Ypsilanti Immigration Interview: Amy Probst

    A week or so ago, I got a tip that a young woman by the name of Amy Probst had “quietly” purchased a home in Ypsilanti in hopes of avoiding her mandatory immigration interview. Well, it took a little detective work on my part, but I was finally able to track her down, fire up the bright lights, and ask her why, of all places, she and her tiny dogs decided to live here among us.


    MARK: Do I understand correctly that you purchased a home in Ypsi last summer?

    AMY: You do. I wasn’t planning to buy a home just yet, but I saw a photo of this house on Facebook and fell in love. It was the cover photo for an article about Ypsilanti’s annual tour of historic homes. It was the writing cottage I’d always dreamed of, and it was just two blocks from Depot Town. I knew an “Amy house” this perfect was a rare find, so I pursued it. Buying turned out to be a 6-month roller coaster, but thankfully it ended happily. I’m still quite close to the former owner, who lived in the house for 28 years. He’s stopped by to bring (and chop!) wood for the fireplace, teach me about the hundreds of flower varieties in the yard, and yesterday, to change a lightbulb. My house was built in 1920, and I’m the third owner. [below right: Interior of Amy’s Ypsilanti dream house]

    MyHouse_Interior_oldMARK: And where were you living before purchasing your home in Ypsilanti?

    AMY: Before buying a home and moving here, I was living in Royal Oak. Directly before moving here the first time, I was living in Livonia… I moved there to be near my sister’s family when she had my twin nieces. Those were dark years, socially. I’m from Royal Oak, and have also lived in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Oklahoma.

    MARK: How does one find herself in Oklahoma?

    AMY: In this particular case, one hitchhikes to Florida with her friend, Liz, as 16-year-old runaways, gets caught, then sent to live with her dad in Oklahoma, where she begins a new high school mid-year with one pair of jeans, a hoodie, and a sweater, and is instantly famous for her Yankee accent. I highly recommend the Tulsa area, and more direct trajectories are available, though certainly less colorful. [below right: Amy before running away]

    Runaway_Amy_BeforeMARK: Why’d you run away, if you don’t mind my asking?

    AMY: I don’t mind at all–I actually welcome opportunities to share my perspective, which is that running away is sometimes the most adaptive and mentally healthy option for certain teenagers in impossible situations. For me, I reached a point where my inability to improve my home situation was starting to make me crack. I felt my sanity teetering, and feared that a door to myself was about to slam shut, permanently. I needed to remove myself from an environment that was, for me, crazy-making, in order to preserve my sensibilities. It worked for me. Not without consequences to the trajectory of my life, certainly, but a bargain at any price. I don’t know what would have happened had I not left, but my feeling is that part of my good judgement and sense of right and wrong would have irrevocably shut down, and I’d have by necessity morphed into the belief system I was trying to escape. So, I think that for those kids who become “a product of their environment,” there was no option available; no foot in the door of the sanity kids innately have, so they are crippled by the limits of their adults. Mentoring can be sanity-saving for just this reason, and I am an advocate… What made my situation impossible for me mentally was emotional abuse by someone who used me as an outlet to vent his considerable rage, and I had no protection from that for about six years, when I finally left.

    MARK: At the risk of venturing any further into the darkness, I’m interested to know more about the “belief system” you were running away from. Was it an oppressively conservative home? I ask because I think it may provide some context for your overflowing love for Ypsilanti, which is decidedly not conservative.

    AMY: Interesting, sir. Yes, the home did become born-again Christian during my pre-teen years, which didn’t turn out to be a move in my favor. The belief system I referred to was more an internal one, about who I was and what I was worth, but this certainly nestled itself nicely into the religious framework eventually adopted. It’s worth noting that I have made peace with all involved, and have some understanding and empathy for their roles. I also think that sometimes religion acts very much like a drug in the lives of suffering people, and is consequently clung to with a life-or-death vigor that is subconsciously powered by a psyche unwilling to let it go for fear of a return to their state of suffering… I have empathy for that. I also suppose there are likely religious folks who enjoy a calmer, kinder relationship with it all. But the damage that can be done, and the impossibility of having open-minded dialogue, by definition, limits the depth of relationship possible with someone like me, who is driven by questions, logic, and kindness. So yes, to your point, Ypsilanti is also an intellectual home: from Rick at the Tap Room to someone sitting next to me at Ugly Mug to my friends and their parents, I’ve enjoyed galloping conversations and intellectual quests that, to this day, have always ended with smiles, fondness, and a good time shared.

    MARK: What was your very first experience of Ypsi? Do you remember what it was that brought you here the first time?

    AMY: I do. I’d started working at Thomson Reuters in Ann Arbor and liked the job so much I decided to shorten my commute. I wanted a loft, Ann Arbor was more than I could afford, and I found a gorgeous one in Ypsi (The Flour Mill lofts across from Haab’s). I’d figured I would just live there and hang out in Ann Arbor. Instead, I fell head-over-heels in love with Ypsilanti: the buildings, the locals at the end of the Tap Room’s bar, the “living room of Ypsi” that is Corner Brewery, the parks where my dog and I spent time almost every day, and the people. I love the people here so much: I’ve never felt more myself and more at home than now, with the smart, interesting, diverse, and overwhelmingly kind people of Ypsilanti. I’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed into the Ypsi-based Team Smoot family of friends, who’ve known each other for decades and are the best people I know.

    MARK: And what, for those of my readers who may not understand the reference, is Team Smoot?

