Welcome to the March 4, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday. This week’s edition of Three Things celebrates Women’s History Month by taking a look at some of the incredible women in the climate justice and water justice movement; provides an update on the latest developments in the effort to expand Michigan’s Bottle Deposit Law; and introduces you to Michigan LCV’s newest team members.
1.Women’s History Month
Given that March is Women’s History Month, the first of this week’s Three Things recognizes the incredible female leadership in Michigan, with women warriors all across this state fighting to protect the health and safety of their families and their communities.
From work to ensure Michigan’s most vulnerable communities have access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water, to the efforts at the state and national level to address threats to our democracy/voting rights and the climate crisis, we would not be where we are today without strong women who fight fiercely for what they believe in. If we step back and do a scan, we can see that community-led initiatives and larger NGOs, top positions in state government and in our congressional delegation are led, in large part, by smart, dynamic, dedicated women.
Historically, women have played an immense role–both nationally and internationally– in protecting our air, land and water from an array of threats, notably threats to our drinking water and the health of our communities. Some of the big names that come to mind are Rachel Carson in the 1960’s, Lois Gibbs in the 1970’s, and Erin Brockovich in the 1980s/90’s. I also think about Grace Lee Boggs who played a transformative role in the City of Detroit with the establishment of Detroit Summer and so much more; and Wangari Maathai who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Born in Kenya, Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and through the establishment of the Green Belt Movement, she assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds.
Looking around Michigan in 2021, you will find an array of phenomenal women leaders such as:
- Monica Lewis-Patrick and Debra Taylor at We the People of Detroit who have been fighting for years to halt the water shut offs in Detroit
- Nayyirrah Shariff and Melissa Mays who are tireless Flint Water Warriors
- Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Elin Betanzo (an environmental engineer) who together helped call attention to the Flint Water Crisis
- Maureen Taylor at Michigan Welfare Rights Organization who has been working for years to address water shut offs and much more in disproportionately impacted cities like Detroit
- Rhonda Anderson at Sierra Club who has been fighting industrial polluters for years
- Sandy Wynn Stelt, a citizen activist in West Michigan who woke up one day to find that the water table from which she and her neighbors drew their well water had been poisoned with PFAS
These amazing activists are now complemented by women leaders in elected office at the local, state and federal levels. I think of State Representatives Padma Kuppa and Sarah Anthony (who is a former Michigan LCV Board member); State Senators Erika Geiss and Stephanie Chang; and many others who have demonstrated stellar leadership and commitment to protecting their communities, the environment, and our collective future in Michigan.
I also think– of course!– of the dynamic women Michigan voters elected at the top of the ticket in November 2018: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson!
It’s hard for me to imagine what the last two years would have looked like without Governor Whitmer’s strong leadership, particularly in relation to COVID-19. Her science and public health-first approach saved thousands of lives and included the establishment of the only task force in the nation focused on the racial disparities of this horrible pandemic. In addition, Governor Whitmer stepped out boldly to address the climate crisis and water justice issues with the MI Healthy Climate and MI Clean Water plans, and ordered the shut down of the aging, damaged Line 5 pipeline.
Attorney General Dana Nessel stepped into office ready to put Michigan back into a leadership position in terms of environmental protection and public health. The list of important actions taken by the AG is long, admirable and much appreciated. Highlights include taking on Enbridge Energy over the Line 5 pipeline and fighting to hold corporate polluters accountable for toxic PFAS contamination.
And, where would we be without Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson who has been instrumental, particularly during and after the 2020 election, in expanding the rights and opportunities to vote for the most vulnerable Michigan communities and protecting the sanctity of our democratic process when it has come under attack. In her legislative agenda announced last month, Secretary Benson outlined key reforms to our election process that will help Michigan ensure that the right to vote is accessible for every Michigander, including expanded absentee ballot and pro-voter reforms.
