Flint’s Water Crisis: A Chronicle of Disenfranchisement, Denial, and Buck-Passing

The ACLU of Michigan just released a must-see short documentary on the Flint water crisis. It’s important that this not be forgotten even as the scandal has died down and eyes are moving off Michigan now that the Democratic debate and state primary have passed.

This piece is powerful because it’s told by the local citizens who were abused (and this is not an overstatement) by emergency managers who were instructed to prioritize making bond payments. Even though readers may know many of the elements of this story from the extensive media coverage, it has a completely different impact not simply seeing it put together in one place, chronologically as it unfolded, but witnessing the appalling record of official efforts to deny that there was a problem (including deliberately constructing completely unrepresentative tests) and repeatedly telling flat out lies. It’s also not hard to discern that the emergency managers, their allies, and the state government held the Flint citizens in utter contempt. The class/race bias and condescension are palpable.

The documentary is also a testament to the persistence of the efforts of Flint citizens in mustering allies (such as the ACLU as well as the environmental engineers at Virginia Tech) to develop rock-solid evidence of the contamination of the water and publicize the developing public health crisis. The fact that the city’s overlords and state officials thought they could get away with what amounts to poisoning of a population this large is another symptom of elite insularity.

Again, this is a relatively short video given the ground that it covers. I hope you’ll view it and circulate widely.

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  1. Uahsenaa

    Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. People’s lives threatened, democracy subverted, all because the State wouldn’t let them default on or renegotiate a bond issue.

    Kontraktz r saycret, mkay?

  2. amousie

    Powerful video.

    Now if only someone like a Taibbi (Jefferson County corruption) would pull all of the pieces together what with the new regional public / private water system, Detroit’s bankruptcy / Detroit’s water system, the selling of the regional water lines, the emergency manager, etc. I rather suspect that Michigan is the template and testing grounds planned to be rolled out to the rest of the country down the line. Perhaps Wisconsin will follow suit shortly.

  3. Blink 180

    It’s a cliche that Hitler became infamous because he visited the sorts of horrors on Europeans that Europeans had been visiting on non-Europeans.

    What happened in Flint is a microcosm of what has been inflicted on the entire “developing world”.

  4. Ché Pasa

    It’s what’s in store for everyone if the neo-con/neo-lib Juggernaut isn’t stopped somewhere.

    So far, it’s rolling on with few/no impediment. Inertia and all that.

    Michigan and its horrors/travails might become the turning point.

  5. RUKidding

    If citizens (I don’t care how they vote) don’t wake up soon, this will be commonplace. Our country is already a third world nation, where the middle to upper classes turn up their noses and sneer at homeless people. Witness the rise in homelessness over the past three decades – but escalated since 2008 – and you’ll see/hear plenty of citizens ignoring their plight, openly dissing them, and/or excusing it by saying “the homeless want to remain on the streets; they don’t want help.”

    Nice dodge. I’ve heard people say the most credulous nonsense about Flint. About how welfare cheats get what they deserve and similar. It’s so sick because sneer and condescend to and hate on the poorz all you want, if you think this can’t happen to your community, guess again.

    Already in Sacramento “Democratic” (ha ha) Mayor Kevin Johnson has sold out water rights – in drought stricken CA – to evil empire Nestle. So people are paying good money to drink tap water from our rivers sold to them by Nestle. And is that water any good? Who knows? Is it better or worse than what comes out of the tap? Who knows? One thing I do know is that it’s more expensive than paying your current water rates.

    But the dog forbid we pay appropriate taxes to insure we have adequate infrastructure…. because heaven forfend, some welfare cheat might get to benefit from said infrastructure. So, let me waste my hard earned money paying Nestle to sell me MY water back to me at a higher price than paying for infrastructure improvements. Makes sense!

    Wish people could wake up and smell the coffee. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. mark

    Thanks for mentioning this documentary.

    The general lack of concern about this nightmare is sickening.

  7. KYrocky

    This is a story that no democrat should stop talking about.

    The Emergency Manger law was rammed through the Michigan state house shortly after Snyder’s coronation, er, swearing in. The people of Michigan revolted, and in a voter referendum the law was repealed. The people had spoken. Snyder and the republicans then inserted a line or two into the repealed bill so that they could then attach it as an amendment to a spending bill, because spending bills are excluded from repeal via referendum. Snyder to the people: F you.

