MWRO’s POSITION PAPER ON THE FLINT WATER CRISIS: The Consequences of Corporate Control, Austerity and Emergency Management.
Maureen D. Taylor, State Chair
The crisis that is flowing through the streets of Flint, MI has galvanized the soul of the country in a way that we are all encouraged yet overwhelmed by the response to this situation. MWRO is very engaged as we look at and react to the essence of what has occurred, and we find ourselves in turmoil as to what is to be done. Members of MWRO search for the deeper meaning of events as we try to anticipate and predict political trends always in an effort to expose the true nature of capitalism, the economic system we live under that is not good for any of us.
The analysis put forward in this document seeks to share a class point of view. There is a genesis to the Flint River poisoning. The single-industry economy has a direct correlation to outcomes, and the history of Flint, MI needs to be reviewed if we are to understand what has happened and why.
At it’s height, Flint MI had a population of 196,940 residents – most connected to the auto-industry directly or indirectly. Starting in the early 1900’s, General Motors held workers captive as it lured scores of blue-collar workers with the promise of a better life for themselves and their families. Salaries paid to auto-workers meant the development of middle-class neighborhoods where families owned homes, bought cars, took vacations, sought post secondary education, and enjoyed the perks of high paying jobs. That promise of a better life was fulfilled as long as “hands” were needed, so the good times lasted just over 75 years.
The rise of robotic manufacturing changed forever the profile of that city, so from 1960-1980, as plants closed down, austerity rose, and the population migrated away. This fact is so significant because this phenomenon was duplicated everywhere auto plants were imbedded. Industrial manufacturing accounted for upwards of 80,000 Flint residents working around the clock in 1978, and by 2000 – fewer than 8,000 were still connected to factory work during that year. Today, fewer than half of that number is still actively employed in the one auto factory that is left. The city was relegated to the “unimportant sector” because they were no longer part of the active workforce, so their quality of
life fell fast. Housing foreclosures followed by a rise in crime, followed by greater numbers of residents moving away became the saga for Flint while those who stayed tried to hold on.
In 2011, Flint residents along with several other cities in MI lost the right to vote, stripped of democracy because, “Flint lives don’t matter.” The corporate-backed Governor set all elections aside, hand-picked then imposed an unelected person to rule over the city, make all the decisions, and report only to the Governor without an end-date. Flint assets were sold to family and friends by this new entity called, “EMERGENCY MANAGERS” who did the bidding of the 1% faithfully. Steps were put in place that sanctioned complete autonomy by these dictators who knew no boundaries.
Corporate control over Michigan took hold as the imposition of EMERGENCY MANAGERS spread, mostly to cities where industrial operations were once significant and there were people of color employed in high paying jobs. These are new dispossessed citizens living in America. Democracy was destroyed while America stood by and watched, not understanding the significance of what that meant.. The governor authorized a series of EMERGENCY MANAGERS over Flint, who decided it was cost-effective to switch from clean water, to river water. To provide public water for residents from the Flint River required a small financial investment so that the appropriate chemicals might be added to keep lead and other poisons out. That investment was not engaged, so in April of 2014, the switch to poison public water was made.
Residents started to complain in May as emails surfaced coming from the last General Motors plant in Flint, explaining that they were discontinuing the use of water from the Flint River because after three days, metal parts used in auto-production started to corrode. In the face of abject proof, the rest of the story is tragic that underscores depraved indifference and reckless endangerment at every level of government. Boiled-water advisories were issued suggesting that public water was safe if heated. Officials were filmed drinking Flint River water while residents continued to complain. Pediatric specialists issued reports of dangerous lead levels discovered in children, and they were mocked. Researchers published their findings also documenting rising, dangerous lead levels in both children and adults, and they were ignored. By Jan, 2015, state workers so alarmed by what they were seeing and hearing, they demanded an alternative, so private water was provide at their offices. Eleven months later in December of 2015, the governor acknowledged that a problem might exist.
The explosion of concern was immediate in that millions of bottles of water started to find a way into Flint, donated by caring fellow citizens from across the country, shocked at this horrible circumstance. The response to this national tragedy demonstrates our lack of clarity about the origins of this event. We don’t see ourselves as a class first, composed of many colors, so we react using the tools suggested by the corporate class who created the crisis. Our fellow citizens in Flint need clean water to drink, for sure. After we deliver bottled water, then what?
We are facing a systemic disaster that calls for a systemic solution, but we are not there yet. The political call must be adjusted to fit what is needed at this time. We should all demand responses that help solve the immediate situation, and not merely offer Band-Aids no matter how well-intentioned. We must continue to deliver water while we demand that these residents be temporarily relocated into nearby communities where the water is clean and accessible. Mobile homes, state-county-city owned houses, vacant apartments, unused military housing – a decent system would have activated use of these and more, offering residents immediate relief and distance from danger.
Clinics offering 24/7 access should be constructed near those sites so that round-the-clock health monitoring can take place since the damage done is permanent. While residents are away from their permanent homes, repairs and replacement of all involved pipes should have started within days of discovering what happened. All of these steps should have taken place along with a team of investigators put in place who task it should be to indict those who caused this crisis.
The governor, his party affiliates, his democratic friends, and the corporate entities who were and will be jockeying for contracts that allow them to privatize water and access “cheap” land and existing properties all over Flint for pennies on the dollar are the enemy that we can’t see yet.
This is the analysis MWRO wants to share in hopes that we might one day construct steps to unite us and get us on the same page as we fight these devils who would destroy humanity, poison children, challenge our collective futures, and harm mother earth all in the name of profit.
“WE GET WHAT WE ORGANIZE TO TAKE!”