Michigan Summit draws 700, ready for change

LANSING, Mich. — They came from the American Federation of Teachers, the Michigan Educational Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, ACORN, Working America, Triangle Foundation, NOW, the Sierra Club, Health Care for Michigan and many other organizations and unions. Under the slogan “Rebuilding Michigan, Changing Lives,” over 700 gave up their Saturday to forge a common policy in this election year on three issues affecting all Michigan residents: health care, education and the environment.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) jumpstarted the May 10 event, the second Michigan Policy Summit, saying, “The issues you are working on today will make a difference in the fall.” From the Iraq war to taxes, there are “massive differences” between the two main political parties on the issues we care about, he said.

Levin cited the enormous waste and money lost from President Bush’s polices. Over $100 billion a year in corporate tax revenue lost because of offshore tax loopholes and the $600 billion spent on the war are monies taken from education and health care. (As whopping a figure as $600 billion is, the real cost is much greater, according to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz. He says $3 trillion would be a conservative figure!).

Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of the radio show “Democracy Now,” said in her keynote, “This year is a “turning point — it is absolutely critical you be involved.”

Goodman stressed that, in a corporate-controlled media industry, independent media plays an indispensable role. “It allows people to speak for themselves,” she said. When you hear an Iraqi oil worker, a Palestinian grandmother, or an out-of-work automobile worker here in Michigan describe their own experiences you realize it sounds like my mother or my child, Goodman said. “We need a media that builds bridges between communities, not advocates the bombing of bridges.”

Alluding to the importance of the November elections, Goodman said a woman from Guyana told her that everyone in the world should have the right to vote for president of the United States because “what happens in the United States has a ripple effect all over the world.”

That ripple effect has been magnified many times over by the current administration, which she called an “oily-garchy,” with Bush, Cheney, Rice and others all tied to various oil companies.

Workshops dealt with building support for the Healthcare for Michigan ballot initiative (to add an amendment to the state’s constitution guaranteeing health care for all), growing the movement for clean energy and clean water, fully funding K-12 education and other issues of top concern in Michigan.

The state’s high school dropout crisis — some estimates say 20,000 students drop out every year — could be resolved if voters held their elected officials accountable, participants said. “If we had the money, we’d have the graduation rates,” said one workshop leader. Noting that there are many areas of the state budget that need funding, he said, “We don’t want a bigger slice of the pie, we need a bigger pie.”

National radio commentator Jim Hightower, the event’s luncheon speaker, told the crowd that, contrary to Republican propaganda, people are ready for change and they believe government has a positive role to play in our lives. He said two-thirds of the population believe government should provide health care, 87 percent want government to negotiate lower drug prices, 89 percent believe there is too much power in corporate hands, 83 percent believe environmental regulations need to be strengthened and 68 percent think labor unions are necessary.

jrummel @ pww.org