    Smoot_2010DreidelChampionship_ wKurtAnscheutzAMY: A group of adventurous friends who competed annually in the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament, then moved on to Major League Dreidel, as a team. Many of the Smoots, and their extended group of friends, met on college trips traveling overseas, and through other adventures. I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November, and was with a group of fellow Nanoers, furiously writing into our laptops at the Corner, when I first encountered Team Smoot, who were having dreidel practice at the table next to mine. Team Captain Kurt Anscheutz invited me to take a spin, I had beginner’s luck, and was invited to join the team for the tournament in Brooklyn, which was just two weeks away. My own sense of adventure and innate trust of these folks had me getting picked up at 7:00 AM two weeks later and heading to Brooklyn for one of the best experiences of my life. The rest is history. Nobody seems to know where the Smoot name originated. [right: Amy with Kurt Anscheutz at the 2010 Dreidel Championship]

    MARK: So, what is it that you do for a living? Are you still at Thomson Reuters?

    AMY: To pay the bills, I’m an instructional designer, which sort of means I create corporate training, like software workshops, technical manuals, and e-learning modules. Fun; right? I’m no longer with Thomson Reuters, but it remains the best company I’ve worked for to date. Professionally, these days I work by contract for a variety of companies. Personally, my primary goal in life is to complete a novel that means something to me. It’s in the works. I also act, do stand-up comedy, teach Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE workshops, and loaf around with my dogs quite a bit.

    MARK: Does Lynda Barry know that you teach Lynda Barry writing workshops?

    AMY: She does. I met Lynda as a student in her workshops, which were life-changingly helpful to me as a writer and a person. During a weeklong workshop at Omega Institute in upstate New York, Lynda, singer Kelly Hogan, and I kind of bonded. Kelly and I traveled with Lynda periodically afterward, helping as her workshop “pixies” and mostly enjoying our friendship. Lynda encouraged me more than 10 years ago to teach the workshop, and I finally got the guts to do so last year. It’s a huge honor and a great responsibility to offer this meaningful experience to others.

    lyndaberryMARK: Do you actually dress up like Lynda Barry for these workshops? [right: Lynda Barry, or Amy Probst as Lynda Barry]

    AMY: Ha! Quite often, as it happens. We are both, along with Hogan, typically found at home in overalls, boots, and bandana. Lynda always wears a white cotton blouse when she teaches, because, as she tells her classes, she sweats profusely when teaching. I can relate, but don’t wear white, because I also get uncommonly grubby.

    MARK: What can you tell us, if anything, about the novel you’re working on?

    AMY: I can tell you that I’ve avoided writing “what I know” for 15 years, and only recently realized that it’s where my characters live, so consequently, where I need to write. That kids are the heroes of my story, the setting is blue-collar 1970s Royal Oak, and we’ll come to know a lot of sadness, triumph, and humor.

    MARK: Given that you grew up in suburban Detroit in the ‘70s, I’m curious to know your thoughts on Freaks and Geeks. Does it ring true for the most part?

    Me_WritingAtSidetrackAMY: I’m vicariously inclined to say, “Yes, absolutely!” because people I trust love that show, but the sad truth is that I’ve never seen an episode. If you’d like to hold publication, I will perform my due diligence and watch it on YouTube, certainly to my betterment. [right: Amy working on her novel at Sidetrack]

    MARK: And do I understand correctly that, like me, you’re venturing into the world of podcasting?

    AMY: It’s something I accidentally found out I really enjoy. A friend asked me to be the first guest on his podcast, The Ken and Tom Show: Tales from the D, and I had so much fun doing it — really, one of the best times, ever — that when I learned Ric Pruneda’s podcast, The Dirty Words Radio Show, was looking for a new female co-host, I asked about my sitting in for a guest spot. He said yes, and that happens later this week. A million years ago, I wrote the LooseLips column for the Metro Times, and in that capacity did a weekly spot on the Johnny in the Morning show on 96.3. That was my first radio experience, and also a great time. I’m always looking for more opportunities to have great conversation behind a microphone.

    MARK: I haven’t gotten too far into your Tales from the D piece, but, at the very beginning, they give you kind of a hard time about being a member of Mensa. Does that happen a lot?

    AMY: Yes, pretty much any time I’m open about it, which I think is understandable. People tend to see it as the equivalent of a “Pretty” club or “Better Than” club. Fact is, human brains just work differently from most when they’re outliers in any regard, and it’s nice every now and then to be with folks who don’t find you weird…. who don’t think you ask too many questions, “over-analyze” everything, are too impatient, criticize them personally instead of the idea you’re discussing. People usually assume Mensans think they’re “better than” everyone else, when the reality is we feel like dysfunctional aliens, doing things wrong that we can’t figure out, with most people, most of our lives. Mensa is largely a place where you can not feel bad about the innate characteristics that make you unlikable in the real world. Mensans tend to be kind and lonely for the most part, in my experience. They like chocolate, hugs, and board games.

    MARK: Do you have to register, like sex offenders? I mean, is there a map somewhere that I can find online to see if any of you are living near me? Also… and more seriously… do you have a secret fort somewhere, a place where you congregate, like the old house where the murder takes place in The Bye Bye Sky High I.Q. Club episode of Columbo?

    AMY: Ha ha ha ha! I am totally finding that episode of Columbo! Fantastic. There is no public registry, but passing score on any of a number of standardized tests must be shown, and then dues must be paid annually. A funny thing: When someone in Mensa says something dumb, you’re likely to hear people shout “Retest! Retest!” and lots of cracking up. Mensans are fun and do not take themselves overly seriously. As for secret forts, restaurants, community centers, and hotels are popular.