    Emergency managers were forced on the people of Michigan against their demonstrated will. Snyder hand picked each and every Emergency Manager, and every Manager reported to Snyder.

    The Emergency Manager law was one big F you to local governments as it completely stripped them of any control or power. Just as Snyder deliberately told the people of the state to F off by passing the law, Snyder’s hand picked henchmen did the same to the communities they ruled:

    It’s also not hard to discern that the emergency managers, their allies, and the state government held the Flint citizens in utter contempt. The class/race bias and condescension are palpable.

    This is who republicans are. Republicans are pushing laws to suppress voters they disagree with. Republican officials are advocating ignoring Supreme Court ruling they do not like. Republicans were advocating secession because a black democrat was elected. Republicans don’t respect authority, they abuse it. Republicans do not embrace democracy, they subvert it. Republicans not only do not care about people who think, believe, look, worship or love differently that themselves, they hold them in contempt at best, and hate at worst.

    Everything that happened in Flint happened because Republicans wanted to let it happen. The Emergency Manager contracted with the worlds largest operator of privatized water districts, Violia, for guidance on the switch over to the river water. It has been reported that including an assessment on potential for corrosion to lines was specifically EXCLUDED FROM THEIR REPORT, this in the face of the long and well know history of the corrosiveness of Flint River water among every professional who worked for or had professional dealing with the Flint system. The Governor and Emergency Manager knew there was a problem, contracted for plausible deniability, and then set back and let the disaster run its course.

    They would still be poisoning the people of Flint had the public’s outcry not exceeded the political gain.

    Flint is proof of the damage Republicans are willing to inflict on others in the service of their ideology and political power.

    Do not stop talking about it.

    1. Louis Renault

      The Emergency Manager was put in place because the elected officials bankrupted the city just like the elected officials of Detroit had. No Detroit bankruptcy + no change to the source of Flint’s water thus no crisis.

      We should definitely NOT have Democrats talking about the local citizens electing local representatives who bankrupt their local communities then demand socialization of the tax bills they ran up.

      1. Carla

        The state government of Michigan bankrupted the city of Detroit, as Republican “led” (have to put that in quotes) states all over the country have been doing.

        Is there corruption in government? Sure. WAY too much of it, and it’s entirely bi-partisan. But why don’t we ever look at the people paying the bribes, as well as those who take them. Two sides of the same damned coin.

        And when that coin is tossed, who gets squashed? The public, that’s who.

  8. YankeeFrank

    I’d suggest Yves keep this piece at the top of the page for as long as it takes for major media to pick it up. It is horrifying, and clearly spells out what neoliberalism has to offer us.

      1. dbk

        I agree, and was about to inquire whether the MSM are properly stressing the story when the comment and +1 appeared.

        Not sure where I read/heard that MI voters turned out to be not so concerned about Flint’s water as they were about (the absence of) jobs. As if the two were unconnected …

  9. Benedict@Large

    Suits need to be replace with jumpsuits. Lots of them. For a long time.

    There is nothing that makes people get moral more quickly better than suddenly finding they have large amounts of their own skin on the line. We don’t need better capitalism. We need better people.

  10. meeps

    A related problem: companies (Nestle in this case) have privatized public water sources and are pumping them for free, while people (in this case the people of Flint) are paying THRICE–first for poisoned water (at some of the highest rates in the country), again for bottled water and then with their health.

    I have a great deal of respect for the people who are fighting for justice in Flint.


  11. Carla

    Hhhmmm… the “I support Occupy” banner is missing. Policy change or inadvertent omission?

  12. Edward

    How are these emergency managers even legal? Why hasn’t the federal government stepped in and said “no” to this practice?

  13. divadab

    I would bet that Snyder’s radical Republican wreckers helped Bernie in the Michigan by their arrant incompetence and deliberate contempt for democracy.

    And when you listen to Snyder’s Mr. Magoo voice one phrase comes to mind – the banality of evil. The guy looks and sounds harmless and nice but he’s in fact dangerous ideological scum.

    1. Carla

      What you said about Snyder is exactly what many, many Ohioans (including yours truly) could and would also say about John Kasich. To those who may be tempted to think Kasich is a “moderate” Republican — DON’T. Just don’t. He was an architect of ALEC.

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