Statewide Strategy Summit brings issues to light, charts new course
Activists from Grand Rapids to Flint came together at Trinity Lutheran Church Saturday in Ann Arbor for the Michigan United Strategy Summit to make clear the challenges faced by Michigan residents and the changes they want to see. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist had a front row seat as leaders detailed their campaigns addressing immigration, the environment, mass incarceration, workers’ rights and family care.
Contamination of our air and water has brought unwanted attention to the state. Exposed residents from Flint and Southwest Detroit told Lt. Gov. Gilchrist what that’s like.
“My mother died a horrific death. She had bladder cancer, emphysema and cirrhotic liver. My mother never smoked a cigarette a day in her life and I can count on one hand how many times she drank,” Wendy Kyles, who lives near the Marathon refinery, said.
When the facility expanded, Kyles said she and her neighbors' hopes for relief were dashed when the corporation bought the homes in the predominantly white neighborhood but not theirs.
“We hope that the Whitmer administration will stand with us and urge Marathon to do the equitable thing and buy our homes too,” said Kyles. “After all, they get massive tax breaks from our city and our state.”
Karolyn Coffey told Lt. Gov. Gilchrist about her brother Joe, who took his own life after years of clinical depression and chemical dependency. Despite the support of his middle class parents, the family was unable to find him the help he needed.
“If Joe had access to quality care, he would have received the tools and treatment needed to fight his illness,” Coffey said. “Access to quality care could have given my brother a chance to live his version of the American Dream. Access to care would have helped to emotionally support my family who was willing with love and compassion to care for Joe inside their home.”
During the summit, Michigan United announced plans for its "Small Town and Rural Organizing Project." Caitlin Homrich-Knieling, who grew up in the “thumb” area of the state, is the driving force behind the initiative.
“All my life I saw people struggling to make ends meet and get by,” said Homrich-Knieling. “Struggling to take care of their loved ones with disabilities when the nearest resources they needed were two hours away. Struggling with mental health issues and addiction.”
She wants to reach out to people in the less densely populated areas of the state, find common causes and build a community that can advocate for themselves.
“Some people might think that I have an uphill battle ahead, given the white supremacy that’s growing in rural parts of the state, but I say that’s one sign that this work needs to happen there and it needs to happen right now.”