Power of the people 

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More than ever could have been imagined has occurred since Shariff stood among those boxes filled with sample kits back in August. And none of it would have occurred were it not for the relentless efforts of residents to learn the truth about what was in their water, and then spread the word once the truth was uncovered.

First and foremost was conducting those independent tests to find out what the lead levels in Flint's water really were. As an investigation by the ACLU of Michigan found, the city and state were conducting water tests in a way that ensured minimum amounts of lead would be detected in an attempt to make it appear the city was in compliance with federal drinking water standards.

When Virginia Tech's Edwards came to Flint for a Sept. 15 press conference to announce the independent study found lead levels much higher than what the city and state were claiming, a critical victory was achieved.

As Edwards noted that day, the biggest danger isn't having lead in your water, "it is having lead in your water and not knowing about it."

By leading the way in conducting their own study, activists such as Shariff and McClinton were at the forefront of sounding the lead alarm in a way that gained widespread public attention.

And from there, they kept pressing. When the state, in early August, held a press conference to announce a 10-point action plan that didn't include a switch back to the river, the two women were part of a protest — held outside, because, even though they were the ones being poisoned, residents weren't allowed inside to hear the state's plans to address their concerns.

And though there were hugs and high-fives a few weeks later when Snyder announced Flint would be allowed to switch back to the Detroit system, they knew that in some ways their work was only beginning.

As McClinton said following that press conference, it wasn't enough to just focus on fixing the problems created by the state. After Snyder said initially that his administration would produce an "after-action report" to prevent the same mistakes from being made in the future, his "no-blame" approach was quickly abandoned in the face of public outrage. He appointed a task force to actually investigate. The final results of that effort have yet to be revealed, but the task force's initial findings — sent to Snyder in a Dec. 29 letter – resulted in the resignations of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director Dan Wyant and his chief spokesman, Brad Wurfel.

Howard Croft, director of public works for Flint, had already resigned prior to that. And Flint Mayor Dayne Walling lost his job in November when voters replaced him with Weaver. At the federal level, Susan Hedman, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 office in Chicago, has stepped down because, under her failed leadership, the problems in Flint were not addressed by the federal government until the disaster had erupted into a full-blown scandal. Liane Shekter Smith, the former head of the MDEQ's Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance unit was fired earlier this month. Another MDEQ employee has been suspended while the department conducts an internal review. Add to that list the MDEQ's Wurfel and Wyant.

Darnell Earley, Flint's third emergency manager and the man in charge of the city when the ill-fated switch to the river had occurred, recently announced he will be stepping down early from his current job as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools. He's been subpoenaed to testify before a congressional committee to answer questions about his role in the Flint crisis.

Meanwhile, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Michigan attorney general have launched criminal investigations.

As for Shariff and McClinton, they were out on a recent Sunday, going door to door with others from the newly formed Flint Rising coalition to make sure that those being overlooked by the government's distribution of bottled water and filters are aware of the help available to them and the dangers exposure to Flint's water continues to pose.

"There are areas in the city that continue to be marginalized," says Shariff. "Translators are needed for immigrant communities. We have to make sure the needs of residents of public housing are being met.

"And we have to keep getting out there to do what government isn't doing — because if you are not in the streets, you are not able to confront and expose the inequities that continue to occur."



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