    MARK: I want you to say something really stupid now, so I can yell “Retest!” Is there anything really dumb that you’re into that I could ask about?

    AMY: I watch every episode of The Bachelor, sporadically attend propane shoots, rescue worms drowning in puddles, and willingly subject myself to the brutal humiliation that is standup comedy. Take your pick.

    MARK: What’s a propane shoot? Is it like doing whippets?

    AMY: Even dumber. Take a propane tank, put it in a field or suspend it from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse, then shoot it with any type of gun until it turns into a dancing fire demon for about 4 minutes.

    MARK: Retest!

    AMY: I enjoy extremes. And there’s always room for me in Densa.

    MARK: Quick… The five best things about Ypsilanti?

    RiversidePark_Fall_DogsAMY: Riverside Park, The Tap Room, Team Smoot, the kindness, the blue collar creativity. I’ve left so many things out… [right: Amy’s dogs in Riverside Park]

    MARK: Finish the sentence: “The thing Ypsi really needs is…..”

    AMY: …to remain just under the radar and slightly gritty, so that it doesn’t become Ferndale or Royal Oak.

    MARK: Any regrets so far about choosing to relocate to Ypsilanti?

    AMY: Zero. I am very much at home.

    [Still wondering why people are moving to Ypsi? Check out the Ypsilanti Immigration Interview archive.]

    Posted in Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

    “Be very skeptical”… A warning from 1992 concerning the merger of Convention and Visitors Bureaus

    In the wake of last week’s post about County plans to shift funds away from the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and into the coffers of its counterpart in Ann Arbor, a lot of interesting things have been showing up in my in-box. While I can’t share most of it, I thought that some of you might find this particular artifact of interest. It’s a May 10, 1992 opinion piece that ran in The Ypsilanti Press…

    Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 1.30.45 PM

    Like they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

    [A larger, easier-to-read version of the story can be found here.]

    Posted in Ann Arbor, History, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

      Simone Lightfoot resigns from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children, saying it’s become clear to her that Snyder’s goal is to “destroy public education in Michigan”


      On Friday, a member of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children policy subcommittee, Simone Lightfoot, announced her resignation. Lightfoot, an Ann Arbor Board of Education trustee, did so, she said, because it became clear to her that the Snyder administration would never accept the policy recommendations coming from their group, which had been called together to objectively assess the state of education in Detroit and help plot a path forward that would work for the benefit of the City’s children.

      “Rather than convening this outstanding group of vastly experienced education and policy leaders to cooperate and help shape solutions in a systematic way,” Lightfoot wrote in her letter of resignation, “those leading the conversation consistently re-directed it toward support for the EAA, charter schools and for-profit models of education.”

      At every turn, it would seem, they were thwarted. The Snyder administration, according to Lightfoot, was only interested in preserving the EAA, and maintaining the push toward privatization, “not improving public education in Detroit.”

      [For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the EAA, I’d encourage you to read my interview from this past February with Eastern Michigan University College of Education Associate Professor Steven Camron.]

      This apparently came into sharp focus for Lightfoot this last Friday when Governor Snyder signed an executive order to move the School Reform Office from the Department of Education, which does not report to him, to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which does. This, according to the Detroit News, would put “K-12 school accountability and restructuring directly under his control.” And, coincidentally, this happened just as Lightfoot and her associates on the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children policy committee were preparing to make their recommendations.

      Here, with all of the details, is Simone Lightfoot’s post to Facebook announcing her resignation.

      Today, I submitted my official letter of resignation from the COALITION FOR THE FUTURE OF DETROIT SCHOOL CHILDREN policy subcommittee.

      The statement needed to be made. The Skillman Foundation and United Way along with our Governor and the corporate community are fully committed to destroying public education in Michigan… unacceptable!

      (See below my official letter of resignation)

      The sole member of a fully empowered, locally elected school board (Ann Arbor Board of Education) has resigned from the Coalition For The Future of Detroit School Children policy sub-committee to: evaluate the current-education related political and policy landscape and developing strategy and policy recommendations for the Coalition as it relates to the goal of transforming education in Detroit – in protest, criticizing the atmosphere of predetermined solutions, prioritized profit centered education, and an unwavering commitment to maintaining the EAA and other practices not evidence, achievement, or solution based.

      Dear Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children Policy Sub-Committee Members:

      After much deliberation and multiple attempts to consider all pathways and outcomes, it is with great disappointment that I submit my official letter of resignation from the Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children policy subcommittee effective immediately.

      I did not enter into this role lightly nor am I easily discouraged. I recognized from the outset that the eleven consecutively scheduled, Monday morning meetings would not be without sacrifice, conflict or compromise.

      With that, I welcomed the opportunity to join other respected colleagues from across Southeast Michigan to lend my public policy, public education, civil rights and social justice expertise to our stated purpose of “evaluating the current education-related political and policy landscape while developing strategy and policy recommendations toward the goal of transforming education in Detroit”.

      However, with just four meetings remaining, questions continue to plague the sub-committee as to our actual charge. This reality is incompatible with advancing thoughtful, sustainable best practices through collective review, consideration and feedback. Further concerns are exacerbated by the fact that no policies have been allowed to emerge from the fragmented, evolving and nuanced process in the manner promised. And which required we look at methodological and evidentiary-based solutions that focus on the unique challenges facing DPS and public education in our state.

      To date, our only collective and deliberative action as a body has been to review proposal responses from several lobbying firms seeking to contract with the Coalition. In that process, each participating member had three options to exercise for their final choices, however the selected firm was presented to the body as the finalist without the benefit of witnessing or fully understanding the process by which that decision was made.

