Opinion | Liberate Michigan? Here's where we can start.

Justin Schott is executive director of EcoWorks, a Detroit nonprofit that works to advance equitable and affordable climate and sustainability solutions.

For the first couple of weeks I thought the rallies of armed men at the Capitol were an extreme fringe of Michiganders, but seeing a truck in Dexter with a Liberate Michigan banner flying from its window made me rethink. 

I, too, support many forms of liberation, albeit of a different stripe than most protesters in Lansing have in mind:  

1. Let’s liberate the 39,000 men and women we have imprisoned, separated from their families, dehumanized behind bars, and sentenced to the mountainous task of re-entering society and securing gainful employment with a felony on their records. Let’s start by liberating those who are imprisoned for drug addiction, for unpaid traffic tickets, for mental health struggles and those who were sentenced as children. And let’s liberate them from the deadly exposure to coronavirus — I am ashamed that Michigan prisons have the highest death toll of any state

2. Let’s liberate citizens from the threat of undemocratic takeovers by emergency managers. Anyone who is against government overreach should surely be against a single, unelected appointee of the governor being allowed to void contracts, reduce retirement benefits, sell off city assets, and engage in other draconian measures with no accountability to the people. Emergency managers oversaw (and some might even say orchestrated) the Flint water crisis, the collapse of numerous public school systems, and the bankruptcy in Detroit. The law enabling emergency management, Public Act 4, was repealed by the voters in 2012, but quickly re-created by the Legislature, this time with an appropriations rider that prevented repeal. 

3. Let’s liberate our children from overcrowded classrooms and our teachers from underpaid work. Let’s liberate ourselves from innumerable standards that do not reflect the humanity of every child — their creativity, their need for connection, their understanding of and contribution to their own communities. Let’s move beyond a system of education that was designed to prepare men for assembly lines and women to be homemakers. Let’s liberate parents from unaffordable child care and students from the burden of college debt. 

4. Let’s liberate ourselves from the influence of the wealthy in politics, from which billions in tax breaks and incentives are handed to developers and corporations, only to see those profits flow out of state while wages for workers remain flat. 

5. Let’s liberate ourselves from crumbling infrastructure. Let’s ensure universal access to affordable, lead-free water and resilient renewable energy that stays on after a storm. Even better, let’s liberate ourselves from investor owned utilities who receive guaranteed profits at the expense of rate-payers, who have faced the second highest increases in the country. And let’s liberate ourselves from dilapidated schools and instead invest in facilities that inspire learning. Let’s renovate our homes so they are safe, comfortable, and affordable to live in. 

Others could extend this list into a hefty volume that envisions a more just and equitable Michigan, in which we all have the freedom to realize our full potential as human beings and members of our communities. For all of our clashes — social, political, and economic  — we could be engaged in respectful dialogue that works toward a shared understanding of how liberation could be a platform for closing divides in Michigan, not widening them. This is a platform that we need not just to recover from COVID-19, but to bring us together for the long-term, common good.

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Sun, 05/10/2020 - 5:53pm

Let's liberate Michigan from Leftist ideology with no plan of action. Michigan is part of the United States, not Fantasyland

Instead of fairy tales why don't you develop solutions. Work through the details and be able to logically and truthfully answer the questions people will have.

Justin Schott
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 10:01pm

I couldn’t agree more that words are hollow without actions behind them. But I also think words matter—they set the tone. I wrote this specifically because ideology is divisive and we forget that there is actually a lot that unites us. If we can’t be civil and raise issues without the conversation inflaming partisanship, I don’t know how we move forward.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:33am

Where are your solutions? You seem okay with the status quo. Hmm must be the result of that green ooze leaching into our water or all the leaking septic tanks and PFAS. So much great stuff that deregulation gives us.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:47am

'Instead of fairy tales why don't you develop solutions. Work through the details and be able to logically and truthfully answer the questions people will have.'

And what has the GOP done in Michigan and in Washington like this? Health insurance? Infrastructure? Tax reform? Nope - just more tax cuts for the wealthy and more gerrymandering to prevent people from electing the people they want and not the GOP.

