Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the December 10th edition of Three Things Thursday. This week’s edition is focused on core values and how they define how we work, play and live together as a beloved community. Values are something I’ve been thinking a lot about as the broader environmental/conservation community confronts the challenges to our drinking water and the impacts of the climate crisis, and as I’ve worked through this tumultuous, challenging year doing all I can to lead Michigan LCV with integrity, purpose, and grace.
1. Justice and Hope
As we move into 2021, the Michigan LCV Board and staff are engaged in planning, and not simply for next year. We are planning for the next many years. You see, we are at the tail end of our current 2016-2020 Strategic Plan and, as we analyze and assess the work that’s been accomplished over the past five years, we are digging into the critical challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
To set the stage for this deep and important work, we established a Strategic Planning Task Force this fall and began by exploring the values that underpin all of what we do. It’s been a great journey, bringing to the fore concepts like justice, respect, innovation, people-centered power, equity, ambition, fairness, tenacity, transparency, passion, inclusion, loyalty, elections matter, and bridge-building.
I was thinking about all of this as I listened, as I do often, to On Being last weekend. Krista Tippett’s guest was a man I greatly admire: Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. As they began their conversation, Krista noted (with some surprise) that Stevenson opens Just Mercy with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, the public theologian of the last century: Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument.
It struck me that that is exactly what motivates so many in our organization: love. Love of planet, love of community, love of the Great Lakes, love of fellow humans.
During the interview Stevenson also spoke about the power of hope and what happens in its absence. He said:
“… I do think it’s important that we stay hopeful about our capacity to overcome bigotry. And I am persuaded that hopelessness is the enemy of justice; that if we allow ourselves to become hopeless, we become part of the problem. I think you’re either hopeful, or you’re the problem. There’s no neutral place. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists. And if I’ve inherited anything from the generation who came before me, I have inherited their wisdom about the necessity of hope.
Let that sit for a minute: Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.
I am grateful we’ve begun our strategic planning by grounding ourselves in our values. Doing so feels like we are securing the foundation before adding another story. Turning the corner into the New Year, may the work of Michigan LCV and our allies be filled with justice and hope, especially during these challenging times as we roll up our sleeves to tackle the climate and water crises, in a deeply, deeply polarized nation.
2. Honesty, Integrity, Respect
Although many were anticipating a 2020 “lame” Lame Duck legislative session, a flurry of bills were introduced in Lansing only days after the election, and lawmakers looked like they were gearing up for some major activity.
Everything came to a grinding halt, however, when Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Guliani announced, just days after appearing in a House Oversight Committee hearing, that he had contracted COVID-19. Speaker Chatfield then proceeded to cancel the House session in its entirety this week, recognizing that Guilani had created a “super spreader” event, sitting unmasked before lawmakers, their staff and members of the media as he questioned “witnesses” he brought in as part of his efforts to undermine our democracy and cast doubt in our elections.
On Wednesday, the state House made an official announcement that 8 members and 21 staffers have tested positive for Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The question remains just how many more have been infected due to Guilani’s presence.
There is so much to consider here from a values perspective. Allowing Guilani to travel to Michigan and providing him a platform within the halls of Lansing to pontificate about conspiracy theories that undermine the very integrity of our elections brings to the fore things like “honesty”, “fairness” and “respect.” Guilani’s presence not only put people in physical danger, but his words worked to sow increased division and fostered vitriol that is down right dangerous to our state and national future.
Think about the personal impact to our state’s top three elected officials–Governor Whitmer, Secretary of State Benson and Attorney General Nessel–all of whom have been the target of hate-filled messages and death threats and, in Secretary Benson’s case, armed protesters.
Heads raised high, these three incredible female leaders have continued to do the work they were elected to do. Secretary Benson announced that in spite of this being the largest and successful election in our state’s history, her office is also embarking on “the most comprehensive post-election audits of any election in state history.” And, Attorney General Nessel has stepped up to support Benson, calling the recent protests at her home in the darkness of night “an affront to basic morality and decency”.
Instead of finding ways to come together, which starts with acknowledging the outcome of the elections and committing, collectively, to continued work to improve the electoral process–from making voting more accessible to educating the public about all of their options–Guiliani and friends are engaged in just the opposite. The fact that Michigan Legislature, in their infinite wisdom, decided to hold hearings on an election that has been certified and described as one of the safest and most secure in Michigan’s history, leaving critical legislation to provide COVID relief and protect our health from the pandemic on the sidelines is nothing short of an abomination. And, now with the House shut down, essential legislation like Senate Bill 241, which bars utilities from shutting off the water of Michigan customers due to inability to pay during COVID-19, also remains unaddressed.
Please know the Michigan LCV Government Affairs team continues to track all the shenanigans in Lansing, working with the Senate (which is still in session), and standing ready to re-engage with the House should they return anytime soon.
Honesty? Integrity? Respect? All seem to be sorely lacking in Lansing leadership right now.
3. Equity and Fairness
Three examples illustrating the need for a real embrace of equity and fairness.
We know COVID-19 has caused tremendous economic hardship for many Michiganders, making it difficult and at times impossible to pay for basic needs, like running water. With the bills piling up, many Michiganders have to make tough choices about food, housing, transportation, heat and even water. According to a recent report, over 800,000 Michiganders were behind on their water bills this summer, and the data shows this extends far beyond cities like Detroit and Flint.
SB 241, which was mentioned above, is about fair and equal access to the most essential of goods, running water, which during a pandemic is essential for basic sanitation like hand washing. You’d think the Legislature would fall all over themselves to ensure this piece of legislation was passed and passed quickly. Au contraire.
The good news is that:
- The City of Detroit took action to address water shut offs this week, extending their moratorium on water shut off through 2022.
- Senator Stephanie Chang has rolled up her sleeves to do all she can to get SB 241 across the finish line and there seems to be some light on the horizon.
Community control? Only when it’s convenient.
Senate Bill 431 was written by gravel mining companies and would strip critical power away from local governments to make decisions that impact the air, land and water in their communities. As you can imagine, mines like these can have significant and long-lasting impacts on groundwater and drinking water, as well as the surrounding environment. Some low-income communities don’t have the financial resources to fight these mining projects, and their local government is the last line of defense. The Michigan LCV team is working hard to kill this bill.
Wanna buy an electric vehicle in Michigan?
Legislation passed the House last week that blocks the direct sale of electric vehicles (EVs) from producers in Michigan. While hampering our growing EV industry in Michigan, this bill also strips small EV producers from a fair shot at competing in the competitive market. If this bill is signed into law, Michiganders that want to buy an EV from these smaller producers will have to go out of state to purchase and get maintenance on their vehicles.
As we all know, transitioning to electric vehicles is essential for tackling the climate crisis and reducing dangerous pollution in our air and water. Small EV producers should have a fair shot at doing business in Michigan to give Michiganders access and opportunities to go electric. Indeed, our team is doing all we can to ensure this bill does not pass.
So, how do we live, work and play together as a beloved community in the midst of this incredible polarization and a seeming lack of shared values?
I think of Michelle Obama and her mantra, “when they go low, we go high”.
I think of Congressman John Lewis (may he rest in peace) when he said:
Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.
May we all find the love and the hope so needed to bring justice to our communities, our state and our nation. We are certainly working on just that at Michigan LCV.
Thank you as always for all you do. More next week. Until then, be safe, be well…