Category Archives: Environment

People of Flint demand continued water distribution

State shows it values corporate profits over public safety

Residents, outraged by the announced end of water distribution in Flint and insulted by the Nestle water giveaway days earlier, spoke out Monday to tell how the decision would affect them and present solutions to guarantee everyone can get water they can trust. They reject the idea that every house has safe water because a small sample was under the threshold for lead when thousands of homes still have lead service lines. “And Lead is not the only problem.” Said Michigan United organizer, LaShaya Darisaw. “Legionella bacteria was responsible for a dozen Flint deaths. We need to test for bacteria and other contaminants in all homes before we even consider ending water distribution.”

SAM_1801Tony Paciorek is one Flint resident who depends on water distribution for his daily needs. “It takes 3 bottles of water to make my coffee. 4 if I want oatmeal.” Paciorek said he’d have to pay about $2.67 a gallon for the bottled water after Nestle marks up the price 70,000%. “This is a clear example of how the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy and their corporations. Those who can least afford it pay the most for water while companies like Nestle practically get it for free.”

Michigan United is calling for a boycott of all Nestle products until everyone in Flint has safe water. Nestle produces Perrier, Poland Springs, Pure Life & Pellegrino bottled waters and other drinks such as Nescafe, Nesquik and Nestea. They also make dog foods like Alpo, baby food like Gerber and adult foods like Hot Pockets and Haagen Dazs.

SAM_1817Monica Galloway, one of several Flint city councilmembers to oppose ending water distribution stood with those affected. “For Governor Rick Snyder to end water distribution in Flint is injustice that clearly demonstrates that inequity and inequality still exist in America.” said Galloway. “This is not about a handout from the State this is about the state righting a wrong.”

Besides continued water distribution and reversing the Nestle deal, Michigan United is calling for a state budget that includes money designated for water testing, Medicaid expansion to cover everyone who has lived or worked in Flint since 2014, and an end to the Emergency Manager Law that led to the water crisis.

The People’s Governor Forum: Transforming Michigan’s Future

Candidates challenged with issues by the people they affect

Thousands of people from across Michigan packed the sanctuary of Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church Saturday to hear from four of the candidates vying to lead the state in 2018. Democrats Bill Cobbs, Abdul El-Sayed, Gretchen Whitmer were joined by Republican Patrick Colbeck on stage to explain their positions on criminal justice reform, environmental justice, education, care, immigration and workers rights at the event co-sponsored by more than 70 community organizations.

The People’s Governor Forum: Transforming Michigan’s Future was moderated by Rev. Dee Dee Coleman, President of the Baptist Pastors Council of Detroit and Vicinity, and Detroit Free Press journalist Niraj Warikoo. But as important as the answers they gave were the people who posed the questions.

WENDY KYLES of Detroit asked “What will you do as Governor to reduce air pollution in overburdened communities, like mine, and throughout our state?” Kyles, who lives in the 48217 zip code, suffers from the worst air quality in the state due to the nearby Marathon oil refinery. Her mother died from emphysema even though never smoked a cigarette in her life.

Arthur Howard is a returning citizen who is working hard to be a productive member of the community. He pointed out that Michigan has seen a reduction in spending on post-release services in the past few years while states like California and Colorado are instead are investing in programs like prison diversion and community enrichment to help the formerly incarcerated get on the right path. “These programs pay for themselves because keeping someone out of prison saves a lot of money.” He wanted to know which candidates would consider a similar model in Michigan.

Jason Hackney is a teacher at one of Michigan’s 300 charter schools, 75% of which are “for-profit”. Michigan has also dropped to the bottom ten of states for education in the nation. An estimated $1 billion of Michigan tax money goes into these charters with no transparency, and for results that are no better than public schools. “A people’s governor should not treat Michigan students as commodities that can make the most profit for a management company and the authorizer.” Hackney said. He wanted to know How each of the candidates would address the problem of fully funding our schools, holding authorizers and management companies accountable, and where do you stand on the privatization of our education system?