      Moreover, our sub-committee has been continuously dissuaded from specific, expert, and thoughtful best practice solutions and persuaded toward broad, overarching and non-specific recommendations subject to broad interpretation. When questioned about this approach, we were directed to believe that the issues raised were somehow beyond our scope. In reviewing the charge of “developing strategy and policy recommendations toward the goal of transforming education in Detroit”, it is hard to imagine much of what we wanted to consider to be beyond that scope.

      As time passed and multiple media accounts reported out important and relevant information not brought before our full body, more questions were raised. Each time the subcommittees concerns were brushed aside as unwarranted.

      And rather than convening this outstanding group of vastly experienced education and policy leaders to cooperate and help shape solutions in a systematic way, those leading the conversation consistently re-directed it toward support for EAA, charter schools and for profit models of education.

      At this point, it is without question clear that the direction and narrative dominating our work is to uphold the EAA (although another apparent failure to join the ranks of the other failing charter schools and for profit education experiments fostered on our students in the State of Michigan). I have become less and less satisfied with the apparent predetermined direction, solutions and commitment against public education of this effort and it appears we are no longer tasked with improving public education for Detroit – or anywhere else in Michigan.

      Our work should leave Detroit Public Schools stronger and more empowered than before, with greater student learning outcomes and fiscal solvency. This sadly appears will not be the case.

      I have a great deal of appreciation for my colleagues and their enormous time and travel commitment. Many of us volunteered for this work because we want a strong, vibrant and high achieving public school system across this state.

      Unfortunately, those that lead this effort have prioritized preserving the EAA, for profit education ventures and charter schools over educational expertise, common sense dialogue and student centered, data driven decisions. In doing so they have also squander the educational legitimacy that at one time had been Michigan’s most potent offense, defense, economic and social driver. All while dismantling the largest and most effective institutional structures our nation has known, the public school system.

      In keeping with this trajectory, we are straining beyond the limits of both the Detroit Public School and the Michigan education system in order to advance destructive educational outcomes that ensure instability to families, municipalities and school districts.

      While it has been a privilege to witness first hand the inner workings of this policy sub-committee, it has become impossible for me to escape the conclusion, that the fervent political and profit centered policy pursuits of the Skillman Foundation, the United Way Foundation, the Governor and others on behalf of the EAA, charter schools and unproven educational experiments are not compatible with the interests I represent. The systematic manipulation of the subcommittee’s expertise intelligence is unacceptable.

      I realize the emotion and tone of my letter and ask that you receive it in a manner that conveys my passionate concern and intimate awareness of the outcomes disparately impacting public education, education policy and urban school districts.

      It is my contention that both my colleagues and I have extended more credibility than the current structure and destined outcomes deserve. And so, for the reasons outlined, I have determined my continued service on the Coalition For The Future Of Detroit School Children policy subcommittee is not the best use of my experience, public education expertise and time.

      Simone Lightfoot
      Ann Arbor Board of Education

      Coincidentally, people will be gathering tomorrow (March 17) at 1:00 PM outside of Eastern Michigan University’s Welch Hall, to one again ask EMU’s regents to cut ties with the EAA.

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

      State Representative Jeff Irwin on the “frightened patriots” of the open carry movement, forest ecologist Ben Connor Barrie on local trees he’d love to kill, and Matt Siegfried on the racism of Rosie the Riveter… on episode 9 of The Saturday Six Pack

      This is Michigan State Rep Jeff Irwin, my first guest on this past weekend’s episode of The Saturday Six Pack. Our interview, which started off with a weighty conversation on corporate money, gerrymandering, and tax policy, and how, together, they’ve nearly destroyed our state, ended on a significantly lighter note when a caller by the name of Gene phoned in to ask what the Representative meant when he said, “politicians in Lansing deserve a good rimming.” [For what it’s worth, Representative Irwin had said no such thing. The caller, who was listening to the show through his phone, had apparently misheard the word “ribbing.”]


      The beverage in Jeff’s hand is Local’s American Lager by Shorts Brewing, which was the beer of choice for this episode of the The Saturday Six Pack. Somewhere toward the beginning of the show, if I’m not mistaken, we give it an enthusiastically positive review… although we had a few questions about the label, which depicts two driverless boats floating eerily on a lake.

      [If you would like to listen to the episode in its entirety, you can find it on both Soundcloud and iTunes. Or, if you want, you can just scroll down to end of this post, where you’ll find it embedded.]

      As Representative Irwin and I talked for a full hour, we covered a lot of ground. Here, however, are a few of the highlights…

      Irwin and I discussed our chances of winning back the Michigan House in 2016 and reversing the disastrous social and fiscal policies of Governor Rick Snyder. We talked at length about the immediate need to increase resources for public education, reverse the misguided “trickle down” tax policies of Rick Snyder, decrease the burden on poor and middle class Michiganders, and bring sanity back to Lansing. [Presently, Democrats hold 47 of Michigan’s 110 House seats. We need to hold our 47 and pick up 9 in 2016 if we want to stop what’s been happening these past several years.]

      Speaking of sanity, at some point later in the show, when I ask Irwin what, if anything, he can do to ensure that we don’t lose the right to carry loaded guns in schools, he responds by saying that, of the 42 bills passed this year by the legislature, 11 were laws intended to ease weapons regulations. You heard that right. Over 25% of the laws passed this year in Michigan weren’t about fixing our crumbling infrastructure, or increasing funding for students, but ensuring that we have the right to own more lethal weapons and carry them with us into more places. It’s one of many sobering facts shared by Irwin over the course of our conversation. Oh, and speaking of guns, my favorite quote from Representative Irwin came during a discussion about the folks who insist on walking around the State Capital in Lansing with weapons, just to demonstrate that they can. It’s hard to tell “a violent gunman from a frightened patriot,” he said. [I love the phrase “frightened patriot.” Let’s make t-shirts and hand them out to open carry folks when we see them.]

