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Detroit — Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed rallied for climate change in front of hundreds in the city Friday, leading them on the road to a "Green New Deal."

"We don't think this is bold or radical. This is our life every single day as we walk out the door," Tlaib said to a crowd at the Bonstelle Theatre in Detroit. "If there's anybody that deserves a seat at the table, it is us. We are on the frontlines every single day in Wayne County and Metro Detroit."

After Democrats freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and veteran Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts put forth a New Deal resolution in February, their supporters kicked off the Road to a Green New Deal Tour. 

The eight-city tour shows the impact of environmental pollution through video and testimonies with politicians and community leaders speaking on how it would aid their communities. The first town hall on Thursday in Boston showcased to a crowd of 1,400 people. 

About 400 people gathered Friday for the second stop with yellow signs calling for change during the Detroit tour stop, which focused on sustainable water infrastructure, building green jobs in the automotive industry and poverty elimination.

Tlaib kicked off the event, sharing her personal story about how polluted air and water affected her growing up in southwest Detroit.

"When I talk about the Green New Deal, our right to breathe clean air, clean water, I always say to people 'you want to see what doing nothing looks like, come to the neighborhood I grew up in,' " Tlaib said, "where I smelled like hydrosulphide from playing outside, a rotten egg smell."

The congresswoman said one of five children has asthma in her district. And "there's three times the high rate of asthma hospitalization among adults in one of my ZIP codes. When they say there's 12 years (to cut emissions in half), I say our 12 years is here today. When you think about Wayne County and Metro Detroit, it is here today," she said.

Multiple green organizations in the city were present to share their messages, including Breath Free Detroit, Green New Deal Coalition, Those Fighting Line 5, and Detroit's Democratic Socialists of America.

El-Sayed, a former gubernatorial candidate and former health director in Detroit, encouraged supporters to think of children who are suffering in the city.

"A child is missing school one day every two weeks because they simply can not breathe because the quality of air in the city," he said. "In 2016, Marathon Petroleum wanted to raise emissions ... until the people in this city forced them to pay $10 million to reduce emissions.

"This incinerator finally closing should have happened long ago. About 66% of the garbage they burned were from Oakland County who sent their garbage to Detroit that burned into our babies lungs."

The movement is geared to include those in Detroit who are affected most, said Dortheá Enriqúe, deputy director of organizing with Good Jobs Now, an advocacy organization focused on economic and social justice for low-income workers.

"It was when my grandmother was diagnosed with three rare forms of cancer and I didn't know the air around her was killing her," she said. "After researching, I learned 68% of African Americans live in high-polluted areas. ... I started to learn in Detroit, black lives did not matter, but I'm so happy that our time is coming. Detroit will be the engine of the new economy that includes political, economic and environmental justice."

The nonbinding resolution calls for a “10-year national mobilization” on the scale of the original New Deal to shift the economy away from fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and replace them with renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. It sets a goal to meet “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,” including nuclear power.

The proposal is backed by 91 members of the House, 13 senators, and the support of 13 of 18 declared 2020 presidential candidates. 

The tour aims to cement the Green New Deal at the top of the political agenda heading into the 2020 election. Detroit was selected for the second presidential primary debate for Democrats on July 30 and 31.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, fired back at the Democrats' claims on Friday, saying "from the mouths (and pens) of Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich in the past, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib today, we have repeatedly heard about an ever-present and impending apocalypse. But along with these warnings, we always hear the same prescription: reduce personal freedom, expand government regulation, and restrict access to energy and choice".

"We know that Malthus and Ehrlich got their science and their policy wrong. And today, groups like the Sunrise Movement, along with Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib are getting it wrong as well," he said. "Government fiat is not the impetus behind new, more efficient energy sources and technologies to restore damaged ecosystems. The single best way we have found to improve environmental health and human well-being is by harnessing the creative power of free-markets and unrestrained human ingenuity."

Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of Sunrise Movement leading the tour, said by uniting in the next five weeks, they're going to make the 2020 election a referendum on climate action.

"The energy tonight was electrifying," said Prakash from Boston. "You could feel the momentum behind this movement. I believe that no person in this country should have to live in fear of losing the people or the place they love from something that's preventable ... this is the greatest existential threat we face."

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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