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)

Hundreds of Letters to ICE: Save Rranxburgaj Family

Colorful copies of written pleas tied to ICE fence in face of agency’s silence

Supporters of an Albanian American family currently in sanctuary in a Detroit church delivered more than 700 letters to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on Jefferson. The letters ask that ICE officials grant a Stay of Removal to Ded Rranxburgaj (RAHNS-bur-guy), the sole caregiver to his wife, Flora who is stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. The illness has confined Flora to a wheelchair. Copies of the letters on colored paper were left on the agency’s fence in the face of ICE’s stony silence in response to the hundreds of people asking that the Rranxburgaj family to be spared.

“We’ve received letters from children as young as 6, and people as old as 92,” said Caitlin Homrich-Knieling, organizer at Michigan United, “We’ve received letters from people from all over the world, from Christians, Muslims, and Jews. From brain surgeons, teachers, and high schools students. It’s been incredible seeing how everyone supports this family, and wants them to stay together.”

Among the letters were pleas for the Director of the Detroit ICE Field Office, Rebecca Adducci, to “open her heart” and “do what’s right,” quotes from the Statue of Liberty, and personal stories from people whose loved ones have MS.

 “Like Flora, my son Josh has MS,” said the letter from Pastor Alan Casillas, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Imlay City, “MS is a terrible disease that steals away a person’s mobility. As a father who has a son with MS, I cannot imagine being deported and leaving my son to fend for himself or leaving him in the care of others. I can only imagine how scary the thought of being deported must be on Ded, Flora, Lorenc, and Eric.”

Photo courtesy Cherie Horrigan-Happy
Photo courtesy Cherie Horrigan-Happy

“Rebecca Adducci must give Ded a stay of removal, it’s the only moral thing to do.” said Rev. Jill Zundell, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church. “It has been 8 weeks that the family has been living in sanctuary, and it has been very, very hard on them. Every day that passes, Ded wonders if ICE is going to force him to abandon his wife and sons. But they deserve, like any American family, to be free and to have peace. Especially in their time of need, while Flora’s MS is getting worse. What ICE is doing, continuing to threaten Ded’s deportation, isn’t right. The Field Director of ICE, Rebecca Adducci, has the opportunity right now to be the light in their time of darkness by giving Ded a Stay of Removal. If she doesn’t, ICE is heartless.”

An immigrant facing deportation, Ded Rranxburgaj declared sanctuary at Central United Methodist Church, along with his wife, in January. The Rranxburgaj family, originally from Albania, has been living in the United States for 17 years. During those years, Ded has worked tirelessly at a local restaurant and in construction to support his family. His older son, Lorenc, attends the University of Michigan Dearborn, and his younger son, Eric, attends Southgate High School. Flora, fell ill with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago, and Ded has cared for her ever since.

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Church offers sanctuary to immigrant, vows to shelter woman from deportation

Community rallies to keep family together

Members of the First Congregational church in Kalamazoo stood with their pastor and other community leaders to announce they would offer sanctuary in their church to Saheeda Perveen Nadeem on the day she was supposed to be deported to Pakistan. Saheeda will live in the church until her advocates can arrange a stay of removal from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Saheeda‘s 20 year old son, Samad will be protected under the DACA program until 2019, but If she is deported, he will have to move to a country he’s never been to before or she will have to find a way to support herself without any help from family.

“My mother is a very integral part of the Kalamazoo community. Through her ongoing work with some of the most vulnerable members of this community she has shown that not only does she consider this her home, but she contributes to it many times over.” said Samad. “This deportation would not only be a great personal loss but a crippling blow to Kalamazoo as a whole.”

Saheeda left Pakistan as a teenager to find work in Kuwait. She came to America with her husband and two young children. Since then, Saheeda has divorced. Her daughter , Lareb died in a tragic car accident and is buried in a Kalamazoo graveyard that she visits every day. Saheeda has worked as a full time caregiver at Community Living Options and Bethany Christian Services.

“ICE may exercise its discretion to continue to allow Ms. Nadeem to remain in the United States as they have since 2012.” said the family’s immigration attorney, Bradley Maze. “She continues to be a law-abiding, productive and valued member of the community, so there is no reason why ICE should suddenly determine that she no longer merits the exercise of discretion moving forward. This is inhumane, bad policy which is detrimental to the wider community.”

“We have no doubt what Jesus would have us do.” said Rev. Nathan Dannison, Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo. “In the 1850s our congregation boldly defied the Fugitive Slave Act and sheltered Americans fleeing the terrorism of slavery. Today, we will honor this history by continuing to stand on the side of the Gospel, on the right side of history, with the children of God.”

Rep. Luis Gutierrez holds town hall with Dreamers in Southwest Detroit

Congressman takes stand for DACA recipients, immigrant families under attack

US Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4) made several stops around Detroit Friday ahead of his keynote address at the People’s Governor Forum. First he went to the Central United Methodist church to meet the Rranxburaj family who has taken sanctuary there to avoid deportation. Next, he went to the Arab American museum in Dearborn where he discussed the fight against a Muslim ban with an audience from the predominantly Muslim community. His last stop was a El Nacimiento restaurant where he held a town hall meeting and sat on a panel with DACA recipients to talk about how the debate over the Dream Act would impact their lives and the lives of their families.

