Politicians continue exploiting Flint

Politicians+continue+exploiting+Flint

Tim Eggert

During the Democratic town hall meeting last Tuesday, I was drifting in-and-out of flashbacks to this summer. I wasn’t recollecting days spent on the beach, or reminiscing late nights tracing constellations. Instead, I was thinking about the intersectionality of environmental injustice, systematic and structural racism and gentrification that I woke up to every day.

Specifically, I was remembering the four months I spent in a neighborhood of the 6th Ward, on the westside of the city of Flint. A neighborhood where it was easier to score crack-cocaine than it was clean water. A neighborhood in which the ratio of discarded liquor bottles to forgotten plastic water bottles left on front lawns was equal. A neighborhood that the privileged politician at the podium had never lived in, let alone stepped foot in, but was educating the 50-person crowd on.

“We know what’s goin’ on in Flint, but to rebuild Michigan, we need to focus on what we all touch everyday,” Rep. Scott Dianda said at the town hall. “One of those things is the water system.”

Dianda delivered a sound message—clean water is not a guaranteed resource in Michigan—and those familiar with the Flint water crisis or the summer shutdown of three NMU buildings because of high lead levels would have agreed with it.

But I don’t.

I spent a summer navigating a city with shrinking resources, engaging a community plagued by distrust and not drinking the water.

In the first seven months of 2018, Dianda received $1,457 in free food and drink from lobbyists, according to a Michigan Campaign Finance Network report. To witness another Michigan politician using the water crisis and the statewide failing water infrastructure as a platform for election without having faced the realities himself perpetuated my dissent.

Moreover, Dianda and the like symbolize a lack of faith that I and every resident of Flint have: politicians in positions of power and leadership have the influence to translate the voices of those affected into meaningful results, but don’t deliver.

I heard this fear voiced in July at a community forum hosted by the Flint Public Library.

“Why would I vote for a white candidate?” a northside resident asked. “You know they don’t care about us, they just want our vote.”

The forum and my summer as a whole revealed a deeper truth about Flint: the crisis was the result of more than just an aging water system: it was the result of enacted policies disproportionately affecting African American communities. Flint is a city whose residents are mostly black—54.3 percent—mostly poor—41.9 percent live in poverty—and mostly uneducated—11.2 percent have a bachelor degree or higher—and when the most fundamental resource—water—was tainted, so too was any sense of stability.

It’s a truth that journalist Anna Clark describes as “the recipe” for “killing a city,” in her book, “The Poisoned City.” She claims that a government rooted in opacity and greed with an attitude of complacency and voluntary negligence were the match of the crisis, and calculated disinvestment and racist policies were its fuel. If you step onto the bricks of Saginaw Street, into the intersection of gentrification and white privilege, you realize Clark is right. You see a university’s satellite campus that facilitates white flight, gastropubs marketed toward the white professional and campaign advertisements for white candidates.

“Fixing” the water isn’t enough. We can’t expect elected officials to commit to their promises. We need to hold them accountable—especially those we elect in November—to shift their attitudes and to empower underrepresented communities.