      At some point early on, our friend Pete Larson called in from outside a dance hall in Kenya, where it was 2:00 AM, directing us to play a song that he’d just emailed in. And, once we found it, we did. In the song, Pete outlined everything that he saw as being wrong with Michigan today, from the broken roads to the war on public education. Representative Irwin was offered a guitar to respond in song, but just chose to say, “You’re right, Pete.” [I think this happens at about the 18-minute mark, for those of you who just tune in each week to hear Pete’s contribution from Kenya.]

      Representative Irwin and I talked about his support of Proposition 1, which, if passed in May, will raise the sales tax in Michigan to fix our roads. He explained how he would have preferred to raise the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in Michigan since ’98, but said that Proposition 1 would be better than the alternative, which would likely pull even more money from our schools and local governments. Representative Irwin didn’t like the idea that the legislature, lacking the courage to raise taxes themselves, punted it back to voters, but said that they’d added enough to the bill in other areas to make it palatable. Among other things, the bill, if passed, would put more money into schools and public transportation, and raise the Earned Income Tax Credit, putting money back into the pockets of non-wealthy Michiganders.

      We talked about increasing transparency in charter schools, so that Michigan voters, who are currently handing over their hard-earned tax dollars to for-profit charters, could actually see how their money is being spent. [Michigan currently has the most deregulated charter program in the country, which is why we have more for-profit charters than any other state in the country. Not only do we have virtually no oversight of charters, but we don’t even require they tell us how much of the money that they’re given is actually spent of educating out children.]

      As Representative Irwin will be term-limited out of office in 2016, we talked about arbitrary term limits, and how, in my opinion, it just gives groups like ALEC more power, as inexperienced legislators look to them for help. As Irwin points out, the State of Michigan is a $53 billion enterprise, which takes a considerable amount of time and experience to master. And, give that, term limits increase the power of lobbyists, who offer to come in with a team of consultants to help draft legislation on complicated issues and get these bills passed. [There doesn’t seem to be any movement to end term limits, by the way, as most voters, even though they typically say they like their own representatives, feel as though legislators are inept and crooked, and want them out of office.]

      Here’s Representative Irwin telling us how he got his start in politics, when, as a 22 year old Political Science undergrad at UM, he decided to run for the Washtenaw Country Board of Commissioners.


      We talked of areas where he’s been finding common ground with Tea Party Republicans, like on parole and sentencing reform, and with regard to legislation requiring body cameras for police officers. And we talked about the possibility of his getting support from Republicans for his most recent bill, which, if passed, would end daylight savings time in Michigan. [He seemed to think that it might resonate with them if he referred to daylight savings time as “the tyrany of federal time.”]

      Oh, and he told us how daylight savings time was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, who claimed that it would save tons of candle wax. This, he says, could have been a joke on Franklin’s part. [Irwin, for what it’s worth, makes a pretty good case against daylight savings time, which he says not only doesn’t save us any energy, but actually leads to increased traffic accidents and the like.]

      The only regret that I have is that I didn’t realize when Irwin was still in the studio that one of the recorded pieces sent in by our man-on-the-street, Chris Sandon, was actually about him. If I’d known, I would have played it when he was in the studio. If you’re interested in hearing people coming out of Ypsi bars sharing their thoughts on Jeff Irwin, you’ll find it at the 1:22-minute mark. [Invariably, they all say that they were heartbroken when they’d heard that he’d been killed by a stingray.]

      And that was just the first half of the show.

      During the second half, our friend Brigid Mooney from the Wurst Bar brought in a young comedian by the name of Jordan Miller. In addition to telling us about being heckled by a four year old, Miller told us about his dream to one day break out of Ypsilanti and take the stage in the big city of Ann Arbor… Here’s Miller, explaining to us how he came to be living with Saturday Six Pack Music Director Jim Cherewick.


      Then local historian Matt Siegfried dropped by at about the 1:14-mark to debut a segment we’re calling the Ypsilanti History Minute. In this first installment, he both celebrates the life of local janitor turned university president HP Jacobs and tarnishes the legacy of Rosie The Riveter, who he says fought to keep black workers out of the Willow Run bomber plant… Here’s Siegfried tearing down old heroes and replacing them with better ones.


      And, after that, Ben Connor Barrie came in to confesses to a heinous crime, talk about trees, and give me the gift of lead pellet-filled deer flesh. [Our discussion begins at 1:26, with Ben explaining that he’s not an arborist, but a forest ecologist. An arborist, he says, cares for trees, while a forest ecologist just knows about them, but doesn’t help.] We talk about trees in town that he’d like to kill, the biggest tree-related issues facing Ypsilanti, and the fact that palm trees are not, in fact, trees. The highlight comes at 1:48, when we launch a new segment called Boot Talk… Here’s Ben, asking me about my boots.


      Lastly, this was our first episode with a house band, and I think it went really well. It was great having Jim Cherewick on hand to introduce segments and contribute spontaneous songs about various things my guests and I happened to be talking about. Here’s Jim performing a song called Crawlspace, inspired by another interview conducted outside an Ypsilanti bar by Chris Sandon, during which a woman, after noting that she had a “sexual sickness,” discusses at 2:05 how she transmitted it to someone who made the mistake of not just going “downstairs” but into her “crawlspace.” [Chris Sandon, as always, was brought to us by a generous grant from the Facethruster Corporation.]


