Michigan Poor People’s Campaign activists receive trial date following protest arrests
Activists with the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign have been granted a consolidated jury trial of charges that followed a June demonstration that ended with the arrest of 14 protesters. A Lansing judge granted the request on Jan. 15.
The June 4 protest, which took place at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, was part of a national campaign titled “40 Days of Action” and carried out by state chapters of the Poor People’s Campaign across the U.S. At the Lansing protest, roughly 600 activists took part in actions to bring attention to the plight of fellow Michiganders who either lack clean water or have been denied water because of their inability to pay for it.
The 14 activists who appeared in court on Tuesday were among approximately 30 who were originally arrested for either blocking the doors to the MDEQ building or blocking workers from exiting the building’s parking lot. The others, who for various reasons were unable to face the time and potential consequences of going to trial, have opted to participate in a diversion program.
Judge Louise Alderson set a court date of March 5 for the activists. They are charged with disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor), and face possible consequences that include 90 days in jail if convicted. But while the stakes are potentially high, the activists who were arrested at the demonstration in the state capital agree with their fellow activists who are dealing with similar charges in Detroit that going to court is “morally and politically the right thing to do.”
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, one of the co-founders of the national Poor People’s Campaign, was in court on Tuesday to see if her case would be joined with the other activists’ in a single trial. Theoharis said that she chose to be arrested—not just on June 4 in Michigan, but several times nationwide—because “nonviolent civil disobedience is what these times call for,” citing issues ranging from lead contamination and ongoing poverty to 15 million people in the U.S. being unable to afford water at all. As Daily Kos reported in September, as many as a quarter-million Detroit households alone were subjected to water shutoffs from 2014 to 2017 because of their inability to pay high bills.