WILX: Lawmakers to Michigan utilities: ‘Keep the power on or pay up’

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – Two state legislators and a policy advocacy group say it’s time to keep the lights on, or else.

State Reps. Abraham Aiyash and Yousef Rabhi, both Democrats, introduced legislation Wednesday that would tighten regulations on electrical utilities by penalizing them for power outages. House Bills 6043-6047 would require utilities to compensate customers for the costs of outages and would require regulators to hold evidentiary hearings on electrical distribution plans.

Although Aiyash and Rabhi introduced the legislation, it has sponsors from members of both parties.

“Right now, everyone pays the price of power outages except the utilities,” Rabhi said. “Individual Michiganders lose the food in their fridge and the power they need to run their medical devices. Businesses lose stock and operating hours.”

“We can’t let power companies hold all the power,” Aiyash said. “We pay the highest residential electricity rates in the nation for reliability that is nearly the worst. These bills will help the people of Michigan hold these monopolies responsible for delivering the service we pay for.”

However, energy companies say it’s already in their interest to keep the lights on.

Katie Carey is a Consumers Energy representative.

“Consumers Energy views this legislation as unnecessary,” Carey said. “We already file distribution and investment plans with the MPSC and work hard to ensure reliability. Our plan calls for $5.4 billion over the next five years to reduce power outages with investments such as trimming trees, replacing poles and upgrading equipment to a higher, more resilient standard.”

The bills are House Bills 6043-6047.

  • House Bill 6043 would require electrical utilities to automatically credit the bills of residential consumers for outages at a rate that increases for longer outages. It also has details on how a utility company would compensate people who do not pay for power directly, but otherwise may have lost income or property due to power loss.
  • House Bill 6044 would prohibit electrical utilities from passing the cost of outage compensation on to customers in the form of higher rates.
  • House Bill 6045 would require electrical utilities to automatically provide additional compensation to electrical customers who experience multiple outages.
  • House Bill 6046 would require electrical utilities to disclose information about the number and duration of outages on customers’ bills.
  • House Bill 6047 would require electrical utilities to file their distribution investment and maintenance plans as a contested case with the MPSC, so that this crucial reliability planning process will be accountable to the public.

View the original article here.

Megan Matyjasik

FIELD ORGANIZING SUPERVISOR – UPPER PENINSULA/NORTHERN MICHIGAN

Megan is the 2022 Field Organizer Supervisor for northern Michigan and the UP. She is based in Sault Ste. Marie. She is a career-changing librarian who has been working with multiple advocacy organizations in Michigan for the past two years, including We the People Michigan, for their 2020 Deep Canvass Pilot. She has a BA in French from the Ohio State University, and a Master’s in Information Science from the University of Michigan. She worked in libraries for 30 years as a “social justice, tech-savvy librarian,” writing many grants for pilot projects to better serve marginalized people in her community. In 2017-18, she dipped her toe into a career shift as an Americorps VISTA volunteer in southwest Colorado. In her free time, she likes hanging out and hiking with her spouse and three dogs, swimming, biking, playing word games/puzzles, watching murder mysteries, and listening to podcasts.

Harnoor Singh

Data Associate

Harnoor Singh (ਹਰਨੂਰ ਸਿੰਘ) is the Data Associate for We the People-Michigan. He is the son of Punjabi immigrants and a member of the Sikh community. He uses the teachings and values of Sikhi to motivate his work and passion to create a world without prisons and borders where all people have the right and access to a happy and healthy life. He earned a B.S. in Sociology and Statistics at the University of Michigan where he did small-group facilitation work on gender and how it is socialized and policed. He organizes camps and workshops in the Sikh community that he grew up with and works with young men to talk about healthy masculinities and how to achieve them.

MARIA IBARRA-FRAYRE

Deputy Director

Maria is the Deputy Director for We the People Michigan. She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old, and grew up Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. Maria has been fighting for immigrant justice for over a decade, including organizing with undocumented immigrant youth, deportation defense, and building mutual aid systems that center the leadership of women of color. Maria graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in English, and has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Michigan. In her free time Maria likes drinking expensive tea, playing with her puppy, Coriolis, and trying to publish her poetry.

Rhonda Powell

Operations Director

Rhonda Powell is the Statewide Operations Director for We The People-MI, which is focused on community organizing and seeks to build a multi-racial, working class constituency across the state rooted in economic, racial and social justice. She is also the founder and Vice-Chair of Metro Equity Collaborative, a nonprofit organization in Macomb County working to build advocacy and power in civics, economics, education and social justice.