“You know what the ransom is. It’s not the wall. They offered him $25 billion dollars for the wall. He wants to end legal immigration to the United States of America.” Rep. Gutierrez told the audience in an opening statement. “They want us to pick and choose among ourselves… That is going to be unacceptable because we are going to stand and fight for this immigration system we have in the United States.”

Gutierrez said President’s Trump’s promise to “Make America great again” only serves to send America back into its dark past. “He wants to see women back in the kitchen; He’d like to see gay people go back in the closet. He’d like to see black people in the back of the bus and us, Latinos, ‘Just shut up. Don’t even exist. You’re nothing. You don’t get a vote.’ That’s what we’re confronting.”

IMG_8738Gutierrez sat with Xochitl Cossyleon and Maria Ibarra, two area DACA recipients, to field questions about the state of the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would make protections for immigrant youth permanent.

IMG_8730Ibarra sees an intersection between immigration and the criminal justice system. She wants to break down barriers between immigrant communities and other communities of color. “Divide and conquer is an actual tactic that works. So we have to be strategic and build relationships and understand that our fights and our plights are connected.”

IMG_8722Cossyleon feels it is important to continue to hold Democrats feet to the fire on the Dream Act. “You need to support us when it counts with your votes.” said Cossyleon. “If we can’t count on Democrats who say they are with us, then turn flakey when we need them the most, then what are we going to do?”

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?

Gutierrez, Dingell and Lawrence visit immigrant family in sanctuary

Representatives call for stay of removal to keep Rranxburgaj family together

Three members of Congress visited an immigrant facing deportation, Ded Rranxburgaj, and his wife, Flora Rranxburgaj, this afternoon at Central United Methodist Church, where the Rranxburgaj family has taken sanctuary from deportation. They were joined by Cindy Garcia. The Congresspeople and Garcia met with the family and church leaders, publicly asking ICE to give Ded a Stay of Removal.

“The Rranxburgaj family’s story shows us just how broken this immigration system is,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4). “Ded Rranxburgaj has tried to get legal permanent status and he is an asset to his community and his family and should be able to get status here.  But instead, our immigration bureaucracy and deportation machine are undermining American families and communities.  ICE should grant him a Stay of Removal, at the very least. His family needs him.”

“We need to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI12) who represents the Downriver Detroit area where the Rranxburgaj family has lived for the past 14 years. “This is a family that is being torn apart. Flora’s Multiple Sclerosis requires that someone provide intensive care for her every single day, and that person is Ded. He has been trying to gain legal status for years, and we must have processes that deal with very human situations like this. I am committed to working with Congressman Gutiérrez and colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

“The immigration system that we have here in the United States is broken. We must take action where needed to build a system that truly defines our country as a nation of immigrants,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI14). “Ded is a man who has lived here for 17 years, worked hard, paid his taxes, cared for his family, and does not represent a threat to society. Families like the Rranxburgaj’s need to have an avenue to get legal permanent status. Until we find a comprehensive fix, ICE must grant Ded a Stay of Removal.”

“We have been here for 45 days, and every day is terrifying,”  said Ded Rranxburgaj.  “Just two weeks ago, my wife Flora had a medical emergency and we had to call 911. An ambulance took her to the hospital and she had to go to the hospital with volunteers, since the boys were at school.  I had to stay here. That was really difficult.  I can’t imagine how ICE expects me to abandon her here. She would be alone, struggling. This is what MS is and my wife needs me. My family needs me. I vowed before God to take care of her in sickness and in health, and I will not abandon her.”

“I am very appreciative of all the people from the church who have taken care of us and who have written letters to ICE, asking them to not rip our family apart,” said Flora Rranxburgaj. “It would be a death sentence for me if they deport my husband. I need him and it is too horrible to think about if they deport him.”

“I am glad that Representatives Lawrence, Dingell, and Gutierrez have stepped up to support this family,” said Rev. Jill Zundel, pastor of the church. “I wish we’d see this sort of leadership from all of Michigan’s elected officials. This family and our church are being leaders in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and any representative who wants a solution to our broken immigration system should be looking to Ded and Flora’s courage and vision for guidance.”

“Deportation is never a solution. It only creates more problems,” said Cindy Garcia, whose husband’s deportation on MLK Day, January 16th, creating waves of disgust across the U.S.  “When they deported my husband, it devastated me and my children, and that is having a ripple effect in our community. ICE is targeting people who should not be deported, good family-oriented people who are needed in their communities. The Rranxburgaj family needs to stay together, and so do all immigrant families. There should be a pathway for people like us to apply for citizenship, and that pathway doesn’t exist right now.” Garcia is using her situation to create a non-profit to assist families who are being torn apart by deportation.

“The Albanian Community stands behind the Rranxburgaj family, and we appreciate the support of Central United Methodist Church and Congresspeople Gutierrez, Lawrence, and Dingell,” said Father Ndue Gjergji, priest of Our Lady of Albanians Catholic Church in Southfield. “We hope that ICE can see how terrible it would be to tear this family apart, and choose to keep them together instead.”

The Rranxburgaj family, originally from Albania, has been living in the United States for 17 years. During those years, Ded has worked tirelessly at a local restaurant and in construction to support his family. His older son, Lorenc, attends the University of Michigan Dearborn, and his younger son, Eric, attends Southgate High School. His wife, Flora, fell ill with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago, and Ded takes care of her. They have been living in the church for 45 days, since they declared sanctuary on January 17th, 2018.

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.

Justice & Dignity for All