Commentary

Monique Stanton: Carrying on the tradition of working for systemic change in Michigan

May 10, 2022 3:17 am

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas graphic

This week, the Michigan League for Public Policy gathered with our colleagues, friends, partners and policymakers to celebrate our organization’s 110th anniversary, recognize where we have been and look ahead to where we are going.

The volunteers who founded the League in 1912 saw a need for systemic change. They saw around them governments rife with corruption, prisons and asylums that were little more than holding pens, factories with deplorable conditions, and a society with extreme income inequality.

We’ve come a long way. Because of the League and its champions, we saw a brighter chapter than before. We saw the end of child labor in Michigan and the beginning of better working conditions and fair wages. We saw improvements to the archaic institutions that housed neglected children, people with mental illness, and people who had committed crimes. And we saw the development of a statewide system to help Michiganders who were struggling. True progress was made by those dedicated reformers.

But not all Michiganders were included in that progress. Throughout the 20th century and today, Black and brown people, indigenous people, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and women have been intentionally written out of those chapters of prosperity and of justice. Their stories, their voices, and their struggles have been pushed to the margins of the page while those who benefitted from a culture of whiteness drove the narrative.

So while the League can take pride in the progress we’ve made as an organization and as a state, we must also make sure that Michigan’s next chapter looks different. We’re working very intentionally as an organization toward making sure all Michiganders have a part in writing our next chapter.

Today, we can stay rooted to the values of those first volunteers back in 1912 while recognizing the failures of our system. Because while so much has changed, there is much to be taken down and rebuilt. 

And all Michiganders should be rooted in those values, too. You care about the people of Michigan. You love your state. And you understand that too many of our fellow residents are still struggling. Right now, there are more than 86,000 Michiganders who fear eviction from their homes. There are 1.5 million households that cannot afford basic needs. 8,000 people who have been paroled recently who are struggling to find work and community. And the income inequality we see today is even more extreme than during the Gilded Age, shortly before our organization was founded.

The solutions to these problems lie in public policy, and the League continues to work to use data and community voice to advocate for those solutions. And we appreciate the efforts of countless partners and people working to strengthen our state every day, whether through lawmaking, journalism, philanthropy, medicine, teaching and grassroots advocacy.

As part of the League’s anniversary celebration, we also honored retired President and CEO Gilda Jacobs for all that she has done for Michigan and the League. As Gilda and I got to know one another during the time before she retired, it became clear to me that Gilda consistently listens to everyone, community members who are fighting to make ends meet, lawmakers who both agree and disagree with her views, statewide leaders, and foundations. 

She is always willing to give one of our most precious resources: time. Time to listen, guide, and provide input on how to make our state and world a better place. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with Gilda and I look forward to building upon her legacy and the legacy of so many other League leaders before us who have helped make Michigan a better and more equitable place. I will continue to heed Gilda’s sound advice and hope other advocates and policymakers will, as well.

At the League’s 50th anniversary in 1962, social justice activist Robert MacRae said. “The League must be the voice of the voiceless in Michigan. It is called to this task by its charter and, I hope, by its conscience as well. It must not falter. Neither must it fail in the task to which it has set its hand.”

Because of Gilda and those who came before her, the League has not only stayed committed to its charter and conscience, it has moved beyond “being a voice for the voiceless” and toward giving the microphone to those who have been silenced. 

As the League shapes Michigan’s next chapter, we will work to ensure every voice is heard and every resident has their say. Our great state belongs to everyone, and so should the ability to shape it.

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Monique Stanton
Monique Stanton

Monique Stanton is the President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. Stanton comes to the League after working for CARE of Southeastern Michigan from 2008-2020, including eight years at its helm.

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