by Art Reyes III, We the People Michigan executive director & Betsy Coffia, We the People Michigan rural organizer
In recent weeks, all eyes have been on Michigan as jarring images emerged of armed men in paramilitary gear storming the State Capitol while lawmakers deliberated the Stay Home order.
At the exact moment media was fixed on the threatening actions of this handful of people, another gathering of Michiganders was taking place, a gathering that dwarfed the dozens holding weapons. Rather than fanning the flames of fear and division, this larger gathering chose song, poetry, and messages of love. Traded weapons for crochet needles, guitar strings and paintbrushes. Traded a spirit of fear and isolation for one of joy, imagination and collective care across race, class, disability, and geography.
Under the banner of “The People’s Telethon,” thousands of Michiganders gathered online for over eight hours in a Facebook livestream, sharing stories, art and music, mutual aid resources, policy ideas and most palpably, the deep solidarity that comes with deciding to have each others’ backs. Resoundingly, the demand that arose from this digital, physically distanced gathering of Michiganders was that our legislators make choices that leave no one behind, and that policies provide real relief and keep all our communities safe.
For the past eight weeks, Michiganders from the Western UP to Benton Harbor, from Holland to Kalkaska, have moved swiftly and lovingly to care for family, neighbors and even strangers. Mutual aid efforts sprung up all over the state. In Detroit, neighbors suited up in masks and gloves to deliver water and food to families that needed it. In the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula, mask making and delivery efforts to frontline healthcare and migrant food workers sprouted up with the new spring buds. An ER nurse from Manton in Wexford County, organized an RV donation for healthcare workers needing to quarantine themselves between shifts away from family. To support that same hospital, Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, a tight-knit group of local restaurant owners took turns preparing three meals daily for quarantining healthcare workers, while more than a dozen volunteers including a laid off sheet metal worker, a daycare provider, and a tribal judge, coordinated a pick up and delivery of those meals.
These beautiful acts of solidarity are widespread and ongoing. This is the Michigan the vast majority of us know. One that’s full of people willing to make sacrifices, to give, to show up and take care of people they love and even the ones they don’t know.
Many of these Michiganders are part of a coalition of over 100 grassroots organizations from all over the state MI COVID Community,that formed nearly eight weeks ago to demand that our state government take care of our communities the way Michiganders are taking care of each other. Michiganders are coming together in ways that we haven’t seen before to make sure that during this pandemic and beyond, our Michigan is a place where no one is left behind.
While the news highlights a small band of protesters dramatically storming the capitol, backed by shadowy billionaires who seek to stoke fear and paranoia, an avalanche of ordinary Michiganders, along with first-time and seasoned organizers from all parts of the state, are coming together to envision a different world.
A world where everyone, regardless of citizenship status or ability to pay, has quality healthcare. Where we prioritize working families over banks and billionaires. Where everyone has safe, comfortable shelter, regardless of how little they make. . Where water is a human right and everyone’s basic needs are met. Where we celebrate immigrants and reject the scapegoating that drives us apart. Where seniors, incarcerated individuals, and those with disabilities are robustly cared for. And where we recognize that climate change is inextricably linked to pandemics, as global warming trends and habitat destruction lead to the exponential growth of viral and bacterial mutation.
In our Michigan, we understand that the well being of the grocery clerk, the migrant laborer, the home healthcare worker, the neighbor and the stranger is directly tied to our own well being. This Michigan is alive and well and as vibrant as this welcome springtime. A Michigan where its people take care of each other is already happening, and it is made up of the vast majority of our 10 million people. Now let’s demand that our elected officials follow the people’s lead and do the same.
Let’s continue building, tending and growing a Michigan and a future that leaves no one behind.