https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flint_River_in_Flint_MIchigan.jpg

Flint River, photo by U.S. Army Corp of Engineers

There is something terribly disturbing about the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. When state leaders can’t even deliver basic services such as safe drinking water, they have failed.

The background to the tragic situation in Flint is an austerity politics that seeks to cut back basic government services in the name of cost-cutting.

The city of Flint switched its water source from Lake Huron (which is where Detroit gets its water) to the Flint River in April 2014. It was a move designed to save a very economically depressed city some money. It was the wrong move. An Emergency Manager appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed off on the decision. Rather than putting the interests of citizens first, the unelected, all-powerful Emergency Manager was charged with making hard-headed “business” decisions. That approach—in Flint and elsewhere around the country—has had disastrous results.

Right away, children and residents got sick from drinking the water, even though the city managers assured them it was safe.  By August, the water tested positive for E-coli and by September 2014, citizens had been advised to boil their water before drinking it by local officials.

In January 2015, residents were lining up daily to get free bottled water and the city was found to be in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The number of children testing positive for elevated levels of lead had skyrocketed since the switch from Lake Huron. By April 2015 city officials were demanding that the water source be changed back but had no power to make it happen. State officials, led by Governor Snyder, dragged their feet and did not take the unfolding disaster seriously. It got worse.

By July 2015, the governor’s office still did nothing substantial to deliver safe drinking water to the citizens in the city. Children continued to suffer. It was only just recently, after months of delay and failed leadership, and calls from citizens for the arrest and indictment of Governor Snyder, that the Snyder administration finally declared a state of emergency.  

The state now is providing access to clean water to the citizens of Flint. Governor Snyder apologized twice to the city for his mistakes. Yet doctors say it will take years to determine the extent of damage to children in the city due to exposure to lead. The children who sustained brain damage will never recover.

The water crisis in Flint did not have to happen.

Just as Michigan did not have to cut corners on safe drinking water, politicians around the country are putting cost-cutting ahead of the health of thousands of citizens in their states by refusing to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

This is no way to serve the people. The people of Flint and others deserve a government responsive to their basic needs, not one beholden to an anti-democratic ideology.

Poet Brian Gilmore’s latest book is We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

 

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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