Students and activists of the Sunrise Movement held a sit-in at the Ypsilanti office of U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, where they shared stories, sang, chanted and expressed their concerns about the impact of climate change to her staffers present in the office, occupying the space past business hours.
Sunrise, a movement of predominantly young people whose goal is to stop climate change and create green jobs, has chapters across the nation and is a champion of the Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The Ann Arbor hub of Sunrise has been trying to convince Dingell to co-sponsor the Green New Deal since February, but has not yet been successful.
LSA junior Preston VanAlstine, one of the Ann Arbor Hub coordinators, said Dingell has been opposed to the idea of co-sponsoring the bill, and Sunrise has responded accordingly.
“She’s been really resistant, so we’ve been slowly escalating in terms of our actions over the past few months,” VanAlstine said. “This election season alone she’s taken over $10,000 from DTE, which gets two-thirds of its energy from coal. So we want her to stop taking money from them as well.”
The group of about 30 protesters, which included University of Michigan and high school students and community members from across Washtenaw County, marched to her office holding signs saying “We Demand a Future” and “Green Jobs for All” where they filled up the lobby of the office while three of her staffers watched and listened to the different stories, demands, songs and chants.
Many of those who spoke during the sit-in cited the economic benefits of the Green New Deal as something important to them, connecting it to their own experiences and how they have been impacted by climate change. LSA sophomore Arya Kale, an active member of the Sunrise Movement, spoke about his time volunteering in a soup kitchen where he met a young girl whose father had lost his job at General Motors Corp. Kale felt an instant connection because GM employed his father as well.
“I don’t believe that people of Black or Brown communities should have to suffer without having a job,” Kale said. “I don’t believe that children should not know where their next meal is coming from because their parents don’t have work. And with the Green New Deal, with the federal job guarantee that’s written in it — Representative Dingell, have you read that part? — that’s important, that’s why we need a Green New Deal.”
Many of the speakers expressed their frustration with Dingell and her lack of a response to their demands and concerns. Ypsilanti resident Leah Skylar, chair of the Young Democrats of Michigan, has been visiting Dingell’s Ypsilanti office for more than seven months. Skylar said she has been repeatedly told “I’m looking at it,” in reference to the bill.
“Seven months is too damn long for you to keep telling me the same damn thing,” Skylar said. “Why aren’t you standing up and signing on?”
Before addressing Dingell’s staff directly, Aisha Soofi, a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University and Sunrise Ann Arbor hub coordinator, went over a timeline of Sunrise’s interactions with Dingell and her responses to their demand that she sign on to the Green New Deal. Soofi said Dingell repeatedly said she was still looking at the document in the several different interactions they had with the congresswoman.
“In July we had a meeting with her and Indivisible, a group from Ann Arbor, and that was when we asked her, ‘Why isn’t she supporting the Green New Deal?’” Soofi said. “And that was the first time she used the Fox News talking point that she didn’t want to ban airplanes, even though that is not in the Green New Deal.”
Soofi then spoke to the staffers directly asking, “Which side is Rep. Dingell on? Is she with us or is she with the fossil fuel billionaires who are destroying the planet? Will she back the Green New Deal?”
Dingell, who was not present in the office for the sit-in, had left a letter for the protesters to be read by her staff members. Trayveon McGuire, one of Dingell’s field representatives, read the statement aloud, which apologized for her absence and thanked and recognized the protesters for their work.
“We have to discuss the alternatives, so people still have heat, as well as mobility and transportation,” McGuire read from the statement. “She is focusing on the transportation sector because she comes from Michigan and transportation makes up 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”
With no mention of the Green New Deal, the document was not satisfactory for most of the protesters present. The activists responded, expressing how they felt disrespected and ignored, citing a lack of trust in the congresswoman.
“We’re not here to listen to what Debbie Dingell has done, we’re here to talk about what she has to do now, and that is the Green New Deal,” Soofi said. “How do we make her see that this situation has to be dealt with now effectively and comprehensively.”
Staffers acknowledged their activism and thanked them for coming to express their concerns on behalf of both them and Dingell, but when asked if, and when, the group would receive a response from the congresswoman, they were unable to answer.
Soofi concluded the sit-in saying, “We are going to come back and next time we won’t leave until we get an answer.”