We Should Still Be Talking About Flint A Year Later

Three state of emergency declarations, two years of lead contamination, and one year of national media visibility later, Flint, Michigan residents still do not have drinkable water.

It has been a year since Flint mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency in response to the Flint Water Crisis. While the ominous name given it suggests a natural disaster, in reality, the water crisis happening in Flint is completely the result of human decisions – mainly those of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and his administration.

Over this past weekend, the U.S. Senate signed off on a $170 million federal aid package for Flint and other communities. But according to Rewire this aid won’t nearly cover the needs of all 100,000 residents.  Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says that the $100 million in subsidized loans allotted within the federal package is “about half of what the city needs to replace the pipes and to get the faucets bringing out safe water.” Ultimately the Flint aid package addresses the water infrastructure issues that led to this crisis but makes no reparations for the violent environmental negligence and health implications that ensued from those issues.

The Flint Water Crisis is undeniably an issue of racism and classism. People of color make up 65% of Flint’s population, with Black people representing 57% of the total population. As a cost saving method for the city, emergency managers, appointed by Gov. Snyder’s administration, decided to switch Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, without any proper research on the water’s contamination levels or water treatment.  The state of Michigan started buying bottled water for its employees at government offices in January of 2015, yet Flint residents were never told about the possible contamination of their water supply, even as they too were raising concerns. With 41% of residents living below the poverty line and navigating some of the highest utility rates in the nation, most people had no way to protect or prepare themselves from the contaminated water.

Undocumented folks in Flint also have born some of the biggest burdens during the water crisis, for several reasons. Aside from not being told about the water being contaminated, undocumented Flint residents said that they also didn’t “receive any information on the consequences of lead poisoning and are still unaware of where testing can be done and whether or not it’s free,” primarily due to language barriers. Those who were able to find information on free testing centers, water distribution sites, or treatment clinics, were required to show a government issued ID to receive services, which most didn’t have. In response to Flint residents’ exposure to lead, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved the expansion of Michigan’s Medicaid program, increasing eligibility for 15,000 children and pregnant people – yet citizenship restrictions on Medicaid prevented undocumented people from accessing this service.

What is happening in places like Flint and Standing Rock shows us that in 2016, clean drinking water is still a privilege for marginalized people. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrates that out of fifty states in the U.S., only nine U.S. are reporting safe levels of lead in their water supply. As we move closer towards Trump’s presidency, we take our direction from water protectors and remain committed to protecting for human rights from Flint to Standing Rock and beyond.

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Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in Sociology from Georgia State University, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from her alma mater. She is a member on the board of directors of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, and is a former content creator for the The Body Is Not An Apology. As a femme, feminist, and queer Black woman, it is through her lived experiences and complex identities that Quita has come to believe in the power of storytelling and the validation of lived experiences.

Quita Tinsley is a fat, Black, queer femme that writes, organizes, and overall is working to build sustainable change in the South.

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