OpEd: Why Saying "Yes" to Transit Improvement Millage was Best

Chuck Warpehoski represents the fifth ward on Ann Arbor City Council and works as director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ), an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit preparing to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. He also served on the steering committee for the More Buses campaign.  

Chuck was a 2006 Michigan Political Leader Fellow at the Center for Progressive Leadership.   In 2011, he was named Michigan's Outstanding Young Religious Leader by the Michigan Jaycees.

In addition to his work on City Council and with the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Chuck is an Adopt-A-Park coordinator for Winewood-Thaler Park and enjoys gardening with his wife, Nancy Shore, 3-year-old daughter Camille, and 1-year-old son Oren (who mostly just tries to eat the dirt).

OpEd: Why Saying "Yes" to the Transit Improvement Millage was Best

Thirty-six hours before Election Day I was still nervous. The More Buses steering committee just had a meeting to plan what we would say after the results came in, and we had a long discussion about what we would say if we lost. 
Defeat felt like a very real possibility.

Two hours before the polls closed I was still nervous. I had spent the day phone banking and poll watching, and I decided to take a break to have dinner with my family. I knew there wasn't much more to do in the last hours, but I felt a pit in my stomach as I sat down to my seitan wrap. What if we lost by just a few votes? What if my decision to stop working before the polls closed cost us the election?

After dinner I biked over to Bach Elementary to get the results as the polls closed. When the elections workers told me the outcome was 365 for to 80 against, only then did I start to relax. And I high-tailed it over to Braun Court to celebrate as the results came in.

In the end, the transit millage passed with 70.6% of the vote. It lost in only two precincts. Voters across Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township gave a resounding "yes" to more buses, more places, more often.
What are the lessons of this victory?
  • Good transit makes a real difference in people's lives. One of the best parts of the campaign was the chance to hear from so many people who use the bus to get to work, to class, and to the store. Some choose to ride the bus, some ride out of necessity, but all affirmed how having more buses, more places, more often would make a real difference in their lives.
  •  The truth is powerful, if you tell it assertively. Millage opponents also turned to the tired tactic of deception and distraction. They misrepresented the number of managers on AAATA staff. They fabricated notions of funds going to rail instead of buses despite the clear ballot language. And I'm not sure where the monorail notions on their post card came from. While these claims didn't have merit, they did threaten the proposal. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." That's why the More Buses campaign aggressively responded by equipping our volunteers with the facts to rebut them on the phone and at the doorstep and used ads and mailers to tell the truth about the proposal.
  • We can come together as a community. The coalition behind the More Buses campaign, Partners for Transit, was an amazing partnership. Groups often at odds came together to support the common good. Environmental groups like the Ecology Center and Sierra Club shared a common cause with DTE Energy. Civil rights and economic justice groups were on the same page along with the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. The presidents of the U-M, EMU, and WCC all endorsed the millage. It was a powerful affirmation of the importance of this proposal for the entire community.
Of course, the 2012 library bond vote shows us that a campaign can have a long list of endorsers but still fail. That's why I was so impressed with how many groups had "skin in the game" and contributed time, money, or support to make the campaign a success. Pastors reminded congregants to vote, businesses put "Vote Yes" signs in their windows, while nonprofits recruited volunteers to phone bank and canvass.  
  • We're all in this together. For me, this is what brings the most joy in the victory. One of the opposition tactics during the campaign was to try to sow division and to convince people that "they" would unfairly benefit from your money. On May 6, voters overwhelmingly said, "We're in this together!" Our lives don't stop at the city limits, and our well being is tied to that of our neighbors. Drivers and riders, Ann Arbor, Ypsi and Ypsilanti Township, persons able-bodied and disabled, and voters chose to rise together rather than fall apart. That's good news not just for the AAATA, but for the community as a whole.
The campaign was exhausting and exhilarating, and it feels good to have it end with a big win. Thank you to everyone who helped make it a success and to provide more buses, more places, more often.
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