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Progressive coalition brings together hopefuls 13th House seat in candidate forum

Candidates hear concerns of constituents on jobs, healthcare, immigration

Many of the leading candidates in the race to fill John Conyers Jr.’s seat in the US house heard from the people they seek to represent Saturday in a candidate forum held Detroit’s New Providence Baptist Church. Detroit City  Council president, Brenda Jones, mayor of Westland Bill Wild and state senator Coleman Young Jr. answered questions from constituents about the issues they deal with every day. State senator Ian Conyers and former state representative, Rashida Tlaib were also invited but couldn’t appear due to scheduling conflicts.

Paul Johnson III of the Disability Network of Wayne County wanted to know who supported a public program for elder care that would guarantee seniors access to quality, affordable long-term care. “I am lifelong Detroiter who  has learned the value of assisting others  from his Parents.” Johnson told the candidates.  “I have had to overcome learning disabilities always treating customer, friends and all others with compassion. “

A teacher in Detroit bravely told the story of how she had been impacted by sexual harassment. Gevonchai Hudnall said a man who had power over her made sexually suggestive comments at work, making her feel deeply uncomfortable, embarrassed, intimidated, and afraid for her job. She challenged the candidates to stand up for survivors of sexual assault on campus. “ I am glad we are now living in the #MeToo moment, and we are seeing an important shift in our culture.” Hudnall  said. “Sexual harassment and assault must no longer be tolerated. Campuses are one place where we must continue to fight and ensure that students are safe.”

Rokhyatou Toure (ROCK-key-ah-too too-RAY), a member of African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA), came to protect what remains of her family after aggressive immigration enforcement that took her father, Katim last month despite having lived peacefully in Michigan for 29 years. “If elected, we expect one of you to be a champion for immigrant communities and refugees.” Toure told the candidates. “ It is time for a Compassionate Immigration Reform, that focuses, ONLY in legalization and the reunification of separated families, NOT one more dollar for deportations. Our loved ones are being stolen away from us and deported, simply for driving to work, or for showing up to their court appointments. Immigration authorities don’t even care if the spouse or children are American citizens.”

Since no Republicans have been nominated to run in the 13th district this year, whoever wins the Democratic primary on August 7th will be unopposed in the general election in November.

Advocacy Groups Come Together to Protect Programs that Save Lives

Attacks on assistance programs strip people of their right to have basic needs met

This morning, the Michigan Safety Net Coalition (MOSES, Mothering Justice, and Michigan United) held a day of action at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit to defend assistance initiatives such as SNAP and Medicaid. Many families in Michigan depend on these resources for sustenance and medical care. Health care and access to food are basic human rights and everyone should be nourished and have the ability to live health lives.

Rai Lanier with Michigan United said, “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a basic lifeline for 41 million + people in our country. It helps 1/8 people put food on the table. Many families in Michigan depend on SNAP for sustenance and nutrition. It is a critical safety net program that must be kept in tact.”

These programs help millions of low-income participants, who have critical needs and may struggle to find work, may be employed in low-wage jobs, or have chronic health issues. These recipients are working families with children, women, people with disabilities, and seniors.

Deanne Austin, leader with Mothering Justice, said, “ As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, I depended on SNAP benefits; my mother was unemployed and disabled.” Deanne said, “I knew that using SNAP was a short-term benefit for me.” She emphasized that access to food and nutrition among college students is so important so they they can “focus on their education without worrying where their next meal is coming from.”

Shanelle Davison, mother of two and leader with Michigan United, depended on SNAP when she was a shift manager at Rite Aid and a chef at a local casino. Shanelle says she had to “make sure my 15 year old and 5 year old were eating” and that “If you take that (SNAP) away…you are taking away (from) children.”

The Michigan Safety Net Coalition, which organized this event is comprised of Michigan United, MOSES, and Mothering Justice. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell joined the group to support their fight in protecting safety net programs such as Medicaid and SNAP.

