By now, the world at large has heard about the Flint Water Crisis. I’m going to share my own opinions about how we got here and how to fix it. What I’m about to say might not be popular. Then again, what’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right.
The city of Flint is in crisis. At the moment the lack of clean water is in the news media. You can’t miss it. Rachel Maddow is talking about it. It’s a topic on Fox News. Even Cher has thrown her thoughts into the public forum. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter. So I guess it’s okay to share mine.
It’s seems impossible to think that a city in the United States, in 2016, can be in such a state. How is it possible that a city that was built for 200,000 people can have an entire water system that is unfit to drink? How is it that a city, once home to the creation of General Motors, has been sending out water to its citizens that is full of lead? I wish the answer was simple, but I’m not sure it is.
In truth, our city has been in crisis for decades. If you were to drive through certain streets, you would see the vacant fields, boarded up business, and charred remains of where houses once stood. Our community members are just as damaged. Their sense of hope has left, walls of distrust built up, broken homes where single mothers are left to pick up the remains of their family.
Our government has been in crisis for a long time too. In 2002, citizens recalled mayor Woodrow Stanley for mismanaging the city and placing it in $40 million dollars worth of debt. It left the city highly divided. (By the way, citizens elected Stanley to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2008. Let that sink in.) That was the first time the state sent someone in to help, as the city was in dire straits. City council president, Scott Kincaid, said at the time “he did not believe a financial emergency existed.” (Kincaid was the president of the city council here until just a year ago.)
Then started a long history of people sent to help. Darnell Earley became the temporary mayor after Stanley resigned. (Same Darnell Early that was here during the water switch. Same Darnell Early now in charge of Detroit Schools.) But you know what, things got better. We were no longer under state management in 2004 and we had a new, publicly elected mayor, Don Williamson. (Nevermind that Williamson was convicted for several business scams in 1962 and served 3 years in prison before being paroled. What’s the worst that could happen?) Skepticism aside, we were out of the red, had balanced budgets, and even received a national budget award in 2006. But somehow by 2009 we were in the hole again, to the tune of $14 million dollars. So of course, the citizens voted to recall Williamson, just like Stanley. Before he could be ousted, he resigned and moved away. And once again the state stepped in to help.
Enter the Emergency Manager Law
And so enters the era of the Emergency Manager law. A law passed by the Michigan legislature, our representatives, giving the governor the power to send someone to go in to a city and basically take over. Many decried that it was an attack on democracy. That we lost the right to govern ourselves.
But from where I stand, we haven’t done such a good job at taking our role as citizens seriously. Those governing this city who have been elected by us haven’t chosen very wisely. They elected a mayor with a known criminal record. We currently have a city council member that is a convicted murderer. We have another city council member who has been charged with disturbing the peace, during city council meetings, since 2009. Within a month of being elected, he was arrested for drunk driving, while driving the wrong way down the freeway. He has been allowed to keep his council seat. (His original trial found him not guilty on a technicality. He has since been retried and is serving 28 days in jail.) Forty percent of voters turned out for that November 5th, 2013 election.
Why do I say all this? Why do I bring up our past when we are facing such a health crisis now? Why aren’t I shouting in anger at the governor for letting this happen to us? Why aren’t I demanding the repeal of the emergency manager law?
Because it’s not just that easy. Because our city has over a decade’s worth of history of our own mismanagement. Because true change can’t happen until we do the soul searching of what got us here. Because I’m tired of the culture of hate and bickering.
You have no idea what it is like to read a Flint Journal article online, only to see neighbors within the county talk about how our city is good for nothing. How they say it should be bombed, and that the last person should simply turn off the lights. It’s hard to hear your own neighbors say how desperately they want to leave, when they are the very people you are sacrificing your time and energy for to serve. It’s heartbreaking to go to the funeral of teenage students, because they’ve killed each other over an argument. You have no idea what it’s like to have police not show up after your house has been burglarized, because the city doesn’t have money to pay for an adequate police force. Or to hear AK-47 gunshots for 20 minutes on New Year’s Eve, practically coming from your backyard on New Year’s Eve, only to be told by cops that there’s nothing they can do and to just deal with it.
And that’s why this citizen wants to see the mass media go away. The hype to go away. The nasty viral tweets, snarky Facebook memes, and political grandstanding to go away. They weren’t concerned with the day to day moral poisoning of the city. Why are they concerned now?
Can you understand? We’ve been used by pawns by our own local government for far too long. We don’t need Michael Moore or Cher or Rachel Maddow or potential presidents to use our city for talking points and ratings. To use fear and hate to feed the divide we already have in this city.
Because hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can do that. Flint needs love. We need hope. Yes we need clean and safe water. But we also need words of healing, prayers of concern, people who are willing to quietly work behind the scenes to do the hard work of real change.
So if you’re not interested in showing love and providing healing, I’m going to kindly asked you to keep your opinions to yourself. Because after years of deception, we need truth and honesty. Not opinion.
And please forgive me, as I realize I might seem ungrateful for the help we have received. I’m not. There are people volunteering from cities near and far, going out day to day in the cold. Delivering water and filters to shut-ins, those without vehicles to purchase safe water. I am eternally grateful for them.
I’m thankful for those who stand up locally, who fight for truth and demand action. Who see a problem and are working for change, writing senators, scheduling meetings behind the scenes, the countless who are giving of their time to make things happen. Those people are truly changing the world.
I appreciate the outrage that is moving people to personally help. To be love with skin on.
Here are 5 ways you can get involve in helping the Flint Water Crisis.
Thank you Paul Christiansen for this list.
1) PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.
Pray for the people of Flint. Pray for those in decision-making roles. Pray that the necessary resources will be provided for both for short-term needs and for the long-term infrastructure issues. Pray that hearts will be changed and people will listen to divine wisdom to overcome this terrible issue.
2) STAY INFORMED.
There is a lot of hype and sensationalism out there right now over this issue. It is important to get the facts.Here are three links that can give helpful, accurate information. (The first is info from Virginia Tech who did extensive testing in Flint and helped get the state to take this issue seriously. The second is a site organized by our State Senator with info for residents. The third is an article by Michigan Public Radio, who was on top of this story when no one else believed.)
3) DONATE TIME TO DELIVER WATER DOOR TO DOOR.
Manpower is needed and for individuals and groups looking for a way to serve, this is a great option for getting boots on the ground. The mayor, county sheriff, and national guard are coordinating the effort, but they are calling for more help. Flint has close to 100,000 residents, and 40% of Flint’s population lives below the poverty line. Water was already a major need before all this happened, but now even more so.
**Update- water is not being delivered door to door right ow. Instead there are water distribution sites in every ward. Although a judge has recently ruled that distribution sites are not enough and home delivery must renew.**
4) DONATE WATER.
Water donated can be taken to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan or the Mission of Hope church/shelter. There are others, but those are two of the best. If you aren’t in Flint, check your area as several cities are coordinating donation efforts to bring water to Flint.
5) DONATE MONEY TO A CHARITY HELPING WITH EFFORT.
This allows local organizations to purchase water, filters, and supplies that are needed. The United Way of Genesee County is one great possibility and here’s their link to donate. Click here.
“The United Way of Genesee County has set up this fund for the purchase of filters, bottled water, emergency support services and prevention efforts. 100% of the fund is used for these projects and no Administrative Fee is assessed.”