      And, lastly, here I am at the end of the show, reflecting on the evening’s events with Jim, trying to decide where we should take the show in the future…

      Speaking of ideas for the future, two have come to me as I’ve been writing this summary. First, I’d like to do more on-air song-writing late in shows, taking song ideas from people in the audience. And, second, I’d like to find a way to cook Ben’s deer meat live in the studio, and then eat it by caldle-light with a lucky listener.


      Oh, and this was the episode where we all felt bad for our favorite Saturday Six Pack troll, The Who Guy, who, after a perfect setup, failed to execute due to a technical difficulty… Thankfully, he rebounded later.


      [If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK?]

      [note: All photos by AM 1700 staff photographer Kate de Fuccio.]

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Politics, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

      The campaign to get Eden Foods products off our local co-op shelves

      Presently there are movements afoot, both in Ann Arbor and in Ypsilanti, to pull products by Eden Foods off the shelves of our respective food co-ops. Following is a conversation with Georgina Hickey, who is leading the charge in Ypsilanti, and Ann Rogers, who is doing the same in Ann Arbor, explaining why, in their opinion, this is the morally right thing to do, given Eden’s position on the reproductive health of their female employees.


      MARK: A number of co-ops around the country have voted over the course of the past year to stop carrying the products of Clinton-based Eden Foods. And, as I understand it, you, Georgina and Ann, would like for the Ypsi Food Co-op (YFC) and the Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-op (PFC) to do the same. And, toward that end, you’ve launched petition drives, in hopes of putting the issue before the member-owners of your respective co-ops. Before we get into the specifics of your campaigns, perhaps we should start by discussing what it is about Eden that has people around the country initiating boycotts. My friend Dan Gillotte is the General Manager of the Wheatsville co-op in Austin, Texas, and here’s how they summarized the issue in a recent copy of their newsletter, after members voted 639 to 338 to stop carrying products manufactured by Eden Foods.

      Eden Foods is one of the oldest natural and organic food companies in North America and has been an industry leader in maintaining organic standards, directly supporting North American family farms, and providing Non-GMO assurance on all products. The brand’s line of BPA-free canned beans, condiments, soymilk and pastas has been carried at Wheatsville Food Co-op since the 80’s.

      On March 20, 2013, Eden Foods filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act (ACA), for the right to opt out of contraceptive coverage for its employees. Eden Foods objects to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies, if they choose to offer health insurance to their employees, to include coverage of a wide array of contraceptive choices.

      Is that a relatively good summary of the issue as you see it, or are there other factors that I’m not aware of that are motivating this campaign in Ypsilanti?

      GEORGINA: Well, it’s a start, but much has happened since then, and it’s an issue that is still unfolding. Eden Foods’ original case argued that complying with the ACA requirements violated their deeply held religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Eden lost its case and its subsequent appeals. In the opinion of the court, the ACA obligated only the company, and did not in any way restrict the religious beliefs of the individual who owns the company.

      MARK: But then, after that, we had the Hobby Lobby decision, right?

      GEORGINA: Yes, this past summer, there was the Hobby Lobby decision, which suggested that courts might be willing to answer Eden’s questions differently. And, as a result, the Eden decision was vacated back to lower courts… This doesn’t, by the way, mean, “You lost before, but now you’ve won.”’ It basically means, “You can ask your question of the courts again.”

      MARK: So Eden refiled?

      michael_potterGEORGINA: Right. Eden had to file their case again, and it’s still making its way through the process. Michael Potter, founder, chairperson, president, and sole shareholder of Eden Foods, has referenced a final decision having come from Judge Denise Hood’s court in Detroit on Feb 12, 2015, but we have not been able to locate any official records referencing a decision from that court on that date. [Michael Potter seen right.]

      Potter has given contradictory and inconsistent public statements about the depth of his religious convictions and the real motivations behind his court challenges to the ACA. His lawyer described his views this way: “In accordance with his Catholic faith, Potter believes that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or means — including abortifacients and contraception — is wrong.” But in another interview, Potter himself said he cared more about long underwear than birth control, suggesting that his political objections to the mandates of the ACA far outweighed any religious convictions he might have.

      Unfortunately, media reports surrounding the issue fell off quickly after the summer, and there has been little pressure on Potter to explain what he and his company are up to, and hold them accountable for the contradictory statements they have given on their case and intentions. We hope that, by raising the issue locally, in the kinds of places that made Eden Foods what it is today, we might help to change that. We want to send a clear message to Potter about his customers’ concerns over his blatant disregard for the beliefs and health of his female employees.

      I personally support a boycott of Eden Foods because I think their actions unfairly impact their female employees, and I don’t want to see their actions create a precedent for even more drastic anti-woman actions on the part of other companies to undermine the ACA.

      MARK: And where does the YFC Board of Directors stand on the issue?

      GEORGINA: The YFC board considered the issue back in July, when it was raised by Ben Miller, a member of the Co-op’s Board of Directors. (See page 3 of the most recent Co-op newsletter for the board president’s summary of the board’s position.) In short, they opted not to do anything at that time, which is part of why we’ve begun a petition drive in order to get this on the annual meeting agenda. Some board members feel they need member desires made clear, others think they already decided, so, in their eyes, this is a petition to reconsider.

      MARK: So how did this most recent push to get Eden products off the shelf come about?

