About 130 students from colleges across Michigan, including the University, congregated at the Lansing City Market Thursday morning for a march on the state capitol building.
The march was organized by the Michigan Student Power Network, an association of young people that seeks to promote social justice and equality in the state of Michigan. The organization is loosely set around a series of short-term and long-term goals and initiatives for Michigan’s future.
Organizers said they decided to call a statewide march to dictate a list of demands to the state legislature. The list addressed an array of policy areas including education, the environment, right to work policies and police violence, among others.
Though the group’s original plan was to present the plan to State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit) and State Rep. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor), who had expressed interest in their proposals, the march missed the time when the representatives were available. The group instead marched around the state capitol and several students spoke from the capitol steps, during which Chang came out briefly to hear their demands and listen to one speaker.
One Michigan State University student, Duncan Tarr, was arrested after the march for interfering with police officers. The officers had been investigating a woman for child endangerment by bringing her child to the march.
However, University alum Ian Matchett, statewide organizer at MSPN, said he considered the event a success overall.
“The march today was all about connecting students from across the state towards a vision of Michigan’s future that can support students, support our communities and support people besides elites,” Matchett said.
LSA sophomore Noor Ahmad, along with three other students from University student organization the Student Union of Michigan, attended the event to march with the MSPN. In an interview Friday, she said she came because she believed it was important for representatives to hear the demands of students from around the state on a multitude of policy issues.
“There were such a wide range of demands, including a lot of issues that affect young people, adults and communities and people everywhere,” Ahmad said. “We wanted to go and show support and the larger the number of supporters, the more chances for our voices to be heard.”
Concerning education, the group demanded that undocumented immigrants in Michigan receive access to in-state tuition, along with state driver’s licenses. At the University, undocumented students who meet certain residency requirements are eligible to receive in-state tuition, though that policy is not in place statewide. They also asked the state to return public education funding to where it was before Gov. Rick Snyder (R) took office, adjusted for inflation.
During his first year in office, Gov. Snyder (R) cut education by 15 percent. He has since raised it incrementally each year, though funding has not quite reached the same level as it did before he took office.
The group also touched on several controversial state laws, requesting that the legislature repeal the right-to-work law, passed in 2012. This law prohibits employers from requiring employees pay union dues as a condition for employment.
Additionally, they asked for the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in all anti-discrimination laws. Neither is currently protected from discrimination in the state, though a coalition of legislators attempted to push through changes to the state’s anti-discrimination policies during the last session.
To address that demand, the group is combating in particular a bill, which is currently the state legislature, which would allow for adoption agencies to disallow transgender and same sex couples to adopt.
“We disagree with excluding an identity that is with another consenting adult, that should be all that matters,” Matchett said. “The fact that they can provide a life for a child should be all that matters. The fact that somehow who you have sex with affects your ability to rear and love a child and that’s ridiculous.”
In addition to these 10 demands, the Michigan Student Power Network announced a series of further-reaching demands to serve as long-term goals for the state of Michigan.
Those goals included free and equitably funded education programs from childcare to Ph.D. programs, guaranteed standard of living for all Michigan residents, the end or reform to all state programs that perpetuate institutionalized and interpersonal oppression, a fully renewable energy based economy by 2040 and reallocation of resources toward public transportation and infrastructure.
Ahmad said students often don’t get as involved in policy issues, even if they have an impact on them, making the MSPN’s march and list of demands important.
“A lot of times, representatives don’t believe that our student demands matter and they don’t see a strong political voice from students,” Ahmad said. “We wanted to show that there are a lot of students and lots of people across the state trying to get certain initiatives passed for our future.”
Alongside students, several statewide advocacy organizations attended the event to show their support. Sam Inglot, communications specialist at Progress Michigan, said he thought the march was an effective push to illustrate the MSPN’s demands, and added that he hoped the legislature would take note.
“This is a group of students that were pushing for policies that would create a more just and equitable society and that’s something that we’re more than happy to throw our support behind,” Inglot said.
Overall, Matchett said the group is hoping to continue spreading awareness about their movement and initiatives.
“We are going to continue to work with state legislators and talk about building power on campus,” he said. “We’re going to do some trainings and dig in with our leaders on campus and get us all working higher level strategies together and strengthening and broadening and deepening that movement.”