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.”
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.”
Millage will get kids off the streets, help families get on their feet
Kalamazoo residents voted Tuesday in favor of a local housing assistance millage which will create a fund to provide for families with school aged children who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The millage is expected to raise over $800,000 for the model program in its first year. The initiative is the first of its kind in Michigan and is the result of more than a decade of work by Michigan United, a statewide community organization.
Back in 2006, when the group was still known as the Michigan Organizing project, Michigan United helped establish a pilot project, the Local Housing Assistance Fund, supported by the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo county and private donors.
“It’s based on a ‘Housing First’ model.” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United. “You give people stable housing then work with them to get their lives together. It worked really well. Now that we have sustainable funding, I can’t wait to see it bear even more fruit.”
Michigan United organized a coalition to put the issue on the ballot in 2010 but saw it voted down by the more conservative commission. Since then, they have worked with ISAAC, the Disability Network, Open Doors and the League of Women Voters on the “Vote YES For Kids campaign”, making calls, doing many forms of public education and knocking on doors to raise support for the idea.
“This is a big victory!” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United. “It’s unique in a time of cuts and austerity. I’m proud to see our community take a stand with the most vulnerable”
Statewide convention brings hundreds of community leaders together with elected officials
Michigan United held its annual statewide convention Saturday in Southwest Detroit. The theatre across from St. Francis D’Assisi church was filled to the rafters with immigrants, faith leaders and union members from the UAW, SEIU, Teamsters and the Michigan Nurses Association. There was also a strong contingent from the Detroit Action Commonwealth, low-income and homeless people fighting for their right to live with dignity. “No one else is working to build a statewide multi-racial organization like ours.” said Freddy Polanco, SEIU organizer and Michigan United board member. “No one else is taking on the toughest issues of poverty, racism, and inequality head on. I am so proud to be part of this team.”
They all came together to remember the fights they’ve been through together, like when they stood up to armed, white nationalists who wanted to send refugee children back into the violence they were fleeing. They also celebrated the resulting victories from the past year, like the President’s decision to stop breaking up families by deporting innocent immigrants, getting boarder patrol officers to wear body cameras and restoring the authority of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
Alexis Wiley, Chief of Staff for Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan was on hand at the City Council meeting where they voted unanimously to pass the resolution to restore the board in December to express the Mayor’s support for the move. She also stood in for the Mayor at the convention where she was able to publicly state Duggan’s position on municipal ID’s. The identifications would help those with documentation problems, like the homeless and immigrants, to access critical social services. Wiley said “No one in this city should be forced to live in the margins.”
Another battle Michigan United is currently engaged in is the fight to end mass incarceration and keep youth out of the pipeline that leads from school into prison. “The present prison system destroys families, communities and futures. Mass incarceration is maybe the clearest example of unequal justice in our country.” said Rev. Louis Forsythe II of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “People of color, African-Americans and Latinos, receive the short end of thestick on almost every level. The police treat us differently, more aggressively, and profile us more often because of the color of our skin. We get longer sentences than whites for similar crimes. Instead of investing in Job training, opportunities, education and strong communities, our government has built prisons and enacted longer sentences.”
Recently, a bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers introduced a package of bills to do just that. Most notably, it would prevent 17 year olds from automatically being sentenced as adults. Three of the bill’s sponsors, Martin Howrylack, Leslie Love and Harvey Santana were on stage at the convention.
“There’s an attorney general in this state who says ‘To hell with that package’.” Said Santana. “But I do believe there are people in this state that are going to stand up and say ‘You had better listen to what those folks in Lansing are saying because this ain’t right.’ and those people are you!”
Currently, Michigan is one of just nine states that considers 17 year olds adults for sentencing purposes although they are not considered adults for any other legal reason. At the courts discretion, they can treat ids of any age as grown ups.
“They can not serve in the military, they can not even vote, “Said Howrylak. “and yet, as young as 11 years old, for some reason this country, this state has decided that these kids should be treated like hard criminals and adults. What kind of Justice is that?”