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 1:56pm

Anonymous, yet Trump just extended his border lockdown on our country until June 21. So I cannot leave to the country to go to my cottage in Canada.

It certainly feels like this is communist Cuba and Trump is Castro. Trump LIBERATE the USA!

Kevin Grand
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 6:36pm

Question for Mr. Schott; Give one example where all of this has been put into practice and it has successfully worked continuously for over a significant time frame (read: years)?

I noticed that you did not include any above.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:28am

Scandinavian countries.

Claire Piper
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:35am

I noticed Mr. Schott is brave enough to post his real name and face, unlike you.

Sun, 05/10/2020 - 8:05pm

It sounds great but it is not achievable at this time in history. To attain this level of achievement there would need to be a historic level of bipartisan support. The Michigan Republicans are to busy in Lansing making sure our new Governor doesn't hurt herself by trying to reduce her gubernatorial powers until say, a "white male Republican is elected to the Governorship again. I also believe Donald Trump has mesmerized the west Michigan evangelical christian crowd. They always knew the Emperor had no robe, they just don't care.

Jake K.
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 10:08am

Mark: I am a Christian, evangelical in my approach to following God's direction for my life and a resident of West Michigan. I'm not mesmerized by any politician. I can accept any nationality and gender (there are two) for a political role as long as they value life and follow God's guidance. I vote the person, not the party. Partisan politics are destroying our country, with a trickle-down impact on our state and local communities. Your "broad brush" approach towards defining me and many others certainly suggests that you too are far from engaging a bipartisan behavior. It's too bad that as humans we find it easier to attack those with whom we differ, rather than complementing the differences for the good of all.

Walking in the Word
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:11pm

Did you say "broad brush"? You lost me at two genders. You seem confused. Do you know what intersex is? In your mind, is gender the same as genitalia? Because even that is not always clear. But as a Christian, I'm sure you accept that we were all created in God's image. Who is "too... far from engaging a bipartisan behavior?" I'm Christian and our church loves our intersex members just like everyone else, by recognizing they exist. You can't engage with people who don't even recognize your existence.

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 6:37am

What a nut job. Totally detached from the reality of the world.

A Yooper
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 10:47am


Mon, 05/11/2020 - 12:45pm

You should have just cut and pasted the entire Green New Deal and the party platform of the American Socialist Party.

Appreciate the help!
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:30am

That would be wonderful, thanks for joining the fight for the human race!

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:14pm

So Matt, if Trump isn't a socialist, what is?

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 7:01pm

I appreciate your essay, Justin. The things you would like us to be liberated from are attainable and would result in a more just and equitable world. I read some of the other comments and am saddened that some of those responding seem to have done so disparagingly. We'll never create a better world for all until we can talk about ideas in a respectful, serious manner. The corona virus crisis has resulted in what Thomas Piketty in Capital and Ideology called a "switch point." We can either take a serious look at what is not working and switch policies to organize a more just and inclusive society, or we can keep on the path we're treading with inequality increasing exponentially. I'd rather we tried some of your ideas. Thank you for providing some food for thought.

Mike Robbins
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:36am

I totally agree.

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:17pm

Melany, I agree, only want to mention what you left out. The present course, without switching, is leading to disaster for all.

Justin Schott
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 10:12pm

I’m encouraged by the honest reflections here. We don’t actually need to accept this poisonous idea that people on different parts of the political spectrum are different species. There used to be much more true bipartisanship as our elders will recall.
In terms of when this vision has been put into action and sustained, I think this is the question any new initiatives face. There was a time when Medicare and Social Security and even universal suffrage (although we are not quite 100% there) and free public education would have been called impossible. If we talk about values, whether happiness or health or inequality or many other social and economic indicators, the U.S. has in most cases dropped from the top tier of the global rankings. Saying things are stuck because we’re polarized and can’t get better isn’t an option I want to accept.

