Defend Black Voters Coalition to utilities: Offer ‘accountability for outages’

By: - April 20, 2022 11:22 am

Ponsella Hardaway, executive director of MOSES Action and co-chair of Defend Black Voters Coalition in December 2021 | Dan Cox photo

The Defend Black Voters Coalition on Tuesday launched an effort against the “abuse of our democracy” by utilities DTE and Consumers Energy.

The group — which includes social action nonprofits Detroit Action, MOSES Action, Michigan People’s Campaign, Mothering Justice Action Fund, Emergent Justice, Color of Change and Community Change Action — announced its “Taking Back Our Power Campaign” during a virtual news conference. 

Ponsella Hardaway, executive director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength, commonly known as MOSES Action, and co-chair of the coalition called for state residents to “back our power – not just our electric power, but our political power.” 

“We want the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and our state lawmakers to know that business as usual is officially over,” said Hardaway. “We’re going to be engaging utility customers across the state to make sure our regulators and our elected officials start to work for us again and not DTE and Consumers Energy. We’re no longer going to allow these corporations to undermine our democracy.”

Spokespersons for DTE and Consumers did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

The coalition argued that Michiganders “suffer the highest rates in the Midwest and the worst power outages.” The effort is the latest in a series of public declarations from the coalition. In December, it held a rally in Detroit where it called on Michigan companies to cut off funding to legislators who support what it described as “voter suppression legislation.” 

Defend Black Voters Coalition April 19 news conference screenshot

On Tuesday, the coalition urged the MPSC not to approve additional rate increases until rates are “comparable to the rest of the Midwest.” An MPSC spokesperson has not responded to a request for comment.

Activists want DTE and Consumers Energy to take the coalition pledge to “stop spending our money on attacking our democracy, and start giving us the services we pay for.” 

The group also urged the Michigan Legislature to pass utility reform that “creates fair utility rates; makes corporate shareholders pay automatic, hourly compensation for residential customers affected by power outages of at least $5 per hour; and curtails the ability of the utilities to use our own money against us through political spending,” according to a news release.  

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), who participated in the news conference, has sponsored House Bill 6043 and House Bill 6045 that would require that utilities pay customers back when they lose power.

“The bills that I’ve put forward should not be controversial,” said Rabhi. “This legislation would give desperately needed relief to residents across the political spectrum. The utilities have run Lansing for too long and Michiganders have paid the price.”

Michigan People’s Campaign Executive Director Ken Whitaker agreed. 

“While these companies are happy to spew empty words that make them sound like they’re for the people, it’s far more important to them to put politicians in office that will put corporations over people and keep the rich rich,” said Whitaker. “And they don’t care what it takes — even if it means sacrificing the freedom to vote for our community. As working families, we’re fighting back.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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