Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the February 24, 2022 edition of Three Things Thursday! As February draws to a close and dramatic temperature fluctuations have us pining spring, the Michigan LCV team is digging in deeply to address climate change, drinking water protection and voting rights, all the while keeping the people of Ukraine in our hearts and minds. The phrase “democracy is not a spectator sport” is so incredibly important, both here at home and abroad.
1. A big investment in our Great Lakes
Last Thursday, President Biden announced a $1 billion investment in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) aimed at cleanup and restoration of the Great Lakes and our drinking water as part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed last year. Established in 2009, the GLRI has a mission of accelerating restoration and protection of the Great Lakes which – as President Biden noted last week – are home to 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water, provide drinking water for more than 40 million people, and sustain nearly 1.5 million jobs and economic sectors, such as tourism, agriculture, trade, and more.
This large-scale investment is welcome news for our beloved Great Lakes, especially as we see the impacts of climate change, toxic pollution, and coastline degradation increasingly impact our drinking water and public health. The majority of the $1 billion in new funding for the GLRI will go towards the restoration of 22 “areas of concern” identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Combined with existing GLRI funding, the $1 billion investment from the IIJA has the potential to go a long way towards helping protect Michigan’s freshwater resources. Nine of the 22 sites the funding will help clean up and restore are in Michigan, the most of any state in the Great Lakes. These sites include areas in Southeast Michigan, like the Detroit River and the Rouge River, as well as what we often think of as “pristine” bodies of water Up North, such as Torch Lake. As we grapple with toxic contaminants, like lead and PFAS chemicals, funding for the restoration of our fresh water will help protect public health, economic livelihood, and natural spaces for Michigan communities.
As Michigan Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell eloquently outlined in their joint op-ed for the Washington Post last year, access to clean, safe, affordable, and reliable water to drink, cook with, bathe, and wash our hands is a human right and we must start treating it as such.
The state of Michigan is poised to also invest much-needed funds to protect our waterways. As I’ve noted in prior weeks, Senate Bill 565, passed unanimously out of the Senate, is now sitting in the state House awaiting action. SB 565 would allocate $3.3 billion to overhaul our drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater infrastructure and protect clean, safe, affordable drinking water for Michigan communities.
By combining the new funding for the GLRI with investments to protect our water at the state level, we can take critically important steps forward in protecting our most precious freshwater resources.
Make no mistake: as the climate crisis continues to accelerate and we see record-setting droughts and water scarcity increase in other parts of the country, Michigan will undoubtedly become a home for “climate refugees.” It is imperative that we do all we can to protect the global treasure that surrounds and defines us.
2. Black History Month: Champions in our midst
As Black History Month comes to a close, I want to highlight two of our amazing board members for their tireless work on environmental justice, energy/climate change and voting rights: Keith Cooley and George Davis.
Keith is a longtime champion for environmental justice and has been an integral member of our board, helping craft our family of organizations’ vision and strategic plans for the next many years and beyond. Growing up in a single parent household in Pontiac, Keith’s experiences of environmental and racial injustice fueled his education and professional path. Despite experiencing homelessness at an early age and being told he was “too stupid for college,” Keith went on to become an expert on energy policy, earning multiple engineering degrees and serving as a trusted energy advisor for Michigan governors and foreign leaders in addition to serving in multiple executive positions for companies like Principia, LLC and NextEnergy Center.
Keith has done extensive work with the Michigan Public Service Commission and the Michigan Energy Agency, and currently serves on Gov. Whitmer’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. Throughout all that he has experienced, and all that he does to address injustice and tackle climate change, Keith moves through the world with a kindness, determination and grace that is palpable. To know Keith is to love him, and love him we do at Michigan LCV!
George Davis serves as Michigan LCV’s Board President and, along with his deep dedication to environmental protection, George is a fierce advocate for voting rights and the health of our democracy. Last week, you may have seen George featured in our Democracy Drumbeat newsletter as a “Democracy All-Star”. (If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out!)
As a native Detroiter with 30-plus years of experience in executive roles in both the public and private sector, George is driven by the belief that Detroit is the “arsenal of democracy” for our state, and he works tirelessly to preserve the freedom and the right to vote for all. Our Democracy Drumbeat story includes George’s experiences and first memories of voting in Alabama. He recalls the struggles and barriers to our democracy that African Americans faced, and points to poll taxes his family had to pay in order to cast their votes. George’s exposure to the legacy of Jim Crow in the American South compelled him to get involved in voting rights and democracy work at an early age, work that remains at the core of his identity.
A photo George shared of the poll tax receipt for $3 (roughly $30 in today’s dollars) from George’s grandmother when voting in Alabama in 1954.
Pointing to the recent onslaught of disinformation, voter harassment, and all-out attacks on our democracy, George is a strong proponent of Michigan LCV’s work to educate and mobilize voters, engage clerks, and do all we can to defend the very essence of this seemingly fragile system that we once believed was a shared value among all Americans.
Throughout all he does, George brings with him a deep love for music, which brightens every day, warming hearts and souls in the darkest of times.
The Michigan LCV family is extremely proud and grateful to have Keith and George as integral members of our board. Their personal stories and experiences, combined with their professional expertise brings enormous value to all we do.
3. Michigan LCV’s newest team member: Wesley Watson!
Michigan LCV welcomed Wesley Watson to our team this week. Wesley is our new West Michigan Regional Coordinator!
Wesley joins our Advocacy & Outreach (A&O) team, bringing a deep passion for social and environmental justice and years of organizing experience to our team. Wesley has worked in public health education, community and grassroots organizing and, most recently, as the Engagement Manager for the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. In his most recent role, he helped build the drumbeat of urgency for bold climate and infrastructure investments.
If all of that were not enough, Wesley also worked with For Our Future and NextGen America, tackling issues related to environmental justice, healthcare, access to clean drinking water, criminal justice reform, voting rights advocacy, and removing public health barriers in Black and Brown communities.
Last year, Wesley was honored to receive the Great Expectation Award at the 2021 African American Leadership Awards in Detroit, an award he dedicated to his late father, Tommie Watson Jr.. Wesley credits his father – whom he calls his mentor – for his involvement in community organizing and deep dedication to improving the lives of those most impacted by disinvestment and toxics in our environment.
As you can imagine, we are thrilled to have Wesley on the Michigan LCV team! Welcome, Wesley!
Thank you, as always, for all you do to support our work! We simply couldn’t do it without you.