Dear Michigan LCV Family,
Welcome to the July 1, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday! This has been a rough several days for the people of Michigan and for the Michigan LCV team. The 6+ inches of rain that fell overnight from Friday to Saturday morning (and continued to fall) in metro Detroit and other portions of southern lower Michigan was devastating, leaving thousands of people with submerged cars, flooded basements, and major personal and professional loss. I witnessed the situation first hand and it was surreal; it was like the aftermath of the catastrophic hurricanes we have seen decimate the southern lower portion of the United States and other places around the globe.
On Saturday, in the midst of the disaster unfolding in our largest urban center, the Michigan LCV team began to hear other challenging news: we lost one of our beloved former teammates, Alec Esparza, to a tragic accident. These two events, coupled with the ongoing struggles in DC and Lansing around both the much-needed, large-scale investments in climate change/clean energy /infrastructure and voting rights, have had a big impact on our team, many of whom live in Detroit and many of whom worked closely with Alec.
This week’s edition of Three Things (1) takes a look at the “once-in-a-century” flooding that has now taken place three times since 2014; (2) provides a quick, uplifting photo essay highlighting our Democracy for All team; and (3) offers a heartfelt tribute to an amazing, budding environmental champion whose life was taken far too soon.
1. Extreme Weather–the third “once-in-a-century” flooding
At 7:30 AM on Saturday morning, I was en route to my son’s place on the eastside of Detroit near Belle Isle. This is a trip I make fairly often and it typically takes me about 35 minutes. On Saturday, it took me over two hours.
As I neared Dearborn on I-94, all traffic was exiting onto Greenfield Road. Cars were literally turning around on the eastbound side of the expressway and coming back towards the exit. It was mayhem. And, that was just the beginning. With virtually no way to go north, south, east or west from the Greenfield Road, I ended up back on I-94, this time westbound, and exited onto Telegraph Rd. I made my way to Michigan Ave. and slowly inched towards Detroit. Abandoned vehicles were everywhere, many still submerged in 3-6 feet of water. Roads were impassable. Residents were coming out of their homes to assess the damage, some venturing to overpasses like the one at 1-94/Michigan Ave/Wyoming Ave where you could see the highway below under 8+ feet of water.
Interstate 94 in Detroit early Saturday morning, June 26, 2021 (Credit: @DJBlakito via Twitter)
As I bivouacked through side streets, winding my way slowly eastward, I thought of all the basements that had flooded, many if not most with backed up, untreated sewage from the failed pump stations. Having lived vicariously through major flooding in SW Detroit a few years ago when similar extreme weather conditions dumped raw sewage into a Michigan LCV teammate’s home, I knew how awful this was going to be for thousands of Michiganders, the losses profound.
If this catastrophe in our state’s largest city is not a wake up call to our elected leaders in Washington, DC, I’m not sure what will be.
Governor Whitmer and team responded quickly to the disaster, activating the Michigan State Emergency Operations Center and declaring a state of emergency in Wayne County. During her short tenure, our governor has confronted multiple public health and safety emergencies, from a global pandemic and the collapse of the Edenville dam in May 2020 (following torrential rains) to a kidnapping plot that resulted in the indictment of six anti-government extremists. Given the multiple crises that have taken place over the last 2 ½ years, this administration appears to be in emergency response mode all the time.
Earlier this week, Governor Whitmer also visited the Detroit area to let residents know the state and municipalities are doing all they can to support them during this tough time and making sure the people of Michigan understand that catastrophes like this one are directly linked to climate change.
“This is a moment and a need for us to help one another but also for us to do the hard work of protecting ourselves going forward…..And that is doing everything we can to address climate change and building resilient infrastructure that will keep us safe and keep our economy going.” ~Governor Whitmer, MLive
Leaders throughout SE Michigan issued statements related to the floods. I thought University of Michigan Regent Jordan Acker summed the situation up concisely on Twitter, which was retweeted and amplified by State Senator Mallory McMorrow, who added some context and framed what happened last weekend around the ongoing infrastructure and climate talks in Washington, D.C.:
(Credit: @JordanAckerMI & @MalloryMcMorrow via Twitter)
In times of extreme crisis, volunteers come out of the woodwork and often go unnoticed. One of the most amazing volunteer efforts in the aftermath of the flooding is taking place right now in Dearborn. Led by state Rep Abdullah Hammoud, 50+ volunteers have been going out every day since Saturday to help residents deal with massive damage to their homes. Many residents have experienced 3-7 feet of sewage water in their basements, which means everything needs to be pulled out, from drywall and carpeting to furniture and personal items (photo albums, wedding dresses, etc.) Rep. Hammoud’s volunteer efforts have been captured in the Detroit Free Press (look at the photos!) and Michigan Radio’s Stateside (the latter is well worth listening to!) and, every chance he gets, Rep. Hammoud has been highlighting how the decades-long disinvestment in infrastructure coupled with climate change is on full display in his hometown.
NOTE: Rep. Hammoud is part of the Michigan LCV family as a former board member. He is also a candidate for mayor in Dearborn in a tough 7-way primary. We have proudly endorsed Hammoud and are actively engaged in his campaign. If you are moved by what you read/hear/see, I invite you to support him, too, which you can do right here.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more about extreme weather events and climate change, this is a great article, with some solid links, provided by EarthJustice. And, I also invite you to read the message sent out by Michelle Martinez, executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, which I’ve included in the postscript below. Michelle captures in powerful, concise and compelling language exactly what this damaging storm means to the people of SE Michigan.