In Rhonda’s previous role, she served as Director of the Macomb County Health and Community Services Department. She is the first African American appointed as a Director in Macomb County.

Rhonda has an extensive history of leadership experience which also includes; Director of Macomb Community Action Agency, Deputy Director of Michigan’s Aging and Adult Services Agency, Director of Macomb County Senior Services and Director of MCREST. Rhonda has received multiple awards for her strategic leadership and vision, including the 2019 Athena Award from the Macomb Chamber Foundation.

Rhonda has been committed to the work of advocacy, equity, inclusion, and organizational development for over 20 years. She is a certified Sixth Sigma Green Belt, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Siena Heights University, and a Master of Science degree from Capella University, both of which are concentrated in Human Service.

Michelle Davidson

Operations Manager

Michelle is the operations coordinator with We The People-MI. She provides support for the organization with a strategic focus on equity, the quality of life, and diversity and inclusion. Michelle’s passion involves working with community leaders to organize, host and collaborate on community events that empower individuals.

Michelle earned her Bachelors of Social Work from Oakland University and received her Masters of Social Work from Wayne State University.

Terry Blastenbrei

HR Coordinator

Terry Blastenbrei serves as WTPMI’s HR Coordinator. A St. Louis native and longtime nomad, he made Michigan his permanent home in 2018, settling in St. Clair Shores. After many years in operations and human resource management, Terry moved into nonprofit and political work in 2016. It was in this sphere that he found he was able to truly bring humanity to human resources, building and sustaining organizations with a genuine respect of their employees. In his downtime, he loves collecting colored vinyl records, traveling, watching hockey and spending time with his wife and their two cats.

Eli Day

Communications Director

Eli is a Detroiter. He’s most grateful for his city’s people, and their fierce determination to survive and build a more beautiful world — both across the many corners of the city they love and beyond them. He spent years bouncing between work as an organizer, congressional policy aide, and communications adviser. Most recently, he’s been working as a journalist, spotlighting working-class movements for racial and economic justice at spots like In These Times magazine, Mother Jones, Playboy, Vox, the Root, and more.

Hoai An Pham

Digital Organizer

Hoai An Pham is an organizer based in Ann Arbor, MI, where she was born and raised as a first generation Vietnamese American. As a disabled abolitionist, she has worked in movements around immigration, labor, climate, prisons, and racial justice, with the goal of building long-term, welcoming community. She is currently the Digital Organizer for We the People-MI and also the manager of her twenty-six Sims.

Catalina Rios Hernandez

Cultural Strategist

Catalina was born in Mexico but considers Detroit, Michigan her home. A concept that she is slowly reclaiming. She has been organizing around different social justice issues, especially immigration for more than a decade. The root of how she approaches her movement work is making social justice accessible and believes in the power of art and culture to create that bridge. Her art practice is poetry but also enjoys painting and caring for plants. She loves visiting the Detroit river and taking walks in Belle Isle, especially during sunset.

Tanisha Pyron

Social Media Strategist

Tanisha Lynn Pyron (Pretty Fire) is a classically trained actress, professional theatrical director and a co-founding member of Face Off Theatre Company. Most recently she directed Absentia at Ohio University and is excited to make her return to the stage. She is a virtuosic artist, creative photographer, spoken word poet, teacher, influencer, storyteller, and media entrepreneur currently working on publishing her first book of original poetry. BLACK POOL OF GENIUS Volume I and launching Tanisha Lynn Pyron Creative Services,LLC as a media brand. The subversive black girl artist considers herself to be a modern day griot focusing on telling stories that redefine and re-appropriate “BLACK AMERICANA” highlighting and finding the beauty in the contradictions, pain and pride within “our stories” and thus hoping to discover and re-claim the beauty within her own. She has used acting, poetry, dance, and photography as modalities for making sure her creative vision and voice are seen, heard and felt. In her own words Tanisha expresses, “To me the art and the artist are one. As I seek to unlock and express what is contained in my own heart and to heal and celebrate my own beauty and spirit.”

