Don’t go near that water

pastor Guy Johnson

pastor Guy Johnson

The lead infused water crisis in Flint, Michigan has inspired Pastor Guy Johnson, who does outreach for the Loudoun Soil and Water Board in Loudoun, to raise funds to help the children and their parents in Flint.

“This is an issue of human rights,” said Guy, “Clean water is a human right, not a privilege. Poisoning our citizens is not acceptable. If ISIS had done this, it would be called ‘terrorism.’”

In April 2014, Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Manager overrode Flint’s Mayor and the City Council, switching the water supply from the Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, to the Flint River, so they could cut costs; Snyder’s Manager didn’t spend a dime to add chemicals to the Flint river water to offset the water’s corrosive effect; as a result, lead leached from water pipes and fixtures into the tap water the citizens drank.

Lead is toxic, not safe at any level in humans, and can cause nervous system damage, stunted growth, kidney damage and delayed development; its effects are most severe on developing brains and the nervous systems of children and fetuses; it can effect reproduction among adults; it is a likely carcinogen.

It is estimated that 8,657 children in Flint drank this toxic tap water, and there is no estimate how many pregnant women living in Flint, or who visited Flint, also drank the water.

Guy said, “I’m angry because these children are doomed to a life of unrelenting medical care. How is it that, in 1978, we took lead out of paint, but we have lead in water in 2016? That’s why I’m raising this money, to help these poor people.”

There were early warning signs, starting in April 2014, when Flint residents complained that the water looked and smelled bad, and caused rashes.

In July 2015, the Health Department’s Chief of Staff, Dennis Muchmore, wrote, “I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt.”

A member of Muchmore’s staff, an epidemiologist, found elevated blood lead levels among children under 16. This damning report about the children was, however, suppressed and only later unearthed by a FOIA request.

Although the water supply is now switched back to the Detroit system, efforts to coat the pipes haven’t worked. Lead filters don’t fit all the sinks and don’t seem to be working.

General Motors issued a statement that the Flint water caused corrosion, and was not safe for its cars.

“If General Motors has enough sense not to use the water on an inanimate object, on a car,” said Guy, “then, why is ok to use it on a child? It’s a sin and shame what’s happened here.”

Many would like to leave Flint but can’t.

“The problem here is that the water is the symptom that we can see,” said Guy, “There’s much more going on, underemployment, poverty, blight and crime.”

“Our witness to the world, to borrow from Paul, is of sounding brass, and a clanging cymbal,” said Guy.

Guy said, “I just can’t abide seeing injustice done. We have a duty to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. I’m asking others to stand with me.”

This nation has lost heart, and is more indifferent to those less advantaged than any time in my life. This is a story about Flint but it’s also about the rest of the nation.

4 thoughts on “Don’t go near that water

  1. Roland England

    What happened with the water in Flint defies common sense. Behind this and so many things happening in Michigan lies the effort to rob people of their local elected officials by placing more power in the hands of people who are appointed by the Governor. It’s also a part of an ungoing effort all over the US to make it harder for low income and minorities to be able to vote and to hold elected officials accountable.

  2. Pariahdog

    Here is a long quote from an article that describes the structural changes in Flint which demonstrates that the poisoning is about more than “saving money.” It’s about deconstructing democracy.

    Flint’s pound of flesh

    By most accounts, cities like Flint are victims of structural forces. The common-sense canard that globalization and technological change have made rust-belt cities unviable has been a convenient narrative for restructuring industrial cities through fiscal austerity programs. But while deindustrialization is an important part of Flint’s story, it obscures broader political forces that have decimated budgets and battered working class populations across the Midwest.

    According to the Michigan Municipal League, between 2003-2013, Flint lost close to 60 million dollars in revenue sharing from the state, tied to the sales tax, which increased over the same decade. During this period, the city cut its police force in half while violent crime doubled, from 12.2 per 1000 people in 2003, to 23.4 in 2011. Such a loss of revenue is larger than the entire 2015 Flint general fund budget.

