by Ian Matchett
On Thursday March 26th hundreds of Michigan students and young people will arrive in Lansing. Just as many groups before us we will petition the legislature; to ask that they, our ostensible representatives, protect our interests. With us, we will bring a list of 10 concrete, actionable demands: steps towards a future that we are fighting for. These steps are not a complete list, they are only a start. However they represent something that we believe has been missing from Michigan and our country for a long time: an alternative vision for our future.
I grew up in Michigan, in the conservative beach town of Grand Haven. Perhaps when I was a small child things were better, but throughout my entire adult life I have never known a stable economy. I have never lived in a thriving state.
Throughout the 90’s and 00’s Michigan has limped along, its economy rough at best, its politics increasingly gerrymandered, and its social policy growing ever more conservative. As white elites fled our largest cities or carved out enclaves within them, we have allowed people of color and poor folk to slip ever lower within our society. Even in my few years at college, my high school teachers were gradually stripped of their benefits, pensions, and had their unions beaten back by a variety of both legal and dubious means. In just the past few years I have watched Michigan become a right to work state, and the governor place unelected emergency managers over more than 1/2 the state's African American population.
Many have asked how could all this happen? How could the arsenal of democracy and home of the strongest unions in the nation bow down to the koch brothers? How could our state allow Detroit, once the greatest most powerful black city in the nation, to become a shell of it’s former self?
It has been well documented, though perhaps not widely recognized, that the intersecting systems of oppression, racism, classism, sexism, heteronormativity and ageism have all played an enormous role in these processes. Poor communities of color have played the scape goat for the conservative capitalist politicians and their agenda. Religious rights have come to trump human ones, as christians claim the right to ostracize our transgender community. These interconnecting systems mean that when leaders advocate fiscal belt tightening, the brunt of the burden is placed upon those already the most oppressed by society.
But why have such increasingly open acts of aggression against the most vulnerable in our society been tolerated by Michiganders?
Most of these changes and “reforms” have been forwarded under the banner of austerity, and with the justification of redressing Michigan's economic plight. For decades Michiganders have been told that, “We have had to do these things,” by think-tanks, and politicians; that we “can’t afford” to pay a living wage, or support public transit; that we need to “modernize our economy,” and that’s why we’re laying off 1500 workers in the city, and moving the plant to the suburbs.
Faced with this edifice of necessity, we, that is to say the progressive movement, have failed to provide a coherent alternative vision. Over the past two decades we have fought a slow, tactical, but ongoing retreat in the face of conservative arguments. Along this path we have won victories, arresting the advance of this or that regressive policy. However, we have fundamentally failed to craft and advocate a united vision for what we would do instead of these policies. We have failed to break the conservative monopoly over necessity.
The Michigan Student Power Network crafted our demands with the intention of directly attacking this monopoly. With the help of students and young people across the state, we created this list, both to give a voice to the intersectional movements that our organizers and activists were involved in, and to unify our voices into a single vision. A vision of the state that young people want to live in; of a state built in the interests of its people.
By its very nature, this list is yet incomplete and transitional. These steps alone will not solve our problems, but they are the beginning that we so badly need. Ultimately we demand a state that is not just a profitable platform for a few wealthy, white individuals, with cities made safe for the suburbs. We demand a state that is both equitable and just. We demand a future.