Yvonne Navarrete

Policy Director

Yvonne Navarrete is the Policy Director for We the People Michigan. She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and immigrated to Detroit, Michigan at the age of two. Her experiences growing up undocumented in Detroit have driven her to fight to hold governments accountable & invest in the power of her community. She earned a B.A. in Public Policy from the University of Michigan where she organized for Latinx and undocumented student issues. She then went on to earn her M.A. in Urban Education Policy from Brown University. She now lives and organizes in Detroit at the intersection of immigration and education justice as a core team member of MIStudentsDream.

Alex Hill

Research Director

Alex is the Research Director for We The People. In his work, he highlights the intersections of power, privilege, and race in regards to health equity, access to basic needs, and the social implications of medicine. Previously, Alex has worked in statewide health policy organizing at MICHUHCAN, academic health disparities research at Wayne State University, and public health data and policy at the Detroit Health Department. He teaches in urban studies, public health, geography and data visualization. Alex has a map for everything and is passionate about research justice, data literacy, and counter-mapping.

Amina Khalique

Policy & Research Analyst

Amina is a Policy & Research Analyst for We the People Michigan. She was born and raised in Detroit, and earned her B.A. at Wayne State University in political science with a concentration in public policy. Her experiences as a Bangladeshi Muslim woman have shaped her commitment to fighting for social justice and liberation in her community through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy. Amina wants to create a sustainable, safe, and equitable world for low-income and marginalized communities – by centering the voices of our most vulnerable communities, one policy at a time. In her free time, Amina loves baking, traveling, and recharging near bodies of water.

Vidhya Aravind

Learning Director

Vidhya is the Learning Director for We The People and is based in Detroit. She originally moved to Washtenaw County to earn her Master’s of Information from the University of Michigan, and now plans to call the area home forever. After coming out as trans while a student, she participated in immigrant, labor, trans, and police accountability activism, and was particularly instrumental in major wins by the Graduate Employees’ Organization 3550. She hopes to honor the trans women of color that came before her by organizing material aid and community structures for local trans folks in need. In her spare time, she facilitates workshops for queers, plays games of all kinds, intentionally finds ways to spend time with her trans family, and is slowly transforming into an outdoors lesbian.

Sargeant Donovan-Smith

Data Director

Sargeant is the Data Manager with We The People – MI. Before coming to Michigan, Sargeant was a high school math teacher and an institutional researcher at the City University of New York. She draws on her past as a teacher and educational researcher to design accessible data systems that will help community organizers build organizing power across Michigan. Since moving to Michigan in 2016, Sargeant has done racial justice and PIC abolition organizing in Ann Arbor, MI.

Sargeant earned her Bachelors from Williams College and her Master of Arts in Teaching from Teachers College; she also has two unfinished Masters degrees in African History (from The Graduate Center CUNY and the University of Michigan), which she hopes to complete someday.

Megan Hess

Rural Organizing Director

Megan is the Rural Organizing Director with We The People based in Sault Ste. Marie, as well as a volunteer community organizer nested in rural America, and a former journalist. With an educational background in literature, she’s deeply interested in personal stories and storytelling, and how narrative can empower and disempower. Megan is also a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, a mother, and a water protector and pulls a chair to the table for Native rights, intersectional feminism and environmental justice. Megan balances her work life with chocolate, yoga, and time on Lake Superior.

Aarica Marsh

Administrative Coordinator

Aarica Marsh is the Administrative Coordinator for We the People Michigan. Aarica has worked with local, state-wide, and national campaigns and organizations on a wide variety of strategies, including field, fundraising, operations, and communications. Aarica is a first-generation university graduate who worked for more than a decade in the food service industry which cultivated her love of food and also her drive to create a more equitable world for working class people. Aarica enjoys spending time with her 12 nieces and nephews, gardening, going to local shows, and meeting people. She currently lives in Hamtramck, MI with her partner and their three cats.
 

Diego Navarrete

MIGRANT LEADER SCHOOL COORDINATOR

Diego is an undocumented organizer and proud Southwest Detroiter. He was born in Mexico and migrated with his family at a young age to Detroit, Michigan. As an undocumented immigrant and DACA recipient, Diego has been an advocate for immigrant rights and social justice. He has been an active organizer since the age of 14, empowering other youth in Detroit to engage in local politics and advocate for issues affecting their communities around education, immigration, and economic justice. Diego is a recent graduate from Harvard College, where he studied Government and organized with undocumented members of the Boston community. He is passionate about empowering undocumented folks and building avenues of political participation for immigrant communities.