At the federal level, our state has strong female representation in Washington, D.C., with longtime Senator Debbie Stabenow, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Elisa Slotkin, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Rep. Haley Stevens and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, all of whom have become key players in Washington around issues pertaining to land, air and water protections. As an example, both Congresswomen Dingell and Slotkin have been vocal advocates for addressing the growing PFAS crisis in Michigan, and they are both key members of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, which was established to address the issue nationwide. And, Congresswomen Dingell and Tlaib recently reintroduced the Water is a Human Right Act, which would prohibit water shutoffs and include affordability provisions for low-income households during the COVID-19 emergency.
As you can see, there are a lot of tremendous Michigan women to celebrate during Women’s History Month! Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to discuss some of this with Lana Pollack on WEMU, 89.1 FM’s 1st Friday Focus on the Environment program. Taking off my typical co-host hat alongside David Fair, Lana and I will both be guests to discuss women leaders in Michigan and beyond. No doubt I will mention Monica Lewis-Patrick who was honored last month at a Detroit Pistons home game for her work on water affordability/access in Detroit! And, I have a feeling that Lana’s election to the State Senate in 1982 might come up–because when she went to Lansing early the next year, she was the only woman in the Michigan Senate!. I also hope we’ll be able to touch on Lana’s incredible work to pass what was once Michigan’s landmark Polluter Pay law (which was dismantled by Governor Engler). I invite you to tune in tomorrow morning at 6:50 and 8:50 AM to hear the interview or check out the interview later when it is posted on WEMU’s website.
2. Expanding Michigan’s Bottle Deposit Law
Michigan is uniquely blessed with beautiful natural resources that hold a very important place in our state’s identity. Between the Great Lakes, stunning sand dunes, and amazing forests, we have extremely valuable natural areas in our midst and it is critical that we do everything we can to protect them.
Organizations like ours work hard to prevent the pollution, contamination and degradation of our natural resources, but often the damage has already been done and serious steps must be taken to remediate the harm impacting people, place and planet. Michigan’s Bottle Deposit Law has been a longstanding pillar for funding dedicated to contaminated site cleanup and protecting Michigan’s land and water resources from pollution.
Originally passed by referendum in 1976, the “Bottle Bill” allows bottles and cans to be returned for a 10 cent deposit, although large proportions of these containers are never returned each year. So, here’s what happens with the unclaimed deposits:
The unclaimed deposits on bottles and cans make up critical funding that is split between several entities, including the Dept of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and bottle distributors. A multi-million dollar annual sum, 75% is devoted to contaminated site cleanup across our state. As Michigan deals with an accelerating toxic PFAS contamination problem and has a growing list of more than 24,000 contaminated sites across the state that are threats to the drinking water and public health of Michigan communities, this funding is of utmost importance.
Recently, Sen. Sean McCann and Rep. Christine Morse introduced a piece of legislation that would expand the “Bottle Bill” to include deposits for all non-carbonated beverages, with the exception of milk containers. The proposed expansion is a critically important step towards securing additional funding for contaminated site cleanup across our beautiful state, protecting our waters, our lands and our residents.
As we work to hold polluters accountable and ideally pass a 2021 rendition of Michigan’s first Polluter Pay law, we also need to work to clean up the messes that have already been made, posing threats to human health and our drinking water. Michigan LCV has been vocal in our support of the proposed legislation, House Bill 4331. In fact, our Government Affairs Director, Nick Occhipinti, was quoted in WLNS/Channel 6 article last week:
“Our state’s bottle deposit program was passed with overwhelming public support and has been a success in reducing litter, generating high-quality recyclable materials, and providing funds to clean up toxic contamination that threatens our health,” said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “This commonsense legislation builds upon the success of our current bottle return program and will ensure the continued provision of much needed funds to clean up contaminated sites and ensure Michiganders have clean, safe drinking water.”
Please take a moment to write to your lawmaker urging them to support this legislation. We have an action alert set up with a customizable pre-written message to get you started. To stay updated on HB 4331 and all other Lansing developments, be sure to check out the Capital Catch-Up , which is published every Friday.