Congresswoman Dingell, representing the 12th District of Michigan, said, “Fortunately, last month, we defeated the Farm Bill in the House of Representatives. And we did it because there were a few brave Republicans who understood that everybody, if you live in this country, deserves a right to food. Nobody should have to go hungry.” Rep. Dingell spoke about the research that shows how important nutrition is for children years 0-5 and in the early stages of pregnancy how nutrition is a critical piece of reducing infant mortality. Dingell said,

We have mothers and fathers that are working two jobs and they’re still living at the poverty line. I am tired of people saying that people don’t want to work, we shouldn’t give them handouts.This isn’t a handout, they are working their hearts and souls out and they can’t find a job that pays enough money so that everybody in their family can eat.” Dingell ends the press conference with “In this country, nobody should go hungry – nobody, and I am tired of stereotypes that don’t address a basic problem. We have too many people hungry in this country from children to seniors to veterans to working people. We need to protect this safety net for all Americans.

 

Progressive coalition announces candidate forum for 13th Congressional District

Hopefuls to appear June 9th at New Providence Baptist Church in Detroit

The congressional seat held by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. is open for the first time in over 50 years and his successor will be at the candidate forum hosted by Michigan United, SEIU Local 1, SEIU Healthcare, Nation Outside, Detroit Action Commonwealth, ABISA, The Women’s March of Michigan and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity later this month. Candidates who have agreed to appear so far include state senators Ian Conyers & Coleman Young Jr., former state representative Rashida Tlaib, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Westland Mayor Bill Wild.

Participants will be faced with issues that constituents deal with every day in the 13th district including environmental protection with the Marathon refinery near Melvindale, Immigration reform and aggressive enforcement in Hamtramck and Southwest Detroit, Criminal Justice Reform and the impact it has on the job prospects of residents in Highland Park and protecting and expanding access to healthcare which affects everyone everywhere.

The People’s Candidate Forum for the 13th congressional district will be held at 2PM June 9th, 2018 in Detroit’s New Providence Baptist Church, 18211 Plymouth Rd., Detroit, Michigan 48228. Admission to the event is free but seating is limited so guests should register in advance to reserve a seat.

Cindy Garcia outraged over misrepresentation of reaction to husband’s deportation

Wife says loss of Jorge does not make America safer

The wife of Jorge Garcia, the man infamously deported on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, says a statement made during a recent CNN interview has been twisted around to make it appear as though she is somehow not upset that her family has been torn apart. Cindy Garcia said in her comment that she could not be mad at Trump for protecting Americans, but did so to contrast the fact that her husband has never posed a threat to anyone. Her true point was that Jorge had not broken a single law since he was brought to the United States at the age of 10.

“President Trump was not doing his job when he deported my husband. He was pandering to racists. I do NOT forgive President Trump for what he’s done to my family and I could not possibly be more angry with him right now!” Garcia now says. “Let me be clear. The president is not making America safer. He is a liar. What he IS doing is tearing families apart, families like mine. He’s taking good parents away from American children like mine.”

In the meantime, the Garcia family is working with the American consulate in Mexico to get a waiver of Jorge’s deportation and of the 10 year waiting period to reunite the family.

Pilgrimage to keep immigrant families together stops at ISKCON temple

Families of Cile Precetaj and Ded Rranxburgaj fight deportation to Albania

A 90 mile march from Detroit to Lansing in support of immigrant families in Michigan faced with deportation concluded its second day with a dinner at the ISKCON Temple in Farmington Tuesday. On Monday, the “Pilgrimage to Keep Families Together” left Central United Methodist Church where Ded Rranxburgaj has taken sanctuary rather than be taken from his wife, Flora and two sons, Eric and Lorenc. Ded is the primary caregiver for Flora who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and relies on a wheelchair. He hasn’t been able to leave the church even when his Flora had to be taken to the hospital.

“This pilgrimage is about educating people about the broken immigration system and specifically shining the light on the Rranxburgaj family and their plight.” Said Rev. Jill Hardt Zundel, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church. “People have no idea how immoral the system is that would separate a caregiver from his wife who has MS for 11 years. We will end at Lansing where we will meet with legislators to change the systems that oppress!”

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When the pilgrims arrived in Farmington, they met Mikey, Megan and Martina, the children of Cile Precetaj, an Albanian woman awaiting deportation in St. Claire County jail. Her kids had a message for Rebecca Adducci, the regional director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “Please don’t destroy our futures. Give our mom back.”