Robert Hazen

Field Organizer – UP

Robert Hazen is an Anishinaabe person from the Upper Peninsula and a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. He is currently an undergraduate student at Michigan Technological University where he is pursuing a double Bachelor’s in Social Sciences and Mathematical Sciences. In his current capacity as a student and organizer, he is an activist for better representation for Indigenous students and faculty in higher education, an activist for Indigenous sovereignty over treaty rights, land use, and energy, and a student researcher with the Geospatial Research Facility at Michigan Technological University working on preserving Indigenous cultures, histories, and knowledges.

Celina Madden

Digital Strategist

Celina is a digital creative and strategist based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Born in China and raised in the Chicagoland area, Celina‘s cultural and life experiences have deeply informed her creative process as a queer international adoptee. She has worked in and with movements centered around reproductive justice, survivor and victim advocacy, and immigrants’ rights. When she’s not on the internet, you can find Celina cooking for her chosen family or immersed in a pile of books. 

Marita Ky

Policy and Research Analyst

Marita is a Policy and Research Analyst for We the People. She was born in Cambodia and moved to West Michigan at 11-year-old. Marita earned her B.A at the University of Michigan, dedicating her studies on the Socioeconomic Contexts of Healthcare and Health Policy. She believes that our collective existence and liberation are bound together. Working with We the People allows her to materialize her passion for justice and study in policy to cultivate realities of justice and peace for our collective existence. Outside of work, Marita loves biking, spending time on Lake Michigan, and going to live music events with friends.

Maya Milton

Field Organizer – Detroit

Maya is a lifelong Detroiter and womanist. The foundation for her desire for action was seeing the examples of black womanhood and her family’s engagement with politics. This influence manifested her destiny of participating in fighting for equity and accountability, which she has been able to do by creating politically motivated theatre and, more recently, with direct action.

 

Maya will graduate from Wayne State University with a BA in Sociology in Spring 2023 and plans to pursue movement work after. Her adoration of Detroit’s singular signature and the subcultures that come with it is what inspires her to uplift the voices of Detroiters. She feels divinely blessed to be one of many Gen-Z people building a world they feel proud to leave behind.

 

Maya believes in experiencing joy whenever doable. Anytime she gets a chance, she’ll take an incredibly long walk, read tarot, immerse herself in theatre, or eat as much vegan soft serve as possible.

Kamau Jawara

Detroit Organizer

Kamau is a politocultural organizer from Detroit’s east side with passions for community and storytelling. Kamau uses political education & cultural strategy to support concentrations of Energy Justice, Leadership Development, & Co-Governance. In order to build SEMIsaic, our unified dream of organized residents of Southeast Michigan, we must be persistently curious and care for each other. That is to say, movement must start with developing the power & solidarity of black Detroiters.

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson

Tech Coordinator

In her work Kate has a large interest in tech accessibility and helping the team with all their needs. Kate has a broad range of skills from a history in private software development. She is proud to work at WTPMI and to apply her personal values and professional skills to support the organization. Kate is located in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, and in her free time enjoys gardening and sewing projects.

Layla Elabed

SE Michigan Lead Organizer

Layla is a lead regional organizer with We The People in Southeast Michigan. She is a proud daughter of Palestinian immigrants, number twelve of her fourteen brothers and sisters, and mother of three fierce future social justice warriors. Layla has been a long-time advocate for intimate partner violence and sexual assault prevention, environmental justice issues, voter rights, and movements that amplify justice, and the voices of black and brown communities. She continues to engage the collective power of her ancestral roots and her learning to shift and empower marginalized communities for equitable and sustainable change. To counter burn out, Layla makes time to spend with family and friends, and eating good food.

Betsy Coffia

Rural Lead Organizer

Betsy is a rural lead organizer with We The People and is based in Traverse City. She is a political strategist, social worker and former newspaper editor. She currently serves as a 2-term county commissioner in Grand Traverse County. Betsy is proud to honor her working class rural roots, and credits her mother for instilling a strong work ethic. She is passionate about centering the voices, experience, leadership and dignity of marginalized communities. Betsy nurtures her introvert side by spending time alone with trees and water, or enjoying life with her rescue pup Pax.

