Protesters demand Green New Deal ahead of Detroit presidential debate

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hundreds of protesters demanding action on climate change and anti-poverty efforts descended Tuesday on downtown within earshot of the Democratic presidential debate at the Fox Theatre.

"We want to be the engine of the Green New Deal," said Michelle Martinez, coordinator for the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. "This is all of us. This is all of us in the streets: workers, black, brown, indigenous communities, here to demand a Green New Deal for Detroit."

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) leads a large group of people, of various affiliations and causes, to Grand Circus Park to demonstrate.

Protesters marched with chants of "Stop Stop Stop Poisoning Detroit" from Cass Park to Grand Circus Park.

The Green New Deal is more a list of economic stimulus ideas than a proposal. It attempts to deal as much with anti-poverty efforts and giving every American a job as reducing emissions linked to climate change.

Some analysts have contended the ideas could cost as much as $1 trillion, but the haziness of some ideas makes estimates difficult.

Martinez said one of the march's goals is to implore presidential candidates to invest in local communities to help working people. 

"The powerful oligarchs, the 1%, are profiting off of these people every single day," she said. "All of the profits are leaving Michigan and going to people far away."

The Young Turks, an organization of progressive Democrats, march up Woodward Avenue with signs and chanting Tuesday before the first Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.

The Frontline Detroit Coalition, composed of representatives from SEIU Local 1, the Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement and other groups, organized the march. The group is fighting for a Green New Deal that promotes good, clean energy, local union jobs, affordable and clean water, clean air, and a livable future for Detroit and all frontline communities, according to a press release.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry told protesters that corporations are simultaneously paying poverty wages to workers and destroying the planet. 

"We know that if we do nothing they will poison our air and drinking water," Henry said. "That's why we are so proud to stand with you in saying that the Green New Deal is essential to saving our planet."

Henry said the plan will help create a more environmentally responsible and just society.

"We know that you know that working moms and dads in Flint deserve to drink clean water once and for all in this state."

A Detroit police officer asks a supporter of President Trump to go across the street where the rest of the pro-Trump demonstrators have gathered on Woodward Avenue.

Nicole Hill, a mother and community organizer from Detroit, said she wants a Green New Deal to ensure that her children have a better life than she had.

"We need a Green New Deal, and I'm here to demand a Green New Deal," she said.

Hill said she wants the presidential candidates to support a Green New Deal that helps all communities, and not just downtown areas in major cities like Detroit.

"I want to hear that we have a seat at the table in the decision making for things concerning bringing green jobs," she said. "Not just low-paying green jobs, but high-paying jobs with a living wage."

The Green New Deal has become a rallying cry for progressive politicians since it was first introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, in late 2018. 

Some Democratic presidential candidates have supported the Green New Deal or similar climate proposals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.