    In fact, cuts to Michigan cities like Flint and Detroit have occurred as state authorities raided so-called statutory revenue sharing funds to balance their own budgets and pay for cuts in business taxes. Unlike “constitutional” revenue sharing in Michigan, state authorities could divert these resources at their discretion. It is estimated that between 2003-2013 the state withheld over $6 billion dollars from Michigan cities.

    And cuts to revenue sharing increased in line with the state’s political turn. Democrats suffered major losses in the state legislature in 2010, while the governorship switched hands with the election of Republican Rick Snyder in the same year. In a climate of austerity at both the state and national levels, and with Tea Party conservatives dominating the Republican Party, cuts to cash-strapped municipalities opened the door to claims that cities like Flint and Detroit were living beyond their means.

    With city budgets in the red, state authorities imposed new forms of market-based discipline on struggling municipal governments. In 2011, Snyder implemented the Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP), a new statutory revenue-sharing program that required cities to undertake market-friendly reforms. And while diminished revenue sharing had been taking place since the early 2000s, the new statutory guidelines specifically based state funding on austerity measures taken at the local level.

    Revenue sharing was now tied to accountability and transparency, consolidation of services and employee compensation. According to Snyder’s plan, local governments would be provided statutory revenue if they cut back spending on expenditures such as health care costs for new employees. Services would be consolidated or privatized, and the overall thrust of the program positioned Michigan cities as businesses providing competitive products to their citizen-consumers.

    Meanwhile, as the amount that the state of Michigan shared with struggling cities continued to drop, Snyder presented himself as a budget-balancing technocrat—possible in part through his appropriation of these very municipal funds.

    More importantly, cuts in revenue sharing created inevitable fiscal difficulties at the urban level. But beyond spreadsheets and line items, these predictable budget crises were political in nature. They opened up the door to emergency management in Flint and Detroit, in which a handpicked technocrat of the governor’s choosing could now sideline democratic governance. In late 2011, the governor installed his first emergency manager in Flint.

    Emergency management has done what democratic politics under austerity could not. While the city’s emergency manager called City Council efforts to return Flint to Detroit water “incomprehensible,” Flint’s most recent budget deficits have been cut on the backs of schools, public health and city workers.

    As a consequence, local nonprofits and foundations have picked up the slack. The Flint-based C.S. Mott Foundation, with an endowment of close to $2 billion, has bankrolled services from homeless shelters, to soup kitchens, to the upmarket transformation of downtown with new restaurants, a wine bar and farmer’s market.

    Emphasizing personal responsibility and self reliance, the Mott Foundation is crucial to the survival of many of the city’s poorest residents and the services they rely upon. But it also represents the post-democratic nature of urban governance in cities like Flint. While unelected officials cut services for the needy, the individual agendas of nonprofits decide who is worthy of support. These changes encourage Flint residents to view access to services such as education or health as a form of private largesse, rather than a basic human right.

  3. Pariahdog

    When Flint is called “the canary in the coal mine,” it’s because the structural neoliberal changes to it’s economy are being orchestrated in municipality after municipality across the country. We saw the same thing here in Loudoun in 2011 when the all Republican BoS immediately installed the Loudoun County Government Reform Commission, and then quickly dismantled it after it had served its purposes.

    The LCGRC had three major goals:

    1. To oust the Commissioner of Revenue and assign the duties to Robert Wertz, a partisan Republican stalwart, and finance chair of the 10th Congressional District. This change gave the BoS more leverage over the income side of the county’s budget, allowing it to tweak what is supposed to be an objective assessment process, to a process that can invisibly reward or punish property owners in red versus blue communities.
    2. To impose transparency measures [austerity] over the school budget and gain more BoS control over that budget process.
    3. To fire a shot across the bow of the Counties labor force with threats of privatization.

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