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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 11 — Two environmental activists who refused to leave Sen. Gary Peters’ Lansing office will face criminal charges after a peaceful protest in support of the Green New Deal turned ugly early yesterday evening.
Organizers with the Lansing chapter of the Sunrise Movement — a youth-led activist group dedicated to combating climate change nationwide — said two of more than 20 demonstrators were arrested at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday after they were asked to leave Sen. Gary Peters’ office but had refused to comply.
“Most of everybody left but four of us stayed and demanded that Sen. Peters sign the Green New Deal,” said Jessica Diaz, one of the two demonstrators who were arrested. “Security asked us to leave but we told them we wouldn’t until he signed it. They called the police and we were arrested for trespassing after we refused to leave.”
About 20 demonstrators gathered at Peters’ office amid attempts to garner additional support for the Green New Deal — a non-binding resolution introduced in the legislature earlier this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, that aims to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and slash carbon emissions by 2050.
The demonstration follows a larger scale “climate strike” organized at the State Capitol earlier this week.
“I just know that from now on, they’ll know that we aren’t backing down,” Diaz added. “From what we understood, they wanted to meet with us to tell us that Sen. Peters’ cares about climate change and that should be enough. It isn’t. For us, this is our future. We can see this climate crisis and we need him to stand up for us.”
Peters, according to The Detroit News, has vocally supported aspects of the resolution but has so far declined to back the plan, instead saying he is focused on “specific pieces of legislation that actually move us down the road, as opposed to resolutions.” A statement issued from his office today didn't elaborate much beyond that stance.
"Sen. Peters believes that climate change is an urgent threat to Michigan's economy, our Great Lakes and our national security — and it's a challenge that must be addressed through commonsense solutions," according to a spokesperson for Peters. "Constituents are welcome to share their concerns and views with any of our offices."
Peters earlier this year voted “present” on a Green New Deal resolution put before lawmakers in what Peters had described to The Detroit News as a “political stunt” by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, He also told reporters that the resolution was “exciting” but ultimately “has to be something we lean into.”
“There’s no question we’re going to need to make a massive effort to deal with this issue, and there are many aspects of the Green New Deal I support, particularly when it comes to retrofitting buildings,” Peter added.
Organizers of yesterday’s demonstration gathered to share stories about how increasing flooding, unpredictable winters and pollution from fossil fuel refineries are already impacting their lives — and how the Green New Deal could transform the environmental future nationwide, including in cities like Lansing and Detroit.
“The Midwest had one of the worst floods ever this summer, impacting millions of farmers. Wildfires are getting worse. Hurricanes are getting stronger. We can no longer wait to act,” said Nicholas Jansen, the other arrested demonstrator. “Our future is unfolding before our eyes and politicians like Sen. Peters are asleep at the wheel.”
A spokesman for Peters said the Democratic senator still remains focused on policies to advance renewable energy, create jobs in Michigan and strengthen national security. For example, he held a field summit in East Lansing earlier this year to announce a new report on how climate change can impact Michigan's economy.
"He recently secured an additional $9 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to make sure we're protecting the Great Lakes for the next generation," according to a spokesperson. "He has also led efforts to improve oversight and pipeline operation in the Great Lakes and prevent a pipeline spill."
Organizers with the Sunrise Movement, however, said Peters' efforts are still falling short.
“It’s insane to keep doing what we’ve always done,” Diaz added. “We need a different approach. We need a Green New Deal and I’m not afraid to put my body on the line and be arrested.”
According to Data for Progress, about 57 percent of Michiganders support the Green New Deal and a recent Cook Poll shows that 66 percent of Michigan swing voters back it as well. Activists said its passage will help avoid an irreversible chain reaction of ecosystem collapse and natural disasters induced by climate change.
Diaz and Jansen were both released from custody on a $250 bond within an hour of their arrest. They’ll be expected to return to a courtroom to face criminal trespassing charges at some point in the future, Diaz said.