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:32pm

Justin, great article, but the programs you just mentioned are constantly under siege and presently tenuous at best. The forces of greed and self-interest have taken over the world, America's chief export via Ayn Rand. Lobbyist Grover Norquist is a well-known proponent of the GOP strategy to destroy our government and has famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." He said that in 2001 and now we face a pandemic, catastrophic climatic events, with a shell of a government. Rather than lead the world to victory like we did in WW2, now we lead the world with the highest COVID19 deaths. Could happen to any country, right? No, it happened to ours and we were not even one of the first countries to have to deal with the pandemic. We had plenty of warnings and time to prepare. We have to acknowledge that Trump has set us back as a country before we can ever hope for better. Trump took what Obama and all of us built and destroyed it in a blink, mere months, what took eight years to build. We went from the Bush recession to the Trump depression. The GOP has to go. It's time for good people to rise and represent us.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 9:32am

Idealistic, but that's ok. We gotta start somewhere.

A Yooper
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 11:34am

Just ignore the nut cases in these posts.

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 11:35am

These are serious ideas to be considered and acted on. They are possible if all of us would be willing to work together for a more just Michigan.

Bari Johnson
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 2:47pm

Interesting and thought-provoking article, regardless of personal politics.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:39am

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
I expect that most readers will recognize these words. Fighting COVID 19 is the most important thing we can do right now to promote the general Welfare. We cannot fully "secure the Blessings of LIberty to ourselves and our Posterity" until we have broadly available testing, contact tracing, and widespread use of masks fully in place (my mask protects you, and yours protects me and everyone else around you). There is no such thing as a perfect solution to this pandemic, but Governor Whitmer's approach looks better every day in comparison to states that are rushing to "normalcy."

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 7:40pm

PERFECT! Thank You.

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:34pm

Zooman, you da man!

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 2:11pm

Good Read Justin! Thanks! But that #4 on your list needs to be #1. We need political and government reforms. Badly.
Our entire American system of Government has become corrupted beyond recognition. If our founding forefathers were alive today, they would be calling for massive reforms at every level. I use the term “corrupted” as a description of a thing that is broken or failed as in a corrupted computer hard drive; the data being useless.
The “great experiment” that began almost 250 years ago has mutated into a system of governing that has revealed several flaws and exploitations which we, united as people, must repair or replace for our country to survive as a truly free and equal state.
The 1% of the wealth in America has developed a method to influence our politicians and the future of our country for their self-serving purposes. And they influence us too with their smoke-screen illusions, which we eagerly consume, that everything is just “OK” and this is as good as it gets so we should be happy. Happy that we have what we want (on a payment plan) but unable to afford what we need.
The key is that we must be united against the common enemies of justice, equality, fair representation, and liberty. We must not allow them to divide us by choosing sides based on our two favorite colors, red and blue. This is the most powerful weapon they wield against us. And we fall upon that sword so easily.
True political reform must start with campaign finance changes and ranked choice voting (RCV) to level the tilted playing field which they have built. The other "dominoes" will fall after these are "corrected" by the people; term limits, lobby restrictions, and reforming/abolishing the electoral college.

We shall overcome
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:41pm

Steve, ABSOLUTELY. Every time I get emails from progressives about what agenda items I think are most important, I cite campaign finance reform, voting rights, Without those none of the other rights matter. For far too long we have endured the GOP BS. Now is more important than ever, Moscow Mitch who gleefully stole a Supreme Court appointment from Obama has done nothing but enable swamp creatures and appoint hundreds of federal judges. Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the working poor. So glad Michigan seems on the right path, but there's still a lot to do across the country. I'm hopeful.

Feels like a Ni...
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 2:46pm

I don't support term limits. That's what elections are for. I do think it should be easier to impeach and remove a president. WTF? If Trump can't be removed, who can? Even if you ignore all his crimes and corruption, he literally is a walking 25 Amendment case. Drinking disinfectant? Come on!

Martha Dahlinger
Mon, 05/18/2020 - 6:18pm

Thank you Justin for expressing a form of liberation we all can agree to work on and achieve.