      GEORGINA: A member of the newly re-forming chapter of Washtenaw County NOW raised the issue with that group (of which I am also a member) after the Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-op seemed to be dodging the issue, and that’s where this new push began. Members of NOW sent letters to both co-ops, and I followed up by attending the YFC board meeting (where I’m a member) and asking for the issue to be put on the annual meeting agenda. I was told, given the bylaws of the Co-op, that it would take 50 signatures to make that happen. So, as a member of the YFC, I started a petition. [If you’re a member of the YFC, you can sign the petition here.]

      Washtenaw County NOW has committed itself to this issue. We are appealing to the co-ops, but we’re also planning other actions around raising consumer awareness on the issue and putting pressure on Eden Foods. (Cheryl Farmer is the leader our local chapter.) My take on the NOW position is that we would welcome the opportunity to support this company again as soon as they offer female employees the opportunity to use their healthcare premiums for the treatments they and their doctors deem most appropriate. We do not believe the work that Eden Foods has done to promote sustainable and organic food, while laudable, exempts them from showing this basic level of respect and fair treatment toward their female employees.

      MARK: And how about from your perspective, Ann?

      ANN: What you and Georgina have written is a very good summary. I would add that Michael Potter is trying to portray this as an affront to his personal religious convictions. However, Eden Foods is for-profit corporation, which makes it a separate entity under the law from Michael Potter, citizen. The corporate form provides a shield for its shareholders from personal liability PROVIDED the corporation interests are kept separate from the personal affairs of the shareholders. This is called the “corporate veil”. So, this argument of Michael Potter’s that Eden Foods, Inc. providing birth control as part of their employee medical plan infringes on his personal religious freedoms doesn’t hold water.

      MARK: We heard the history of the at the YFC from Georgina. What’s the background in Ann Arbor, Ann?

      ANN: Last July, the Hobby Lobby ruling was handed down, and it appeared that Eden Foods had the Supreme Court on its side. Several Co-op members, including me, attended a board meeting and asked about the process for putting a boycott measure on the ballot. We were told that we could start a petition drive to have it put on the ballot, which would require signatures from 10% (approximately 800) members. The board members seemed to agree that it would be difficult to get that many signatures, and they talked about changing the bylaws to reduce that percentage. A second way to get it on the ballot, according to the PFC bylaws, would be for the board to vote to put it on the annual ballot, which comes out in April each year. The board agreed at their September meeting to put it on the ballot themselves. This did this in part because of the feeling among them that the 10% mark was onerous. The Coop published in the holiday issue of their Connection Newsletter that it would be on the ballot.

      After January’s board meeting we heard that they had voted at that meeting to rescind the ballot measure, though. The PFC Vice President told us it was due to ”deeper concerns as a result of placing the boycott question on the April ballot.” (The minutes from that meeting are now available.)

      The boycott supporters sprung back into action. Many members emailed their concerns to the board about the democratic process being thwarted. We began an unofficial petition drive and collected 200 signatures from Co-op shoppers to have the measure put back on the ballot. More than 20 supporters attended the February board meeting and requested they put the measure back on the ballot. But the board did not do so. It now appears that the petition drive is the only way to get this put on the ballot, and it will now have to be a special ballot. It won’t be on the April ballot.

      I’ve requested that the Co-op notify the membership that this has been removed from the ballot. It has now been 7 weeks since their vote to rescind the measure, and still the Coop membership has not been notified. Currently the only place on their website that this information can found is in the January board meeting minutes.

      MARK: Has there been any response from Eden in the wake of Wheatsville and other large co-ops around the country voting to boycott them?

      GEORGINA: Indirectly. They put out a statement last July. You can find it here.

      ANN: I know that Eden Foods wrote to the Ann Arbor People’s Food Coop in response to their board vote (subsequently retracted) last September to put the issue on the member ballot. In that response, Eden Foods referenced its own statements on the issue, like the one they released in April 2013, which includes the following two quotes.

      “We believe in a woman’s right to decide, and have access to, all aspects of their health care and reproductive management. This lawsuit does not block, or intend to block, anyone’s access to health care or reproductive management.”

      “Eden employee benefits include health, dental, vision, life, and a fifty percent 401k match. The benefits have not funded “lifestyle drugs,” an insurance industry drug classification that includes contraceptives, Viagra, smoking cessation, weight-loss, infertility, impotency, etc.”

      It appears that their argument is that they aren’t trying to block access to health care. Of course they’re not. How could a company possibly keep a woman from seeking medical care on her own time at her own expense? What the company is seeking to do is to not provide for some of that medical care as part of the employee’s compensation package. The effect, then, would be to require women seeking such care to pay for it themselves, thereby reducing the value of her overall compensation package.

      [Following is a clip from Eden’s letter to the the People’s Food Co-op. The entire letter can be found here.]


      MARK: What’s your sense as to how, if at all, a boycott of Eden Foods may impact the finances of the Ypsi Food Co-op? If I’m not mistaken, quite a few of the Co-op’s best selling items are produced by Eden, correct?

      GEORGINA: To be honest, I don’t think it is up to me to answer this question. I’ve asked, and will continue to ask, the Co-op general manager for more information on sales (or at least ordering) stats on Eden Foods products. I think the membership needs this information to make an informed decision about whether or not they would like to take action and, if so, of what sort. We do have a list of Eden products sold at the Co-op and it is lengthy, but that doesn’t mean much without sales (or at least ordering figures).

      Like all of the people signing the petition and most of the folks calling for a discussion of the issue at the YFC annual meeting, I’m a member-owner of the Co-op and I very much want to see it continue to succeed. At the same time, I don’t believe that the Co-op just a grocery store. It’s democratically run. It’s a community of sorts. This creates an opportunity for that community to consider the political and ethical ramifications of what we chose to sell.

