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Demonstrators carry signs and messages on Saturday, October 3 in Detroit. (Photo: Sierra Club/Twitter)

Between 'Schools and Smokestacks,' Detroit Rises Up for Climate Justice

Detroit March for Justice calls for action from state and federal environmental agencies

Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Activists in Detroit on Saturday came together to demand justice and equality for vulnerable communities as they called for climate action from lawmakers and Michigan's largest energy and environmental agencies.

Demonstrators rallied under the banner "Detroit For Justice," marching from Roosevelt Park to Hart Plaza to call for a liveable wage, affordable water, clean air, and racial justice.

"Michigan failed its people," said Sierra Club president Aaron Mair in a speech on Saturday. He criticized the construction of coal-fired power plants in Wayne County, which he said put 92 schools in the region at risk.

"You can't breathe because of the carbon, you can't breathe because of the coal," Mair said. "Schools and smokestacks don't mix." He called on President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene in the state's climate equality fight.

In the crowd, several school children held signs that read, "Most Polluted Zip Code: 48217." Others held up banners declaring, "Environmental Justice = Social Justice."

Regina Strong, director of the Sierra Club's Michigan Beyond Coal campaign, said on Friday, "Detroiters once lived in the epicenter of economic opportunity and prosperity, but now, because of pollution from coal fired power plants, Detroiters live in what the Michigan Department of Community Health calls the 'Epicenter of Asthma Burden.'" On Saturday, she said, they will speak out "against not only environmental injustice but injustice in all it’s forms that has affected too many for too long."

Other speakers called attention to the city's ongoing battle over water rights. Officials have been turning off the taps of low-income residents who have fallen behind on their bills in an attempt to close the city's budget shortfalls—but activists say the shut-offs came without adequate notice and with no assistance for those who can't pay, while bigger establishments that owe more money were let off the hook.

JoAnn Watson, a former Detroit city council member, told the crowd, "No man should have the right to turn off anyone's water. Water is a human right."

Demonstrators also called for officials to invest in empowered communities and demanded justice for black men and women killed by police.

On Twitter, the actions were updated with the hashtag #Detroit4Justice.

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