Category Archives: Flint Water Crisis

Michigan residents to lobby representatives on issues affecting their families

‘The People’s Lobby Day’ Michigan United’s 7th annual Capitol Day gathering

The People’s Lobby Day is a day of direct action and participatory democracy. Residents with shared concerns form into teams to confront lawmakers with issues of Criminal Justice Reform, The Long Term Care Study Bill (HB4674), Universal Family Care, Medicare for All, Water for Flint, and Immigration.

A  rally will be held in the city hall plaza at 12:30 PM when participants in The People’s Lobby Day will welcome pilgrimages for immigrant families that walked from Detroit and Kalamazoo to the capitol.

A 90-mile “Pilgrimage to Keep Families Together” kicked of in Detroit on Monday, May 14th, from the church where Ded Rranxburgaj (RAHNS-bur-guy) has sought sanctuary from deportation.He is the sole caretaker for his wife Flora, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair for mobility. The First Congregational church in Kalamazoo has been walking for Saheeda Perveen Nadeem who has been taking sanctuary in their church. If deported, Saheeda would return to a country where she would face the threat of violence with no family support.

The Rally will conclude with the announcement of a planned direct action to address the Flint Water Crisis. In years past, members have occupied the Governor’s building, the office of the speaker of the house and formed a bucket brigade carrying water out of the Capitol building. This year’s action will address the shutdown of bottled water distribution pods.

 

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.

Flint residents speak out against court ruling on municipal water contract

Federal Judge advances contract over objections of city council

U.S. District Judge David Lawson ruled Friday that a 30 year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority can go forward over the objections of the Flint city council. Many residents are understandably skeptical of the deal and resent the loss of autonomy of their elected officials.

“Forcing decisions onto the city government is exactly how the Flint Water crisis started!” said Michigan United activist Carly Hammond at a press conference Tuesday outside City Hall. “This contract was negotiated with the state’s best interests in mind, not the city of Flint and certainly not the residents.”

Lead leached into Flint’s municipal water supply in 2014 after a state appointed Emergency Manager ordered that the city switch from Detroit water system to the caustic Flint River in order to save money over the objections of the city council. State officials ignored residents complaints for years before the problem was documented. During that time, scores of people were also infected by the Legionella bacteria. Twelve of them died.

“We want the State and Federal Government to release Flint from the grasp of officials who have no incentive to treat the residents of Flint fairly.” Said Megan Kreger. “If we had been able to maintain authority over our own governance, thousands would not have been poisoned, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t have been allocated to fix pipes.”

“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.”

Michigan United Goes Door to Door Seeking Racial, Economic Justice

Voters engaged on crucial issues months before historic election

Dozens of Michigan United members in Detroit and Kalamazoo spent Saturday morning directly engaging voters on two of the most crucial issues of the upcoming presidential election: racial and economic justice. It  was part of a “National Doorstep Convention” for racial and economic justice. The outreach effort was prompted by extremist rhetoric from the presidential campaign and violence against people of color and other marginalized communities.

“Bigotry is real. Mexicans and Muslims have been vilified on the campaign trail and people of color have been poisoned and imprisoned for profit. We can’t stand by and watch this happen,” said Shaina Smith. “We have a moral obligation to engage with people to confront these issues, to work toward a society where we are all safe and welcome. That is what this canvass is about.”

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Canvassers had no scripts just a general outline. This allowed them to have more open conversations about what is really on the minds of voters.

“We want to have honest conversations about what it means to live in a country with people of all colors, ethnicities, nationalities and religions. We are going door to door to put those issues out in the open” said LaTifah VanHorn.  “Communities of color face more environmental hazards like the expansion the US Ecology hazardous waste site on Detroit’s Eastside. Black and brown people are disproportionately locked up and then even after serving time, returning citizens are prevented from getting work. The reality of struggles on the ground and the divisive campaign rhetoric means we all need to step up.”

Michigan Legislature caves to community pressure, passes funding for Flint Water Crisis

House leadership does a 180 in the face of public pressure for immediate action

By a vote of 71-37, the Michigan House voted in favor of HB 5294, a $165 million supplemental appropriation for the Flint Water Crisis. The move comes after months of work by Michigan United and other member organizations in the Flint Rising coalition to make sure lawmakers acted before this session came to a close.

“After 2 years of national pressure, the legislature is finally taking responsibility and sending some real long-term help to the people of Flint. This is a big step in the right direction, though only a down-payment on the years of support that the children and families of Flint will need,” said Quincy Murphy, Flint resident and Michigan United organizer.

Even putting the bill up for a vote was a complete reversal for the house leadership. Just last month during their annual Capitol Day trip, Michigan United members from Flint were told in a meeting with House Speaker, Kevin Cotter’s office that there was no interest in funding the recovery from the water crisis this fiscal year, choosing instead to put it off until October. After that meeting though, the group formed a bucket brigade, passing safe water out of the capitol building to a waiting barrel outside and symbolically taking it back to Flint. Two days later, coalition partners dropped off petitions from constituents asking their lawmakers to act quickly.  Cotter then said the house wouldn’t take up the senate bill, but they would do “something”.

Rep. Michael McCready (Left) meets with Michigan United members Quincy Murphy (Center) and Abel DelGado (Right) Photo Credit: Erik Shelley, Michigan United
Rep. Michael McCready (Left) meets with Michigan United members Quincy Murphy (Center) and Abel DelGado (Right) Photo Credit: Erik Shelley, Michigan United

But without any sign of what “something” might be, organizers kept up the pressure. They directed phone calls into the offices of house leadership, urging them to take action quickly. They showed up at their public events, like Rep. Michael McCready’s coffee hour in West Bloomfield, to push for the the supplemental funding and demonstrate public support for it. Ultimately, the lawmakers were forced to see that if they did nothing before the recess, it was going to be a long, hot summer.

