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 The law enabling emergency management, Public Act 4, was repealed by the voters in 2012, but quickly re-created by the Legislature, this time with an appropriations rider that prevented repeal.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.