From The President / March 9, 2016

The Poisoning of Flint is a Failure of Democracy, and Democracy is the Only Real Remedy

Gara LaMarche
Democracy Alliance President

The public health, civil rights and political crisis in Flint, Michigan was spotlighted again by the debate between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders that took place there Sunday night.  Flint may seem an extreme example of the toll taken by the conservative war on government and the human costs of structural racism, but at the same time it is all-too-familiar – a Katrina of the north.

It’s a public health crisis because children are being poisoned.  A civil rights crisis because a conservative white political leadership ignored the harms to a majority-Black city and then lied about it.  A political crisis because as we have seen in too many places, from Ferguson to Flint, its true roots lie in the failure of democracy. Flint, like too many majority-Black cities in Michigan, and across the country, has seen local rule curbed by emergency-management laws which impede the power of communities to protect themselves, strip collective bargaining rights, and erode liability and accountability.

Democracy Alliance-supported organizations have stepped up to the Flint crisis in impressive ways:

  • The Advancement Project has been on top of state takeovers and what happens when a city is run like a business, but their biggest campaign, #toxictakeovers, is on the emergency manager’s effect on Detroit Public Schools.
  • The affiliate of the Center for Popular Democracy has worked to reach the immigrant community in Flint to give them information about lead poisoning and what they should be doing.
  • Progress Michigan, the local Progress Now affiliate, has been doing amazing work uncovering Governor Snyder’s knowledge of the crisis and his administration’s inaction about it.
  • PICO National Network and its affiliate, Michigan Faith in Action, have been on the ground for the last six weeks, organizing community meetings and large scale canvasses, where door knocks total 10,000 and continue to happen. Michigan Faith in Action has kept an online log of their work, and has been instrumental in forming a coalition of grassroots groups, Flint Rising, which has (c)3 and (c)4 arms.
  • Michigan United, an affiliate of National People’s Action, has spoken out about the lack of transparency and accountability when state representatives are put in charge of local administrative duties.
  • ColorOfChange is running a campaign around healthy homes and lead poisoning prevention as a part of a larger program around creating healthy and safe spaces for black communities. While the campaign addresses Flint, it is not just limited to one community, but focuses on communities across the country.
  • The Center for American Progress shot an informative video on five things to know about the Flint Water Crisis.
  • Demos’ Policyshop Blog exposed Governor Snyder’s lack of action, as well as that of the legislature.
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council website launched for some time with a highlight on Flint. They further added a call to organize and write to Governor Snyder on their website. Additionally, the NRDC also wrote on the effect of lead poisoning on children, and dug deep on how they, and the nation, found out about the water crisis. Moreover, the NRDC and Progress Michigan are proceeding with a pending lawsuit.
  • Michigan League of Conservation Voters has tweeted heavily about their need for more attention to the crisis. They’ve also had staff speaking on public radio and urging the Governor to take action.

What we’ve seen emerge from the Flint water crisis is the power of the progressive movement to organize, to mobilize, and support a community’s leadership. Yet, the public health, civil rights and political crisis is not isolated to Flint. As a progressive community, we must avoid the crises brought on by structural racism and right-wing governance, not just react to them. What that takes is a serious plan to take back power not just in Washington, but in statehouses and city halls across the country.