We woke up November 9 to a new day in Michigan. Voters had approved constitutional amendments to protect voting rights and reproductive rights – liberties under attack throughout the United States. Proposal 2 and Proposal 3 drew thousands of new voters to the polls, and voting didn’t finish on the college campuses in Ann Arbor and East Lansing until after midnight. The outpouring was the largest midterm voter turnout in Michigan history, surpassing the previous high set in 2018. When all was said and done, Michigan voters elected federal and state officials who reflect the values of the population, instead of what we’ve seen in the past, which reflected our grossly gerrymandered legislative districts.
American history is an ongoing story of people fighting for human rights, winning their liberty, getting it stripped away, fighting again, repeating the cycle, over and over again. Black Southerners won political rights through Reconstruction after the Civil War, only to have them forcibly revoked through the Jim Crow era. The rights of women, Native Americans, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and other minorities only exist because people fought for them, and even after rights were granted, they only stayed in place after people fought to protect them.
Also this week, on the other side of the Earth, world leaders are meeting in the COP-27 round of climate negotiations to consider another right we’d previously taken for granted – the right to a livable planet. The matter is especially urgent for the tiny, low-lying Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, which, facing immersion from rising sea levels, has called for a fossil fuel non-proliferation agreement. The threat may not be as visible in North America, but the increasing intensity of wildfires, hurricanes, and floods are waking up ordinary Americans to the perils of the climate crisis. But we will need to rise up to ward off the threat and preserve a livable planet.
In theory, Michigan bestows us that right. The state constitution declares that “the conservation and development of the natural resources of the state are hereby declared to be of paramount public concern in the interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the people.” The state’s Environmental Protection Act empowers the judiciary to prevent practices that harm the environment.
In practice, however, courts have weakened the power of the state law and undermined the reach of constitutional protection.
So, once again, it is up to us to re-write the future. We started to do that this week – statewide, through the voting rights and reproductive rights ballot proposals, both so critical to environmental health and justice. And so we did this week – in Ann Arbor, where voters overwhelmingly approved a climate proposal that funds the city’s carbon neutrality plan. And so we did this week – in Oakland County, where voters overwhelmingly approved a transit proposal that funds services for the entire county for the first time ever.
Now that the election is over, it’s time to move boldly to preserve a livable planet where all people can thrive. It’s time to enact the MI Healthy Climate Plan to decarbonize Michigan’s economy. It’s time to protect everyone from the ravages of lead poisoning, PFAS chemicals, and plastic pollution. It’s time to prioritize environmental justice in state policy and budgets. It’s time to write the future we truly need.