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The Birmingham Temple has also been a comfort to immigrant families in distress. “For almost nine months our congregation has been helping a Syrian refugee family whose father was deported leaving mom and four young children behind.” Said Rabbi Jeffrey Falick. “Our original goal was to help them navigate their way to becoming Americans. This goal took a sad turn when this administration cruelly withdrew the family’s temporary protected status which allowed mom to work while they applied for asylum. This left the family with no income whatsoever. Since then our congregation has raised almost $10,000 which, together with funding from ACCESS and its donors, has kept the family alive. This sad story is all too typical of what is now happening in our country to people who sought nothing more than relief from the horrors of war.”

IMG_7319Farmington and Farmington Hills State Representative Christine Grieg (D-37) was inspired by the activism and encouraged the pilgrims to carry on. “Our community can lead the way to change. By showing the solidarity that we have here tonight, by taking it to the streets, by taking it to the polls, we can change the direction of the state and of the country.” Rep Grieg said.

The pilgrimage will begin again Wednesday as the group continues up Grand River Ave. towards New Hudson where they will next share stories over a potluck dinner in James F. Atchison Memorial Park.

Immigrant Families & Advocates Press for Rights at May Day Rally

Coalition demands rights for all working families

Clark Park was the gathering site for a large coalition of groups calling for immigration reform on May Day, International Workers Day. Michigan United was part of the coalition that insists the rights of working families are crucial regardless of ethnicity, immigration status or national origin. Flora Rranxburgaj who has multiple sclerosis (MS) spoke at the rally. Flora is the wife of Ded Rranxburgaj who is her sole caretaker and the family’s breadwinner. Ded is also in sanctuary at Central United Methodist church as protection against his being deported and depriving his wife of care and their two teen sons of their father. Flora and the pastor at the church where Ded is in Sanctuary both spoke out about the role of local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“I have been sick with MS for 11 years, and my husband takes care of me every day, said Flora whose immigrant husband is in sanctuary. “ICE is trying to split us apart and we are asking the director, Rebecca Adducci, for help. So far, she is still trying to split us apart. It is not right. This should not happen to any family.”

The Rev. Jill Zundel, pastor at the church that granted the family sanctuary, also spoke out about the necessity of keeping the family together. Rev. Zundel also made note of an upcoming march to fight for the rights of all endangered immigrant families.

“When our church saw that families were being separated by deportation, we decided to stand up and be leaders for unity!” said Rev. Zundel. “We have fought hard for the Rranxburgaj family, but so far ICE is still trying to tear them apart. We know that can’t happen, for Flora’s sake, so we will keep fighting.  We also know that they aren’t the only ones being torn apart by ICE, so we will keep fighting until we can keep all families together! On Monday, May 14, we will begin a march across Michigan to Lansing, a march to keep families together. Please join us!”

Marathon Petroleum Corporation agrees to meet with residents near Detroit refinery to discuss pollution

Black residents advocate for fairness in Marathon home purchase program

After four years of effort, residents of Michigan’s 48217 ZIP code, the most polluted area in the state, have secured a meeting with officials from the Marathon Petroleum Corporation (NYSE: MPC). Michigan United environmental justice organizer and 48217 resident Emma Lockridge spoke to shareholders in Findlay, Ohio when she raised the issue of toxic emissions impacting residents in homes surrounding its refinery in Southwest Detroit.

“I want to applaud Marathon for taking responsibility for the impact of its refinery expansion in 2007 and giving so many nearby residents relief by purchasing their homes,” Lockridge said during the comment period at the end of the shareholder meeting. “Sadly, the previous Marathon buyouts fell short. I am one of many people who still live near the facility and we are still impacted by these same emissions. We need to meet to find some kind of relief.”

Her appeal came after years of trying to meet with Marathon CEO, Gary R. Heminger. Last year, Lockridge and her neighbors enlisted the support of Michigan State Representatives Stephanie Chang, Fred Durhall III, Detroit Councilmember Raquel Castenada-Lopez and Wayne County Commissioner Ilona Varga to secure a meeting. Nonetheless, refinery officials refused their request to discuss a buyout program.