      At least one board member has raised the concern that if we don’t have Eden soymilk and other products on the shelves, customers will go somewhere else. I would like to suggest a different possibility. With the membership behind the decision to boycott (should they choose to go that direction) and solid efforts to reach out to the other customers and explain the situation, I would hope that loyalty to the Co-op would grow from YFC taking a principled stand on the issue. Whole Foods has already passed on requests to boycott. They have no members, no community, to direct their policy — only lone consumers with the power of their individual dollars.

      MARK: And how about in Ann Arbor, Ann?

      ANN: Co-op board members have lamented at board meetings that they would like to have a more active membership. It seems to me that having the members make a decision about the types of companies they’d like the Co-op to support with their business would be a great way for them to encourage a more fully-committed and engaged membership. I think the process has the potential to increase both loyalty and sales.

      MARK: How confident are you that high-quality alternatives to Eden products can be sourced, assuming members agree to a boycott of Eden Foods?

      ANN: I have seen that the Co-op has alternatives for Eden Foods product on its shelves from other suppliers. I have checked several times over the past few months, and have been unable to find a product from Eden Foods for which there is not a similar product available from another supplier. Many shoppers are already boycotting Eden’s products. We’ve asked the Co-op to put up educational materials about this issue so that all members can make informed purchasing decisions.

      GEORGINA: I’m fairly confident, but, again, this is probably best not done by me. As a member-owner, however, I’m willing to help, and I know others are as well. Let’s start by seeing what we already carry, and then look at what else our distributors offer that we could easily carry. Someone in the community just asked who else packages their products in BPA-free cans. (Eden was a leader in this area, just to give them their due.) A bit of searching turned up the answer that Bionaturae, Westbrae, and Muir Glen also can in BPA-free containers. With a better sense of just which products our customers buy, we could certainly work to identify other options. Some of the macrobiotic products may be harder to replace, which is a shame, but I believe that, if we educate our customers about the absence of these products, they would stand by the Co-op on this.

      MARK: Is there perhaps a middle ground, where members could vote to start replacing Eden products over a given period of time?

      GEORGINA: Sure. Absolutely. Let’s hear some concrete proposals — getting this at the meeting is all about giving the members a forum to discuss options! Once that is secured, we’d like to spend more time brainstorming a whole host of ways to respond — at the Co-op level, at the community level, at the individual level…

      In one case (Central Co-op in Seattle), consumers voted with their dollars first and the co-op took Eden off their shelves after a significant decline in sales. I do not advocate this process for YFC, since it has the potential to stick the Co-op with stock for which it has paid but cannot sell, and therefore stands to hurt our Co-op financially. If we have a majority of members who intend to boycott the products, though, I think it’s in the best interest of the Co-op’s financial health to adopt a boycott and not order the products in the first place.

      ANN: The goal is to end the Co-op’s financial support of Eden Foods unless and until the company includes all FDA-approved forms of birth control as part of their employee health care plan at no additional charge to employees. If a phased approach would be effective and would help the Co-op financially, then we would certainly consider that approach. As for being stuck with product, there are already policies in place at the Ann Arbor Co-op about implementing a boycott, and these policies outline what to do with product that has already been purchased. So the products wouldn’t likely be removed from the shelves immediately, and the Co-op certainly wouldn’t be left unable to sell product that it has already purchased. (Policy G.12.8 outlines how the Co-op will return items to the supplier, if possible and, if not, then the purchased stock is to be sold until depleted.)

      MARK: Are there lessons to be learned from other co-ops, like Wheatsville, as to 1) how a campaign like this should be waged, and 2) how alternatives are sourced post Eden?

      GEORGINA: I’m sure there are lessons to be learned from other co-ops, but, other than what I’ve already noted about the Seattle co-op, and read in the news on the others, I don’t yet have these details. Who wants to help look into this?

      ANN: There are many other co-ops around the country that have been grappling with this issue, and we can learn from them. As you noted above, Mark, the Wheatsville co-op has eloquently stated the reasons for their member-voted boycott. And there are lists of alternative products available (usually from co-ops that have a policy prohibiting boycotts).

      MARK: Given that they’re a relatively local company, might there be an opportunity to meet and discuss these items face to face? I don’t know that doing so would be fruitful, given comments I’ve read from Eden’s owner, but I don’t imagine it would hurt, would it?

      GEORGINA: YFC invited Potter to an education session, to be held at the public library. Potter declined.

      ANN: I know that the Ann Arbor Co-op had intended to hold a forum on the boycott issue, had this issue not been removed from the April ballot. Vanessa Marr (vicepresident@peoplesfood.coop) was working in January to line up speakers from both sides of the boycott issue. I don’t know whether she had asked anyone from Eden Foods to participate or not. You might ask her, if she did, what their response was.

      MARK: How many signatures to you need to bring this to a vote in Ypsi? And when do you need them by?

      GEORGINA: The petition is a means for getting the issue in front of the Ypsi Food Co-op membership for a discussion and possible action. We need 50 signatures of current co-op members, ideally by March 15, 2015. The board needs to verify the signatures and, as specified in the bylaws, appropriately notify the membership that there will be a special meeting on the issue. We are aiming for March 15 so that this “special” meeting can happen in conjunction with the coop’s annual meeting that is already scheduled for Thursday, May 7 at 5:30pm at the Freight House. It is costly for the coop to do extra notifications to members, so we want to use the annual meeting notice that will already be going out.

      Posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 68 Comments


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