“It’s beyond time we change the way we sentence and punish youth”. Said Love. “We should give them opportunities to become something in life instead of sentencing them at 17 and making them serve adult time in adult prisons.”
Kendall Campbell of “Fair Chance 4 All” in Kalamazoo described how his organization worked with Michigan United to begin undoing the damage created by mass incarceration in his community by getting the City of Kalamazoo to require all businesses that receive tax breaks and incentives to commit to non-discriminatory hiring practices for people with criminal backgrounds. To do this, they worked with Humans Beyond Boxes, a local storytelling collective of people with criminal backgrounds to tell the stories of families facing incarceration. They also met with Kalamazoo Mayor, Bobby Hopewell to encourage him to endorse their idea.
Michigan United also held a voter forum in conjunction with the League of Women Voters which gave candidates could publicly take a position on the issue. Majyck D, a popular Kalamazoo radio personality served as moderator. “I have seen too many families torn apart by our incarceration system. “ said Majyck D. “I have seen too many children in my community robbed of their childhood, and treated like they are less than Human. Our government shouldn’t be locking up our children and giving up on their futures.”
Candidates Talk Jobs, Youth, Prosperity, Housing, and Police Discrimination
A diverse audience of more than 100 people filled the Kalamazoo Public Library to hear from fifteen candidates for Kalamazoo Mayor and City Commission last night. The forum was hosted by Michigan United and the League of Women Voters. Majyck D, a well-known radio personality from Kalamazoo’s 95.5 FM “The Touch”, served as moderator.
The questions spanned a variety of issues including support for this November’s housing millage in Kalamazoo County and job opportunities for people with criminal records.
Every candidate, excluding Vice Mayor David Anderson, stated support for a policy to remove the criminal history question and delay background checks for businesses that receive tax abatements from the City of Kalamazoo.
“I absolutely support a policy that will do this,” said candidate Erin Knott, “People’s past mistakes aren’t the sum total of who they are, and if we are serious about economic stability, we have to get people back to work.”
Candidate Eric Cunningham, a sitting commissioner, referred to his own struggle to find a job with a felony record, and that he had to go through over 2000 interviews until he was given an opportunity.
All commissioners also supported the county wide millage on the ballot this November to support families with school age children who are homeless.
Commissioners answered questions posed about economic stability, the housing millage, being responsive and transparent to the community, racial profiling in law enforcement, and supporting youth. However, none of the candidates for commissioner chose to respond to a question asking how they would make Kalamazoo more welcoming to immigrants.
LANSING — An effort by Republicans in the state Senate to change Michigan’s foreclosure laws has drawn ire from community activists who claim the proposals could lead to thousands of Michigan homeowners being thrown out in the street.
Twenty members of Michigan United — a coalition of 50 community groups and unions — protested at the state Capitol on Tuesday in opposition to one of four bills introduced last week.
Senate Bill 383, proposed by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, would reduce the foreclosure redemption period from six months to 60 days — a move critics say would make it more difficult for residents to fight financial institutions that try to take their properties.
“As we are trying to climb out of our financial holes, the passing of this bill would literally be a hard and fast kick in the gut to struggling homeowners,” said coalition member Debbi Adams, of Detroit.
Adams successfully fought a foreclosure on her home.
“If it it hadn’t been for the six-month redemption period, I would’ve lost it,” Adams said. “I needed every one of those six months to negotiate with the bank.”
“It all falls to the bottom line of the bank and the cost of doing business,” Booher said.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Dozens of Kalamazoo residents marched Wednesday evening in protest of the federal government’s plans to cover over a contaminated waste site instead of cleaning it up.
The waste site in question is the Allied Paper plant site, located on Alcott Street in Kalamazoo. In the soil are PBCs, a cancer-causing chemical left over from Kalamazoo’s paper industry, which was at its height during the Industrial Revolution.
“They’re not good,” Wally Wordelman, age 5, explained. “But people never knew they were using these bad chemicals to make the paper.”
One of the most passionate protesters, Wally didn’t actually march. He rode on his dad’s shoulders.