In Michigan primary, public health is on the line

When COVID-19 struck Michigan this past Spring, it quickly became clear that tens of thousands of people could not follow basic public health guidance to wash their hands, because the Detroit Water and Sewer Department had shut off their water. As Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization told Sierra magazine:

"It was hear these voices on TV telling people to wash and wash and wash your hands, when you know that people don't have any water."

In Detroit, roughly 23,000 households each year are cut off from running water because they can't pay their utility bills. That's because the cost of water in the city is unusually high--so high that it violates the UN's international human rights standards. Surprisingly, many elected officials at all levels of leadership in the state have failed to support a ban on water shutoffs or fight to ensure that residents can meet this basic human need--even in the face of the pandemic. Today, the highest rates of COVID-19 in Michigan are in communities experiencing water shutoffs

The water issue is only one of many environmental justice crises in Michigan. That's why we have prioritized electing strong environmental champions to the state legislature. 

For decades, community activists in Michigan have been tackling contamination from industrial facilities, which are disproportionately located in or near communities of color. Not surprisingly, these neighborhoods experience abnormally high rates of asthma and cancer. In Detroit, air pollution kills an estimated 650 people each year--twice the number killed by gun violence. Meanwhile, refineries, coal plants, waste incinerators, and other polluters continue to pump sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, and other toxic chemicals into adjacent Black neighborhoods. 

In order to solve these problems, we need leaders who will speak up on behalf of Detroit and other communities of color, and stand up to those in the city and state government--both Republicans and Democrats--who refuse to take meaningful action to fight pollution and stop water shutoffs. 

We're working to elect two outspoken environmental justice champions in the Michigan state primary on August 4:

  • Roslyn Ogburn, a Sierra Club member and fair housing advocate, is running for House District 9.
  • Donovan McKinney, a fourth-generation Detroiter and advocate for clean air, water, and public transit, is running for House District 3.

One of the biggest challenges in building political power is finding and recruiting the right people to run for office. It takes decades to build the kind of knowledge and trusting relationships that are needed to form real community partnerships. When it’s done right, we can build incredible power. 

Because of our long-term commitment to communities in Detroit, we know Roslyn Ogburn and Donovan McKinney understand the most pressing issues facing frontline communities: water affordability, fair housing, public transit, and access to good jobs. 

We are using phone banks, targeted mail, and online organizing to reach tens of thousands of voters in the state. 

Thanks to the work we did to pass voting reforms and elect an outstanding Secretary of State (Jocelyn Benson) in 2018, Michigan is also set up to manage a fair vote-by-mail program, which is desperately needed in the face of the pandemic. Benson has been working to ensure that everyone has access to a mail-in ballot, and that there are designated ballot drop-off sites available in case of delays or failures with the U.S. Post Office during the general election. 

In the meantime, Sierra Club staff and volunteers are working furiously to make sure voters have their ballots, and the team is adjusting contact lists in real-time to focus energy on those who haven’t yet voted. 

In Michigan, thousands of lives are on the line, and we need to use every resource we have to protect them. That starts with electing progressive candidates who will stand up to polluters and speak up for the people who too often shoulder the burden of pollution and public health failures. 

Paid for by Sierra Club Michigan Independent Action PAC, 109 César E. Chávez Ave, Lansing, MI 48906, with regulated funds. Not authorized by any candidate committee.