Elnora Gavin

SW Michigan Organizer

Elnora is a poet, author, playwright, publisher, activist and consultant. She was born and raised in Benton Harbor, MI and graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1994. After graduating from Howard University with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Legal Communications with a minor in Business Management, Elnora continued working as a contracts assistant for a management services consulting firm in the Metro DC area as a logistics coordinator for the Department of Health and Human Services. Her volunteer service with the Howard Chapter of the Big Brother Big Sister Program ignited her calling to return home and work as an educator in both traditional and alternative environments. As a convening partner for the Race2Equity Benton Harbor Hub and Co-Founder of the Peace4Life Student Organization, Elnora facilitated healing workshops, community events and strategy sessions to address key areas of local concern with regard to destabilization efforts of public schools in both the City of Benton Harbor and across the State of Michigan. In collaboration with residents, racial equity leaders, and supporting organizations, Elnora worked to establish alliances that empowered public school advocates and students to successfully change the political narrative that was driving school closures.

Tinu Roland

Detroit Organizer

Tinu is a regional organizer with We The People in Detroit. She is the mother of three girls — a third grader, preschooler, and infant. She is the President of HOPE Village Families Community Association, a community organization on the west side of Detroit that she helped found, and recently received the Michigan Community Resources Power of One dedicated women award for her work with HOPE Village Families. She also serves as an education organizer with Good Jobs Now and a fellow with Mothering Justice. Star believes that, in this work, you have to be the change you want to see in order to truly be effective. 

Nelly Fuentes

Statewide Immigration Strategist

Nelly is a regional organizer with We The People in Southwest Michigan. She is a native woman of Mesoamerica who migrated to the Michigan region at the beginning of the century, landing in Kalamazoo in 2006.  She believes in the human right to free migration within Turtle Island and is passionate about migrant liberation efforts. Anti-colonial practices and healing are at the center of her organizing vision. As part of her healing practices, she invokes the guidance and wisdom of her ancestors through the art of tortilla making.

Johanna Bogater

Northern Michigan Organizer

Johanna Bogater is a Southwest Michigan native that moved to the Upper Peninsula for it’s remote quality and natural beauty. The political climate of recent years motivated her to get active. As a part of the group she co-founded, Alger County Action – whose goal is to get locals into office – she became a City Commissioner. Since its creation the group has gotten representation in many spaces across the county as well as participated in voter advocacy work and actions around issues campaigns related to economic, racial, environmental and social justice. She will serve as a Northern Michigan Organizer with We The People.

Biidaaban Reinhardt

UP Environmental Justice Coordinator

Biidaaban M. Reinhardt is an Anishinaabe Ojibwe woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She completed her Bachelors degree in Physics and Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University and recently graduated with her Masters degree in Sustainable Construction at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in August 2020. Her thesis research focused on traditional ecological knowledge and experimental design in contemporary building materials in the Great Lakes Region. 

Biidaaban was a Climate Justice Rural Media Fellow for MEJC Action! in which she completed a media project highlighting environmental justice concerns for Michigan tribes. Lastly, Biidaaban is a graphic designer with Williamson Creative Agency and has led the creative concepts and graphic design for various organizations, events, and conferences such as the Native American Critical Issues Conference for five years with the Michigan Indian Education Council.

Caitlin Homrich-Knieling

Deep Canvassing Coordinator / Field Program Director

Caitlin is the Deep Canvass Coordinator with We The People based in Detroit. Organizing found her while she was doing her MA in Anthropology at UMass Amherst in 2014-2016. She is originally from the rural, working class “Thumb” of Michigan, and she roots her motivation to fight for multiracial liberation in the lives of her loved ones there. Her vocation is using the practices of curiosity, storytelling, honesty, and love to build bridges with people of different life experiences and perspectives, and training others to do the same. She is a new mama and devotes her spare time to Catholic prayer practices, giving astrology readings, renovating her home in Detroit, and visiting her family.

Art Reyes III

Executive Director

Art is the founding Executive Director of We The People. He was born and raised in Flint, MI and hails from three generations of proud UAW members. Before WTP, Art was the training director at the Center for Popular Democracy, where he led national training programs for organizers, lead staff, and executive directors. He spent much of 2016 working in Flint responding the water crisis and helped launch Flint Rising. Previously he led Michigan Voice, a statewide civic engagement organization. He has a BA from Michigan and MPP from Harvard where he taught a community organizing class with Marshall Ganz. He’s filled with random facts about the state of Michigan and lives with his wife Ashley, baby Emilio, and gigantic puppy named Kona the Coney Dog.