Yesterday, during the annual stockholder meeting, Lockridge addressed Heminger while protesters lined the streets chanting “Buy Our Homes! Expand the Zone!”

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Protesters alert shareholders to their company’s pollution problem at red lights en route to meeting in Findlay, OH. (Photo courtesy Natalie Gallagher)

“These horrible refinery odors enter my home. It is unbearable,” said long-time resident Anthony Parker.  “Living so close to the refinery severely impacts my property value which makes it hard to move away from the polluted air.”

Rep. Hoadley, Sen. O’Brien honored as 2018 Care Champions

State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) and State Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Kalamazoo) were announced as Care Champion awardees by Caring Across Generations, a national care giving advocacy campaign.

Rep. Hoadley was recognized for being the chief sponsor of the Long-Term Care Study Bill (HB 4674) which would do a rigorous needs assessment of long-term care in Michigan, so that we have the research necessary to make informed decisions around long-term care in a state whose population is aging rapidly. The bill has bipartisan support and over forty co-sponsors, including Rep. Hoadley, who gave testimony on it during a hearing in the Health Policy Committee in the fall of 2017.

Senator O’Brien was recognized due to her support for in-home caregivers and families providing care, such as care for children, elderly parents or disabled family members. In particular, her bill, SB 749, passed in the Senate in 2018 to allow, beginning in tax year 2018, a Michigan income tax credit for dependent care that mirrors the one offered at the federal level.

“More and more families are struggling with how to care for our loved ones while making ends meet, but our policies are lagging far behind the reality of what Americans need,” said Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations. “Luckily, we have care champions like Rep. Hoadley and Senator O’Brien, who are showing us what is possible when principled leadership is coupled with bold policy solutions. We need more elected officials like Rep. Hoadley and  Senator O’Brien to call for making our care infrastructure strong enough for the 21st century.”

“For years, Rep. Hoadley and Senator O-Brien have been legislators we can count on to support the Caring Majority. We’re pleased to be able to honor Rep. Hoadley and Senator O’Brien for their work, and look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that all of us who need care and all of us who provide that care get the support we need,” said Ryan Bates, Executive Director of Michigan United, a partner of Caring Across Generations in Michigan.

“I am excited and honored to accept this award on behalf of all of the folks who are doing work to protect the Caring Majority,” says Rep. Hoadley. “The Long-Term Care Study Bill is both the right thing to do for our citizens and taxpayers of Michigan. I hope we can continue to build momentum to sign this bill into law.”

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.

Citizenship question on census unconstitutional, ill-advised

Proposed change would drive immigrants into shadows and would weaken our democracy

The Trump administration wants to include a question on the 2020 census that will ask who is a US citizen in your home? What immigrant in their right mind would reveal their citizenship status after watching for two years as ICE tore innocent parents away from their families despite living peacefully in America for decades? Even many citizens living in mixed status families with undocumented parents, siblings and spouses won’t answer this question. Such a question would make reduced immigrant participation in the next census a complete certainty.

Even when slaves were only considered 3/5th of a person, Article I section 2 still instructed that they be counted along with all other persons regardless of citizenship. “This appears to be an attempt to skirt around the Constitution which mandates the ‘enumeration’ of all ‘persons’ as distinct from only ‘citizens’.” said Diego Bonesatti, the Michigan United Legal Services Director.  “This is why a dozen states, including New York and California, are suing to stop the the Department of Commerce from putting this question into Census 2020.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, without a hint of irony, that the move was being made to defend the voting rights act when clearly it would only exacerbate the effects of gerrymandering by further diluting the voting power in communities of color. Any gains Trump and his party may make politically will come at the cost of “flying blind”, making important policy decisions based on faulty and incomplete information for the next 10 years.

“This is clearly yet another way of fabricating a situation to deliberately keep people underwater.” said Michigan United board member Seydi Saar. “The effect will be to make sure marginalized people are underrepresented. As a result, at-risk communities of color will be short changed the important resources they need.”

That is why we at Michigan United believe a democracy functions best when it recognizes all people. Intimidating and erasing immigrants isn’t just immoral, it’s bad policy. The constitution calls for an accurate snapshot of the nation so that all of our decisions might be just. As the Bible reminds us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18)