The People’s Governor Candidate Forum

62 coalition partners announce non-partisan forum for March 3rd in Detroit
Will feature special guest Congressman Luis Gutierrez

An unprecedented coalition of more than 60 organizations so far has announced they will hold the next gubernatorial candidate forum at Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2018. The People’s Governor Forum: Transforming Michigan’s Future will offer voters the opportunity to hear directly from candidates on issues that directly affect their lives.

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“We are going to demand that the politicians come to us early, and that they listen to our community’s needs,” said  Co-chair Rev. Deedee Coleman, President of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity. “We want them to address our bold agenda for a prosperous, healthy future for all.”

Hassan Sheikh, Executive Dir. Emgage
Hassan Sheikh, Executive Dir. Emgage

Co-chair Hassan Sheikh, Executive Director of Emgage announced that the People’s Governor Candidate Forum will feature Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. “Congressman Gutierrez has been a champion for working people, for immigration reform, and a voice for those who have been marginalized and left out.” said Sheikh. “The Congressman will get us fired up, and outline the values we hope that candidates will embody.

The candidates confirmed to attend so far include Democrats Abdul El-Sayed, Gretchen Whitmer Bill Cobbs and Republican Patrick Colbeck. The group has invited candidates from all parties who have submitted 15,000 nominating petition signatures to the Secretary of State or drawn at least 5% support in an independent non-partisan statewide poll by February 19th. They will be challenged to address issues of  poverty, inequality, and racism. Co-chair said the group has decided on 6 topics for the night: criminal justice reform, environmental justice, education, care, immigration and workers rights.

Gov forum announcement from Michigan United on Vimeo.

“We’re going to bring real people, workers, families, people of faith, child care providers and immigrants, to speak truth to power.” Said Co-chair Dr. Louis Forsythe of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

The candidate forum’s audience quickly outgrew its first venue and was moved to Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church where the sanctuary holds 2,400 with a quiet room for childcare.

Sanctuary of the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church
Sanctuary of the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

Buses have already been reserved to bring voters from Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Macomb County. “When we join together, the candidates will know that they have to deal  with us collectively.” Said Co-chair Freddy Polanco of the SEIU.

You can see a list of member organizations and reserve a seat with a free ticket on the Michigan United website. Registration is required.

Translation into Spanish and child supervision are available.

Federal court rules lawsuit against Marathon refinery may proceed

Residents will soon have day in court to address nuisance concerns

A US district court has rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Marathon Petroleum Corporation, clearing the way for a “Private Nuisance, Strict Liability and Negligence” lawsuit to proceed on behalf of residents of Southwest Detroit. Judge Sean Cox agreed with an earlier circuit court ruling that found there was “sufficient factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss.”

The suit essentially charges Marathon with nuisance claims including, but not limited to, odor issues and a negative impact on residents’ quality of life. The company bought out the homes of many residents in a predominantly white neighborhood, starting in 2011, when it expanded its refinery but but did not make the same offer to a black community that also borders its facility.

Impacted residents have been organized by Michigan United in their fight against the oil giant and are relieved by the news. “Having our lawsuit move forward is very uplifting.” said John Atkins, a lifetime resident in the heavily polluted 48217 zip code. “At least the court is willing to hear our story.”

With the motion to dismiss hurdle now successfully cleared, the next step is a conference with both parties scheduled for February 13, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

“I’m glad about it,” said Lura Taylor, who lives on the street closest to Marathon. “We are going to push forward and go all the way.  We have God on our side.”

Detroiters pray for release from Marathon refinery pollution

Vigil held in hope that God touch the heart of CEO to treat residents fairly

Under blustery, grey skies Thursday evening, the faithful gathered outside the Marathon Petroleum Corporation refinery in Southwest Detroit to pray for a release for those who live in the polluted conditions around the plant. As the chimney stacks of the coker belched smoke and flames that filled the night sky, area clergy delivered a message similar to Moses’: Let my people go.

“Opening my windows when it is warm outside is not an option for me,“ said lifetime resident John Atkins. “The refinery air smells horrible.  Marathon should buy my home so I can enjoy the rest of my years.“

In 2012, the refinery underwent a $2.2 billion expansion. Marathon purchased the homes in the predominantly white neighborhood of Oakwood Heights. But despite the cries of the people, the corporation has refused to treat their black neighbors as fairly as they did their white neighbors.