3. Meeting the newest Michigan LCV team members!
Last, but certainly not least, the Michigan LCV family is extremely excited to welcome SIX new members to our team! Over the past several years, the Michigan LCV team has been growing as we step up to address a broader range of issues and an expanded focus that includes extremely important work on voting rights and protecting our democracy.
The five newcomers are a mixture of new and old faces in the Michigan LCV community and we could not be more excited to welcome them into the fold. I provide you with brief introductions, and a glimpse of what their new roles will be in hopes that at some point in the not-so-distant future you’ll have a chance to meet them in person.
We are excited to add two members to the Michigan LCV Education Fund’s Democracy For All team:
Brooke Harris joins us as our newest Democracy For All Coordinator! Brooke, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Marygrove College, brings a wealth of experience in community activism and organizing to the Michigan LCV team. A native of Detroit, Brooke has been an educator for much of her career, in addition to working with community organizations like Hollaback! Detroit, Girls Rock Detroit, and most recently with ioby. As our newest Democracy For All Coordinator, Brooke will work alongside the rest of the DFA team to protect our democratic process in Michigan, ensuring every Michigander is able to exercise their right to the vote!
Mark Payne, first joined our DFA team last year and was an integral part of our work in Detroit to get out the vote and recruit poll workers for the 2020 election. Mark is now stepping into a new role as our other Democracy For All Coordinator. Mark, who is also an experienced teacher and Detroiter, is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and brings a passion for politics and working for the health and well-being of his community. You can read more about Mark here.
We are also thrilled to have two new members of our Political & Outreach team:
Ethan Petzold recently joined Michigan LCV as our new Southeast Michigan Regional Organizer. A graduate of Central Michigan University, Ethan became involved in Michigan politics as a teenager and has been working on campaigns in Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties ever since. With a wealth of leadership experience, Ethan is a valuable addition to the team as we continue our work in community organizing and membership outreach. You can read Ethan’s bio here.
Also joining the Political & Outreach team is Hudson Villeneuve who is Michigan LCV’s West Michigan Regional Organizer. Hudson studied at Eastern Michigan University and used his Political Science degree to start his career in activism. He has worked on a variety of electoral and issue-based campaigns, both in Michigan and across the country. His experience in organizing and activism makes him a great addition to the P&O team and will help bolster Michigan LCV’s presence in West Michigan as we continue to build community relationships in the region.
And, finally, we’ve brought two of our paid interns onto our team full-time:
Hallie Fox is stepping into a new role as the Legislative Aide for our Government Affairs team. Hallie interned with Michigan LCV over the last year, joining us shortly after graduation from the University of Michigan. Her work in Lansing with the Government Affairs team has been integral to further establishing Michigan LCV’s presence as the premier environmental organization affecting change in our state’s capital, and she will continue to contribute in important ways in her new role. The sad news (for us anyway) is that Hallie will not be with us for long as she is set to attend Harvard Law School starting in the Fall of 2021. You can read Hallie’s bio here.
Zachariah Simón recently started in a new role with the Communications team as our new Communications Associate. Like Hallie, Zach first joined Michigan LCV last year as one of our interns and, through his work during the 2020 election, proved to be a valuable member of our team. A graduate of Michigan State University, Zach joins us full time in his new role, helping craft Michigan LCV’s communications strategy and our online presence. You can read Zach’s bio here.
As always, thanks for all you do to support our work. It is your trust in our team that makes all this possible. Until next week, please be safe and mask up.
PS For some fun, I invite you to watch Jay Stieltra and friends performing “I’m Singing”, one of Jay’s many beautiful songs about Michigan (recorded at a tribute concert to Jay; start at 1:50). This song includes the classic lines:
I’m singing, I’m singing about this ‘ole state of mine
The closest thing to heaven that I will every find
Her Great Lakes and her rivers are flowing sweet as wine
And an old empty beer can can buy a man a dime.