousands of voters went to the polls and cast their votes for “Uncommitted,” the option endorsed by a coalition demanding that President Joe Biden change course and come out for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The “Listen to Michigan” operation mobilized 101,000 voters to cast their votes for a ceasefire by voting for Uncommitted instead of voting for Biden in the Democratic primary. In Detroit and Wayne County, home to much of Michigan’s 200,000-person Arab-American community—Uncommitted led Biden 78%-17%.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who represents Detroit and who is the first Palestinian-American in Congress, said the combination of the Uncommitted vote and a poll the week before indicating 74% of Michigan Democrats oppose Biden’s continuing one-sided military aid to Israel shows he has real problems he has to face in his reelection campaign. Tlaib voted Uncommitted.

“When 74% of Democrats in Michigan support a cease-fire yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say, ‘Listen, listen to Michigan’,” Tlaib told the Associated Press.

The Uncommitted vote in two places was high enough to insure that uncommitted delegates will go to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this year. Michigan rules say delegates are allotted whenever totals exceed 15 percent in a given congressional district.

“It is not lost on me that this president has softened his language and begun to recognize Palestinian suffering,” the mayor of Dearborn said. “But what is not enough is lip service. What we need is a withdrawal of support” for Israel, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told AP. His city is the center of Michigan’s Arab-American community. “What’s most important is to understand that the White House is listening.”

Popular Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a national co-chair for Biden, had predicted “a sizable” vote for Uncommitted delegates, though she declined to put a number on it. She claims those voters, however dismayed by the war on Gaza and Biden’s stand, will come back to him. “At the end of the day, I am advocating that people cast an affirmative vote for Joe Biden because anything other than that makes it more likely we see a second Trump term and that’s bad for all the communities,” she told AP.

Pundits downplay at their peril

Pundits who tried to play down the importance of that vote by tens of thousands of Arab-American, young, African American, and other voters noted that Michiganders often cast votes for Uncommitted in primaries when they want to protest the policies of incumbents. They noted that it even happened when President Barack Obama was on the primary ballot in Michigan during his re-election campaign. The Uncommitted vote when Obama was the Democratic candidate for president was only 10,000, however, a number dwarfed by the 101,000 who voted that way this time. It is also worth noting that Trump won the state of Michigan in 2016 by only 11,000 votes, a margin far smaller than the number of Uncommitted votes on Tuesday.

The implications cannot possibly be lost on a Biden administration that is associated with total support of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza. The problems the White House faces, though, go well beyond the large Arab American communities in Michigan.

All night on Tuesday going into Wednesday, social media was abuzz with thousands of young people who lived in states other than Michigan anxiously watching, reporting on, and celebrating the Uncommitted totals as they rose . Many of those young people also live in battleground or swing states.

While enjoying an ice cream cone with comedian Seth Meyers on Monday, President Joe Biden said he believes a temporary ceasefire deal could come as early as next Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, however, announced it is still moving ahead with plans to attack Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have sought refuge. | via YouTube

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a leader among progressive Democrats and a supporter of an immediate ceasefire, who was in Michigan last night, said that there must be a permanent ceasefire by Israel and that he expected the Biden administration to listen.

“Even if they change course, however, it will not automatically bring everyone back into the fold,” he warned, “There will have to be a period of healing before some people come back into the Biden camp.”

There is talk that Biden is trying to negotiate a “temporary” ceasefire contingent upon Hamas freeing the remainder of the hostages, but that is not enough, according to leaders of Listen to Michigan, who insist that a ceasefire by Israel must be permanent if the genocide in Gaza is to stop.

Thus far, the administration has not talked about cutting off the U.S. arms that Israel is using to slaughter the people of Gaza. The anger by opponents of the administration’s policy in the Mideast is palpable, and they want to see a total, unequivocal end to U.S. backing of policies that have oppressed the Palestinian people for many decades, including the illegal theft of occupied territories by right-wing Israeli settlers who have been murdering Palestinians.

Another practical reason for the Biden administration to reverse its policy in Gaza is that it does not want to see huge protests at the convention in Chicago. Top Democratic leaders certainly do not want large numbers of Arab Americans who live in Chicago, Michigan, and elsewhere to show up with young people and other anti-war protesters. Historical and even personal memories of the bitter protests against the war in Vietnam and the ensuing police riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968 will never be forgotten, and the party will try to avoid letting that happen again.

Trump claimed he’d win by 80 points

The Republican primary was a “beauty contest,” to the extent that the party convention later in the week will pick actual delegates—assuming the state GOP overcomes its chaos and Trumpites-vs-business infighting and holds only one convention, not two in separate cities with separate state chairs. So neither Trump nor former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley campaigned much in Michigan.

Trump ran as a virtual incumbent and with a record as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and misogynist, who also faces four upcoming trials and 91 counts in state and federal courts. His first criminal trial starts March 25 in New York. Others will be in D.C., Georgia, and Florida.

Trump won another primary, but as in previous states, he was carried to victory by his narrow extreme right-wing base. It’s not clear that this is force large enough to guarantee a win in the general election. Here, he is seen campaigning in Waterford Township, Mich., on Feb. 17. | AP

Trump coasted to victory in the primary, but the voting also carried danger signals for him, with at least a quarter of the vote still going to Haley. Most calculations have it that Trump cannot afford to lose more than five percent of the vote from Republicans if he is to win the general election in November.

Before the vote, Trump had predicted he’d beat Haley “by 80 points or something like that.” He didn’t. With 98% of the Republican ballots counted, Trump had 68.2% of the vote, and Haley had 26.5%.

That didn’t stop Trump from crowing about his win Tuesday night, and he used his speech to again criticize United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, calling him “stupid.” He falsely claimed “the auto workers are all in my camp.”

That is not expected to go over well with members happy with record gains made under Fain’s leadership.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.