Emma Lockridge, the Michigan United environmental justice organizer that spearheaded the vigil, almost didn’t go, having struggled all week with breathing issues. Lockridge went to the doctor with respiratory distress after filming a flaring incident at the refinery.

During the prayers, residents held white crosses that said ‘Exodus’ on the front with the names of friends and family impacted by the air pollution on the back. “We pray Marathon CEO Gary R. Heminger will act in a just manner and purchase our homes,“ Lockridge said. “It would be the righteous thing to do.“

Capitol Day 2017 features grassroots protests around Lansing

Activists demand support for teachers,
clean air for residents of 48217

Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Mekhoff found his office filled with protesters opposed to his plan to take away teachers’ pensions in Michigan. Representatives of Michigan United say the move would not only deter good teachers from coming to the state but students would also suffer a shortage of professionals able to deal with childhood behavior issues and an increase in criminalization of it.

Bazsa Miller credits quality teachers for pushing him to succeed. “I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between success and failure “ said Miller. “My teachers were there to make sure I made the right choice at a time when I couldn’t see the path myself.”

“Teachers have an important influence over children of single family homes.” says Arthur Howard who graduated from 9th grade to juvenile detention to adult prison by the age of 16. They are not just educators,” said Howard. “They are character makers.”

When they left the Capitol building, the crowd of hundreds moved on to the nearby offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) where they held a rally outside accusing the watchdog of giving Marathon Petroleum permission to spew toxic pollution into their neighborhood near the refinery in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy Kyles grew up in the 48217 neighborhood, the most polluted in the state. She watched her mother suffer from a cirrhotic liver even though she never drank alcohol and ultimately die of lung cancer even though she never smoked cigarettes. “Countless MDEQ rubber stamp hearings merely let us know what atrocities are on the way.” Kyles was hopeful in 2010 when Marathon announced they would offer relief to their “neighbors”. But sadly her optimism was misplaced. “Imagine my OUTRAGE to learn that they were only buying out the handful of white people who comprised 48217. Our black subdivision, squarely situated in front of and downwind of their facility, was curiously and conveniently left out of that process. We weren’t considered their neighbors;”

“We’re Here to Stay!”

Detroit’s immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and Communities of Color honor Dr. King with a message of defiance and unity

Hundreds of people from across Southeast Michigan gathered at UAW Local 600 Saturday afternoon to honor Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. in a show of unity across lines of color, gender, ethnicity, religion and immigration status. Michigan United joined the United Auto Workers and community based groups in a mass call to action to defend the rights of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and the members of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the King holiday, groups cited the well documented rise in hate crimes in Michigan since the presidential election as inspiration for the event.

“We have no doubt that Reverend King would be pushing us to stand with people who are under attack because of their immigration status, the color of their skin or who they love,” said Michigan United member, Reverend Samuel Johnson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “Mobilizations like this are crucial to show that the majority of people will not tolerate hate crimes and attacks. The fight to keep immigrant families together is connected to the fight to keep all families safe.”

The Congress of Communities, Chadsey Condon Community Association, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights worked with members of the LGBTQ community to host the event. The intersection of struggles and resistance was at the heart of the gathering.

“Some victories such as marriage equality or the Deferred action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects immigrants brought here as children are recent,” said Seydi Sarr, General Secretary of the Senegalese Association. “Some, such as the 1960s civil rights legislation are decades old. We stand to defend them all. We fight to keep immigrant families together here in the US, for refugee families fleeing violence to be safe here. We must defend human and civil rights won for the LGBTQ community and people of color. We can win if we see that all these struggles are connected.”

“No event, not even a presidential election will stop us from standing up and fighting for human and civil rights,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “As Gay man who has benefited from DACA and advances in LGBTQ rights, I refuse to go backward just as Dr. King and those who fought with him resisted the backlash against civil rights laws. Those of us fighting for justice are the majority. Making that clear with gatherings like this will push us toward victory.”

Immigrant families at risk if Trump keeps promises

Don’t despair. Organize!

Join Michigan United and our partners as we work to resist deportations.

Michigan Sanctuary Movement 

Are you or your congregation interested in providing sanctuary for immigrants in danger of deportation? CLICK HERE  to become part of the statewide movement to protect immigrant families.

