Flint, Our Future?

Dan Beltaigne

Summary: The severe water contamination in Flint, Michigan, which has already impacted the health of the population, especially the youth, stems from the poisonous legacies of both racial oppression and capital accumulation — Editors

In an environmental–indeed human–crisis that grows daily in the city of Flint, Michigan, the cause of which lies squarely at the feet of the governor of that state, the residents of that city, 60% of whom are African-American, are calling for, not only the ouster, but the arrest of Gov. Rick Snyder for what is seen as the worst case of water contamination of a major U.S. city in decades, the consequences of which are certain to be long term and inestimable in terms of people’s health, especially the young.

According to Democracy Now! 52 percent of African American Michigan residents live in areas overseen by emergency managers, who were directly appointed by the Governor from 2013-14; conversely, only 2 percent of white residents live under these same emergency managers.

The water is so bad that General Motors, a company that for more than a century has largely contributed to the water contamination that now afflicts the people of Flint (and, of course, let’s not forget a century of exploitation of Flint’s working class population), no longer uses the water because they see the water as too corrosive for its own plumbing system. No need to wait for the long term; already the young are being impacted in terms of their cognitive skill as well as their overall health. Clearly a situation that is inexcusable under any circumstances, in the richest, most powerful nation on earth, this can’t be seen as merely criminal.

What the full facts of this particular crisis in Flint, Michigan make clear is that this same fate awaits us all. Removing a governor would only be half the job. More importantly, it is crucial that we see that the current state of degeneracy in the political arena is a direct outgrowth of the current state of degeneracy of capitalism itself.

Importantly as well, this particular crisis in Flint, Michigan is not separate from the one that continues to unfold in Los Angeles, California, where a natural gas leak has caused residents of whole neighborhoods to evacuate their homes.

Whether we are talking about the private or public sector of our economy or our government–whether local, state, or national–the more important question to ask ourselves is: What is needed to develop an alternative to a system so bent on the accumulation of wealth and technology and yet fails to provide people so basic a need as clean water or clean air?



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  1. Tom Edminster

    Nuclear weapons spread has caused people around the world to raise the related issue since after WW2…

  2. Nicholas Guzowski

    The ironic thing that I found about this article is that capitalists cant even get capitalism right. If you are trying to dispose of chemicals and waste into the water, it would be smarter to not let it get out of hand but to get rid of what you can so that it doesn’t turn into a big issue. Yet, they get so confident in the false perception of invincibility that they let it get to the most extreme before even acknowledging that it is there.

  3. Peter Hudis

    What we have here is a classic case of the REAL impact of “privatization” of social services–the clarion call of the present stage of capitalism in much of the world. It should not go unmentioned that TEN people have died from Legionnaire’s Disease in the Flint area in the past year–and the pathogen that causes it is born by contaminated water. Hence, Gov. Snyder should not just be forced to resign–he should be indicted for negligent manslaughter! That won’t solve the problem, of course, but until those who make these decisions are placed behind bars, their fellow apologists for neoliberalism are unlikely to lose a night’s sleep over it.

  4. D. Beltaigne

    Finally, the crisis in Flint has made to the Presidential Debates last night. I confess I didn’t watch, but I understand that Clinton, at a minimum, said that what has happened in Flint is “outrageous.” Has Clinton suggested that the Governor of Michigan resign? I don’t know. Like the Mayor of Chicago, as intransigent as he is, I’m sure that Gov. Snyder isn’t going to take the hint to step down anytime soon if he can help it. But, has Clinton suggested that the Governor be removed from office and or arrested as he should be? What kind of future do any of us when the responses by our leaders to crises such as Flint can only at best be politely described as anemic? Let me be clear: what is happening in Flint is not unseparated from the continuing disaster happening in Los Angeles with the massive methane leak, which has led to the evacuation of whole neighborhoods. Nor is the crisis in Flint unseparated from the racist police brutality that has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. At a minimum, Governor Snyder should be removed from office and criminally prosecuted along with all his cronies who are responsible for this human tragedy.
    Below is a time line of the events in Flint; not all inclusive, but helpful, I hope.
    November 29, 2011: Governor Snyder appoints Michael Brown as the state’s Emergency Manager (EM) for the city of Flint in what would become a revolving door of EMs. In a state of financial emergency since 2002, Flint has had four EMs.
    August 8, 2012: Governor Snyder appoints Ed Kurtz as EM after Michael Brown steps down. He returns to that position after being Flint’s first EM from 2002-04.
    April 2014: In a move that the public is told will only be temporary, Flint begins drawing its water from the Flint River instead of relying on water from Detroit. Residents immediately start complaining about the smell, taste and appearance of the water; raising health concerns after reports of rashes, hair loss, among symptoms.
    Summer 2014: Three boil-water advisories were issued in a 22 day period after coliform bacteria is detected in the water supply.
    October 2014: Because of the corrosive properties of Flint’s water, a General Motors engine plant stops using the city’s water.
    January 2015: EM, Darnell Early, was offered a chance to reconnect to Detroit’s water system but refused. Detroit offered the reconnect without the $4 million reconnect charge.
    January 2015: Amid concerns the water contains harmful levels of a disinfection byproduct, the city seeks an evaluation of its efforts to improve the water quality. However, Detroit offers to reconnect Flint to its water supply, Flint turn down the offer, insisting its water is safe.
    January 28: In the first of many giveaways to follow in the ensuing months, Flint residents snap up 200 cases of bottled water.
    February 3: For Flint’s troubled water system, state officials a paltry pledge $2 million.
    February: To ensure community involvement in the issues surrounding the water problem, Mayor Dayne Walling supports the formation of a 40 member advisory committee to address concerns over Flint’s water.
    Spring 2015: Lead levels were found to be as high as 30 times the safety level in some sections of the city.
    March 19: The city of Flint promises to spend $2.24 million on the immediate improvements to its water supply.
    March 27: After asserting that testing meets all state and federal safety standards, Flint officials say the water quality has improved.
    September 24: State regulators continued to insist the water is safe even after a group of doctors led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center urged Flint to stop using water from the Flint River after finding high levels of lead in the blood of children.
    September 29: In the state’s first acknowledgement of the lead problem, Gov. Rick Snyder pledges to take action.
    October 2: Gov. Snyder announces that the state will spend $1 million to buy water filters and test water in Flint public schools.
    October 8: Gov. Snyder calls for Flint to go back to using water from Detroit’s system.
    October 15: The Governor and Legislature approve nearly $9.4 million in aid to Flint, including $6 million to help switch its drinking water back to Detroit. The legislation also includes money for water filters, inspections and lab testing
    November 3: Amid fallout over the drinking water, voters replace incumbent Mayor Dayne Walling with newcomer Karen Weaver.
    November 15: Citizens of Flint file a class action suit against the Governor, the state, and the city of Flint.
    December 29: Governor Snyder accepts the resignation of Department of Environment Quality Director Dan Wyant and apologizes for what occurred in Flint.
    January 5, 2016: Governor Snyder finally declares a state of emergency in Flint, the same day federal officials confirm that they are investigating.
    January 12: Governor Snyder activates the Michigan National Guard to help distribute bottled water and asks the federal government for help.
    January 13: Michigan health officials report an increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases during periods over the past two years in the county that includes Flint.
    January 14: Governor Snyder asks the Obama administration for major disaster declaration and more federal aid.
    January 16: President Obama signs an emergency declaration and orders federal aid for Flint, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate relief efforts.