2. Our Democracy For All team
As we continue to battle the dangerous attacks on our democracy and voting rights, I thought you might want a more personal introduction to our Democracy For All (DFA) team. Clare Allenson, Olivia Bradley, Mark Payne, Brooke Harris and Nina Wimberly are at the forefront of our DFA work, with support and collaboration from the rest of our team, notably those in Government Affairs and Communications. This team gets up every day thinking about both structural reform (i.e. redistricting) and voting rights (push back to the vehement voter suppression efforts underway in Lansing and mobilization of voters around the 2021 municipal elections). They are amazing!
The Michigan LCV Ed Fund Democracy For All team in Detroit, MI for the June 17, 2021 Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission public hearing.
3. The tragic loss of a former Michigan LCV teammate
We learned this weekend that one of our former teammates tragically lost his life on Friday when he stopped to help some stranded motorists. Alec Esparza worked for Michigan LCV in 2018/2019 as one of our then-brand new Our Water Our Vote organizers. Passionate about politics and the environment, particularly climate change, Alec was a wonderful member of our team, making fast friends and working hard to help elect Governor Gretchen Whitmer and a slew of other clean water/clean energy candidates to office. When Alec left our team, it was bittersweet because he departed for a great job at Public Sector Consultants where we knew he’d be an excellent addition to their team and learn a ton about public policy.
Alec with his classic smile standing in the back row right behind then-candidate, now Governor Whitmer
Alec is second from the right in the back row. Out knocking doors in Livonia in 2018 for then-candidate, now-state Representative Laurie Pohutsky.
Alec looking very handsome at our annual Detroit Gala, Fall 2018. He’s on the far left in the top row.
Alec is in the back on the left holding the Mallory McMorrow sign. A great event in 2018 supporting multiple candidates.
In the past few months, Alec had been in touch with me as he applied for jobs in the national environmental policy arena. He had just landed a job with the National Wildlife Federation and was planning to move to DC in the coming weeks.
As written in Alec’s obituary:
He was an avid runner throughout high school and college, eventually qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon… He was an independent, adventurous spirit, with a kind heart, a quick wit and a passion for politics and the environment. He truly wanted to make the world a better place. Alec had a deep concern for those in need, leading him to be a living kidney donor in 2020.
As our team swapped memories of Alec’s time at Michigan LCV, our Communications Director, Nick Dodge, shared a story that speaks to the tenacity and thoughtfulness that Alec exuded each and every day. During our endorsement of Governor Whitmer in 2018 on the shores of Lake Saint Clair, there was noisy construction being done a few houses down from our event. Alec — being the impressive runner and problem-solver that he was — sprinted along the shore, scaled a massive fence, spoke to the construction crew and convinced them to stop work for about 20 minutes so we could move forward with our program. You can see Alec in the photo below, which was taken at the event. There he is grinning ear-t0-ear in the back row behind the Great Lakes sign.
The Michigan LCV family is so incredibly sad. We send our deepest, deepest sympathies to Alec’s family.
As always, thank you so very much for your trust in our work.
P.S. Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition’s Response to the Catastrophic Flooding
Detroit Area Floods due to Disinvestment and Short-sighted investments
Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition calls on Congress for Deep Climate Investments
Hi EJ fam,
On Saturday, early in the morning, residents watched helplessly as water submerged their cars, their homes and businesses. After hours of rain across the metro Detroit area, critical infrastructure that deals with the storm water, failed — again. Detroiters woke up to their homes flooded. Families grieved as they threw away photos of loved ones passed, memories of those lost in COVID; things stored for safekeeping, some lost critical materials for their businesses, or hard-earned things like exercise equipment that kept them safe and healthy during COVID, all covered in dark waters that may contain e. coli from untreated sewage.
Let’s be clear, this incident is not just about a flooded basement. It’s about three generations of disinvestment in the infrastructure that supports our homes and schools, family businesses and houses of worship; compounded by racist policies like redlining and block busting. While corporations are getting tax breaks, and public subsidies, residents, everyday people are left holding the bill for our homes and then those same corporations who syphon of the tax rolls. These monies should be spent on renovating these critical systems. All across SE Michigan, working people are pouring over their insurance policies, trying to figure out if their home or car are covered. Renters, who can barely afford the utilities and the rent, and realizing that renter’s insurance was necessary to protect their things; undocumented people cobbling resources together too, ineligible for much of the assistance available. Workers who depend on their cars to get the kids, and head back and forth to grandparents or grocery stores, are left in the lurch as cars flooded engine blocks dry out.
This incident is also about climate denial, not just in words, but also in action. Michigan got 6 inches of rain in 24 hours– that represents the second 500-year rainfall in eight years—as folks may remember the 2014 flooding. We’ve been screaming from the roof tops that catastrophic weather events like this one, will not only occur more often, but at a greater magnitude, bigger, faster, stronger. We’ve been begging Congress to take strong and swift action, while the most recent infrastructure bill FAILED, failed to even address climate. What we need now is unprecedented investment in our infrastructure, not for corporate bailouts and science-fiction markets, for REAL people, now. We need massive amounts of money to reduce the pollution that causes this—curbing fossil gas, coal, and oil pipelines. But we must prepare now for what’s arrived, as well as what’s coming.
We are calling on Debbie Stabenow, and Gary Peters to bring home, to our front steps, the kind of money we need to fix this problem long-term, and tax those fossil fuel companies responsible for creating this crisis. And we are calling on VOTERS to remove any politician who can’t prove what they are doing to save our homes. The Mayor, State legislature and the Governor have a role in allocating this money. We need protections so that corporations can’t, again, come and steal our money, gobbling up critical resources through corporate subsidies, private markets, and insurance schemes.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again until they get it. So please join us in sending a message to Senators Stabenow and Peters — Detroit wants to be put to work to save our homes and families, with fair wages, and union contracts. The time is NOW.