 Michigan United statewide strategy summit-December 10th

We have a lot of work to do, and we need to get organized. Please cjoin our statewide strategy summit, co-sponsored with the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center. CLICK HERE to be part of the discussion on how we can resist the deportations, support families, and develop strategies for how we can stand up for justice and dignity for all. 

Strategy Summit

Saturday, December 10
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Trinity Lutheran Church
1400 W. Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Civil Rights, Faith Groups Stand Together Against Post-Election Hate Incidents

Detail Plans to Resist Deportations

More than a dozen civil rights and faith groups stood together at Central United Methodist Church Monday to condemn a recent spate of racist incidents and to declare their intention to work together to protect their families and communities in the coming years.
sam_8680“The election is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to quietly accept the policies of a Trump Administration,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “We’re not going to give an inch to mass deportations. Our community is organized like never before to defend our families. We’re going to resist Donald Trump’s immigration plans, and we need your help.”
Speakers outlined specific plans for family defense:
  • Michigan United will host a town hall and know-your-rights meeting on Saturday, November 19th, at Noon, at their offices, 4405 Wesson in Detroit. Legal support will be on hand for immigrant families wondering about their options.
  • The Michigan Immigrants Rights Center is calling for pro-bono attorneys to volunteer to defend immigrant families in deportation. Volunteer attorneys will be trained in the basics of immigration law. Contact Susan Reed—susanree@michiganimmigrant.org
  • Volunteers who are not attorneys but would like to learn how to get credentialed to represent immigrants in deportation cases can join our Family Defense team. Contact Susan Reed or Michigan United legal director Diego Bonesatti, diego@miunited.org
  • Congregations who are interested in learning how to provide sanctuary to immigrant families in imminent threat of deportation, contact Rev. Jack Eggleston of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, j.eggleston@semisynod.com
  • Survivors of anti-Muslim hate crimes or bias incidents can report them to the Council on American Islamic Relations, www.cairmichigan.org248.529.2247
  • To help promote tolerance, diversity and educate your community, contact Take on Hate at ACCESS, Asha Noor, anoor@accesscommunity.org or Welcoming Michigan, Christine Sauve, csauve@michiganimmigrant.org
Participants in the event included Michigan United, the Michigan Immigrants’ Rights Center, Asian Pacific Islander Americans – Vote Michigan, ACCESS, ACLU – Michigan, National Lawyers Guild, Methodist Coalition for Social Action, Council on American Islamic Relations – Michigan, Latino Family Services, the Muslim Community Council, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, the National Lawyers Guild, Voces Community Center, and State Representative Stephanie Chang.

“PICTURING POLLUTION: From The Hole” to Highlight Toxic Pollution Poisoning Detroit’s Boynton Community

Photo exhibit documents exposure to dangerous emissions from Marathon Petroleum refinery

The photography exhibit  “PICTURING POLLUTION: From The Hole” by environmental justice activist Emma Lockridge graphically illustrates the horror of living near Marathon Petroleum Corporation, a tar sands refining facility.   Public viewing begins 10AM Sunday, November 13  during and after service then again from 4PM to 8PM  on Monday at Trinity-St Mark’s United Church of Christ, 9315 Fort St. W., Detroit 48209.

Referred to as “The Hole” by locals because it dead ends the 48217 Boynton subdivision, it is an area overwhelmed by pollution with housing values that border on worthless due to its proximity to the refinery.  

Residents are still troubled by a homeowner buyout package offered to the predominantly white Oakwood Heights subdivision by the refinery that did not include the black community.

Marathon said “it’s the right thing to do” when it offered buyout packages to Oakwood Heights residents stating they lived on “an island” surrounded by polluters, but has steadfastly refused to consider a conversation with black residents stuck on the same toxic turf.

sam_8603The photo exhibit “PICTURING POLLUTION: From the Hole” is designed to draw attention to the dire air quality situation impacting 48217 residents and garner support for an exodus.   Lockridge was invited to show her photographs by Rev. George Bozanich of Trinity St Mark’s United Church of Christ after she did a presentation in his church at an environmental forum.  The exhibit is co-sponsored by Michigan United where Lockridge is an interim environmental justice organizer.