Say YES! to Michigan!

An Imagined Future if We Pursue Alternative Energy

By: Joel Campbell

It’s a pleasant summer afternoon in Whitefish Point. You have spent the day on the stony, cold shores of Lake Superior. The water is crystal clear and the silence is only interrupted by the other visitors to the Shipwreck Museum. This point, so far removed from the factories of Detroit, once so intimately connected, is connected once again.

Ships full of iron ore, like the Edmund Fitzgerald which lays only a few miles off coast, used to traverse this area on their way south. You’ll be there soon enough. Maybe it’s an art gallery opening for a friend, a Democratic Socialists of America event, or a sports game. Taking the new Michigan maglev line, the trip that once was a five and a half hour odyssey has been reduced to an hour.

It did not start with this impressive, Detroit-built, high-speed rail line. It started with electric trolleys in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit, and a dozen other cities. Mayors, finally matching their political rhetoric with the realities of car emissions in Michigan, implemented the demands of a wide-ranging coalition.

Rather than pouring billions into fixing an auto-centric infrastructure, a robust, multimodal public transit system has eliminated the necessity of a personal automobile. In order to alleviate cars on the road, the state offered grant money to cities and residents that took the initiative to become car-less. Bike co-ops could apply for loans or grants to help offset the need for more workers and tools as the influx of riders increased.

It took the work of many activists, organizers, and workers to accomplish this. Although the politicians will claim it was them, it was regular people working together that did it. Activists with the Sunrise Movement, ecosocialists in the DSA, and others canvassed cities. They agitated in city, county, and state elections for politicians to increase funding for renewable energy, multimodal transit, and green roofs. Union workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and others joined with them, demanding that all jobs be unionized.

While many claimed that they cannot jumpstart the Green New Deal on a state level, let alone a federal one, activists and union workers knew better. Municipalities control a lot of money that is put into maintaining carbon-based infrastructure such as roads for cars. There are plenty of projects on city and county levels that are readymade for an environmentally sustainable future. So we coordinated to help grassroots groups in each city build local power.  It’s amazing what our creative might can produce when directed by the people.

Idle factories were seized and repurposed to produce 21st century infrastructure. GM’s Hamtramck facility, for example. Still represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), the plant’s workers set about building tracks, trams, and railcars out of recycled cars. The state purchased recycling facilities around Michigan, converting cars and other sources of scrap metal and plastic into the necessary raw materials.

Unions such as the IBEW, ATU, UAW have become some of the strongest supporters of this transition. These are good jobs, after all. IBEW, working alongside electric co-op workers and unionized city electrical workers, have electrified cities and rural stations for charging rail lines and the few electric vehicles around.

The residual benefits have been astounding. With the removal of excessive highways and parking lots, endangered and threatened species have begun to return. As cities had to retrofit their roads into protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks, they have begun to use a passive heating method to eliminate the need for salt in the water, allowing for healthy streams and land. Across the state, an improvement in air quality due to the reduction of cars, passive exercise, and accessibility to nature has reduced the number of heart disease and other health problems.

The federal government is still debating whether or not to implement the Green New Deal, but having lived under Michigan’s for the past few years, and seeing other states pursue their own, it will only be a matter of time. It happened with marijuana legalization and gay marriage before, it can happen with the Green New Deal now.