“I think it’s important to realize that as significant as this win is, this is just the beginning.” Murphy said. “$165 million dollars is progress , but pales in comparison to the scope of the problem in Flint. We’re going to follow this money and make sure it gets to the people who need it this summer then we’re going to keep pushing the Snyder administration to fix what they broke.”

A number of groups have worked together on this issue, including the Flint Concerned Pastors, the Water Warriors, Democracy Defense League, Michigan Faith in Action and Progress Michigan.

Michigan residents stage daylight raid of state offices to recover natural resources

Bucket brigade takes water out from capitol;
Occupation sucks air from Governor’s office.

Michigan United members and supporters from across the state, gathered in Lansing for its annual ‘Capitol Day’, lashed out at a legislature hesitant to help Flint recover from a tainted water fiasco and a governor who has reneged on a promise to protect the air. After meeting with lawmakers to discuss the Flint Water Crisis, the Clean Power Plan, Elder & Child Care, reducing Mass Incarceration and allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, the group formed a bucket brigade that extended from sinks inside the Capitol building to a water barrel outside.

Gina Luster, a Flint resident who along with a young daughter have suffered from the effects of toxins in her water, addressed the protesters after the barrel was full. “This is going to be a long battle. We’re still experiencing ill effects on our mental, developmental and reproductive health. This will affect us and our kids for generations. We don’t need to just fix the pipes, they need to be replaced. Our lawmakers need to act now.”

Photo credit: Erik Shelley
Photo credit: Erik Shelley

Luster was one of a dozen people from Flint who expected to meet with Rep. Cotter’s office to discuss a supplemental appropriations bill but were turned away when they got there. A staffer for the Speaker of the House instead met with just five of them in a conference room surrounded by dozens of empty seats. In that meeting, he told the group that Rep. Cotter had no intention of addressing SB777, the supplemental Senate appropriations bill that would immediately provide Flint with $123.5 Million for health and infrastructure. Instead, Rep. Cotter will put this issue off for the rest of the summer and wait until the next fiscal year to deal with the crisis in October at the earliest.

After the protesters were finished with the legislature, they turned their focus on the Governor and the march continued across the street to the Romney building.

Last year, while the EPA was constructing a set of rules for energy production called the Clean Power Plan (CPP), Governor Snyder said Michigan would come up with its own plan, an option the EPA gave states that didn’t want to use the new federal guidelines.  But when the CPP was challenged in court, Snyder halted the process for coming up with a CPP for Michigan. Earlier this year, the Michigan United Environmental Justice Team requested a meeting with Snyder’s office that has yet to materialize. So on Capitol Day, they returned in greater numbers.

Photo credit: Zachary A. Clark
Photo credit: Zachary A. Clark

The demonstration filled the lobby of the Governor’s office.  Some protesters filled balloons while others chanted. “We can’t leave it up to the market to decide whose neighborhood gets cleaned up first.” said Vicki Dobbins, a Detroit resident living in the shadow of the Marathon refinery. “We are on the frontlines and our lives depend on the Clean Power Plan being implemented and implemented now!”

Photo credit: Zachary A. Clark
Photo credit: Zachary A. Clark

Representatives from the Governor’s office came downstairs to tell the crowd that they needed to fill out a formal request to get a meeting but were informed that the group had submitted one the last time they were there. With that, the protesters sat on the floor of the lobby and began chanting “No more forms!” as a contingent went up to the Governor’s office to negotiate with the constituent services director for a meeting with a Snyder environment official to discuss the CPP and ultimately meeting with the Governor in person.

The protesters then left with their balloons full of air they took from the governor and crossed the street to retrieve the water they took from the legislature.  As they did, they walked past a truck delivering bottled water to Snyder’s staff.  The irony was wasted on no one.

Bucket brigade tries to convince state lawmakers to pay to fix Flint’s water system

Activists came to the state Capitol today to dramatize the need for tens of millions of dollars to fix Flint’s damaged water system.

A line of people passed little buckets of water from a faucet inside the Capitol building to a 20-gallon drum outside.

Ryan Bates with Michigan United says they wanted to show what it’s like to live in Flint without tap water people can trust.

Bates says state lawmakers should be doing more to help.

“There’s a bill in front of them that they can vote on today that would appropriate $123 million that could provide health care, infrastructure money for Flint,” says Bates. “They could do it, but they’re chicken.”

State lawmakers may vote in the next few weeks on sending more money to Flint.

Money for Flint is tied up in budget talks in Lansing. Those talks have become more complicated with word state revenues are below projections.

Michigan revenues are more than $300 million lower over this fiscal year and next than projected, forcing Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers to scale back the spending plan that’s been in the works for months.

The Snyder administration and legislative economists agreed to revised numbers Tuesday, a key step before the next state budget is finalized in the coming weeks.

State Budget Director John Roberts says spending levels should still rise, but not as much as anticipated in the governor’s proposal. Roberts says the administration remains committed to addressing Flint’s water crisis, though it’s possible some of money could be appropriated in the fiscal year starting in October instead of this year.

Activist Melissa Mays worries Flint’s money will be among the budget items on the table.

“I think very important things are going to get cut,” says Mays.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is urging state lawmakers not to reduce planning funding for the city’s water crisis.

“I would certainly hope that these potential budget cuts do not come at the expense of Flint residents. The people of Flint have suffered enough due to this man-made water disaster. It would be down right wrong to neglect the citizens of Flint yet again by not providing the funding needed to ensure that residents have safe drinking water, new pipes and the food, early childhood education and health care they need to mitigate and treat the effects of lead exposure.”