Activists from Sunrise Movement Ann Arbor, a group focused on climate change and committed to garnering support for the Green New Deal, occupied the office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, in Ypsilanti on Friday. About 50 students and community members participated in the sit-in which began at about 4:30 p.m. They sang, chanted and shared stories about why the Green New Deal matters to them.
Dingell was not present. After about two hours, a majority of protesters left, but a smaller group who said they were willing to take an “escalated risk” spent the night in her office. On Saturday, three of these protesters were arrested at about 2:15 p.m.
Sunrise Movement Ann Arbor protesters have staged multiple sit-ins at Dingell’s office asking her to co-sponsor the Green New Deal, a resolution to fight climate change and economic inequality first introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Sunrise protesters initially met with Dingell in February to urge her to sign on, staging their first sit-in at her office last April and again this September. Dingell was not present at either protest and has not given a definitive response on whether she plans to sponsor the resolution.
Although she is not a Green New Deal sponsor as of publication, Dingell has not been inactive in the fight against climate change. On Thursday, Dingell introduced the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019, legislation setting a nationwide goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy economy with net-zero climate pollution by 2050.
Sunrise Movement activists insist Dingell take more extreme action to fight climate change in her district. Protesters were determined to elongate their protest this time and stay until Dingell gave a definitive answer regarding the Green New Deal. Sunrise Hub Coordinator and LSA sophomore, Arya Kale, expressed the group’s frustration with her lack of response.
“It’s not even that she’s saying, ‘no’; she’s just not giving us an answer — if she says ‘no,’ we know what action we have to take, and that’s putting somebody else into office,” Kale said.
Naina Agrawal-Hardin, Sunrise hub coordinator and Washtenaw International High School student, explained why Sunrise members keep coming back.
“We’re sitting in because of these twin crises we’re seeing in our country, which are climate change and also this skyrocketing inequality that’s costing millions of Americans not only their right to a livable future, but also their right to a good job and a living wage and dignified work,” Agrawal-Hardin said. “We’re here to tell Congresswoman Debbie Dingell she can’t ignore us anymore; it’s been 10 months, and we need an answer.”
At the sit-in, protesters took turns sharing why they believe it is critical for Dingell to co-sponsor the Green New Deal. Many highlighted the fact Dingell has accepted more than $40,000 from DTE Energy in campaign contributions, sharing concerns this money could be a factor in Dingell’s lack of support for the Green New Deal.
Students took turns giving testaments to their personal experiences with consequences of climate change. They spoke of the health implications of declining air quality and the environmental consequences of oil pipelines and deforestation, among other concerns, urging Dingell to take decisive action. At one point, protesters went around the room explaining the reasons they each fight for the Green New Deal. Responses included worries about the futures of younger siblings and future children, the disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalized communities, and the preservation of Michigan’s Great Lakes.
After 22 hours of protest in Dingell’s office, Ypsilanti police removed LSA junior Preston VanAlstine; Washington University in St. Louis senior Allie Lindstrom; and Chair of Young Democrats of Michigan Leaha Skylar Dotson from the office. The protesters were taken to the Ypsilanti police station and released about two-and-a-half hours later.
In a statement to The Daily, Maggie Rousseau, Dingell’s communications director, said the congresswoman encourages constituents to visit her office.
“Congresswoman Dingell always welcomes constituents to her offices. She and her staff listen and help,” the statement said. “This group was accommodated overnight, for almost 24 hours in extraordinary circumstances. The terms of our lease in this building prohibit people from sleeping in the space and a note from the building manager made that clear. Dingell and her staff strive to be good tenants to continue serving the people of the 12th Congressional District from her Ypsilanti office.”
Lindstrom explained why the three chose to remain in the office.
“We didn’t want to go quietly,” Lindstrom said. “We felt that if we left, it would feel like we were being silenced. We felt like Congresswoman Dingell didn’t feel the pressure to answer and tell us what she was going to do for our generation and how she was going to take action.”
Abdul El-Sayed, former 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, made an appearance at the protest, giving a speech expressing his support for the protester’s work. He emphasized the importance of working together to solve climate issues.
“What we’re saying is that we are not willing to wed our children and our children’s children to a system of economics, to a climate, that fundamentally fails them,” El-Sayed said. “… Who suffers the most? People of color, our poor folks, our people in urban and rural communities. We’ve got an opportunity to say that enough is enough, that we need a Green New Deal.”
El-Sayed spoke to The Daily regarding the importance of the Green New Deal for Michigan.
“We’ve got a responsibility to act, and this is one of the most progressive districts in the state, and our representatives ought to represent us,” El-Sayed said. “The beautiful thing about the Dingell legacy is that it was once the most progressive on issues related to climate, and I’m not seeing that right now — and we can do so much better. And what these folks in here recognize is that we don’t have time, and we’ve got a set of solutions, and the question is, why are they not being enacted?”
Ultimately, Lindstrom said the experience was frustrating but it would not deter Sunrise activists from returning.
“We need a congressperson in office who’s going to fight as hard for our futures as we are, and while we left the office on Saturday, that is not the last time Congresswoman Dingell will hear from us, because this is not something we can take lightly,” Lindstrom said. “Our lives are at stake, and we’re not being heard. We will continue to show up until we know we are.”