Approximately 300 protesters marched near the entrance of Cobo Center on the first night of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Friday. Protesters came to support causes including the Green New Deal and the prevention of the General Motors plant closures.
The Green New Deal, most notably proposed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is a proposal aimed at addressing both climate change and economic inequalities. Many of the signs at the demonstration represented this ideal with phrases such as, “Green Union Jobs Now” and, “Clean Air! Clean Jobs! Clean Energy!”
The first night of the auto show, before it opens to the public, is historically the Charity Preview. Attendees get the first view of the show and are encouraged to participate in philanthropic activities.
The auto show describes the Charity Preview as “One of the most exclusive, high profile events in the nation.”
The protesters’ location proved to be strategically chosen, as gala invitees strolled in black-tie garb and were face-to-face with protesters who could possibly be laid off by GM.
Before the march began, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., gave a speech about her family’s automotive roots and the injustice of the plant closure. She urged protesters to keep steady in their efforts to shed light on one of the GM closures.
“Understand we are here not alone with the Poletown workers, we are here to pushback against the shutdown of our government,” Tlaib said. “We constantly see that the CEOs are making 200, 300, 400 times more than their workers. Guess who subsidizes it? We do … so we are here to stand in solidarity with every single worker.”
Later, she told The Michigan Daily about the intersection between the closure of the GM plants and the importance of the Green New Deal.
“Know that even GM’s closures show you the importance of the Green New Deal —the fact that we need to start looking at creating jobs beyond the traditional jobs that we’ve seen throughout the years,” Tlaib said. “In Detroit and around the nation, there needs to be real accountability, oversight and co-ownership when it comes to creating new jobs in our country. And the Green New Deal provides that structure to be able to have that.”
Once participants heard Tlaib’s speech, the marchers started heading toward the entrance, equipped with a small marching band. The most common tune sung during the demonstration was a repetitive question: “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?”
The Green New Deal resonates with many young activists. The Sunrise Movement has been a popular and growing movement in the United States and is particularly aimed at youth membership to prioritize climate change action in the national agenda. Members support the Green New Deal and are heavily involved in activism such as sit-ins outside of government officials’ offices.
Students who are not involved in the Sunrise Movement also see the benefits of large-scale environmental policy change. LSA sophomore Matt Peracchi, who studies in the University of Michigan’s Program in the Environment, did not attend the protest, but said he wants more investment in new forms of energy.
“Investing in renewable energy is an important first step towards mitigating climate change. It isn’t the only thing the United States and the world needs to focus on, but GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from energy production is a huge factor causing climate change,” Peracchi said.
Many protesters said unionized demonstrations are critical to creating change in workers’ rights. Norma Jean Haynes, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, talked about the importance of getting the workers of Detroit to participate in this demonstration outside of the auto show.
“People talk in Detroit about the revitalization, about the reclaiming of the city,” Haynes said. “And people who have lived here want to prioritize the workers, so getting people on the ground showing the vitality of that interest is exactly what we are out here to do.”