Stir It Up: Paying for the poison

How in the hell can the people in a city in the middle of the largest source of freshwater on the entire planet be paying the highest water rates in the country for poisoned water?

That question came to mind when I saw numbers released by a group called Food and Water Watch detailing that Flint residents pay about $832 per household for water service. That cost is more than three times the average $249 that Detroiters pay. Flint water costs more than in any community in the United States.

Flint residents pay more than anybody else in the entire nation for water that makes them sick. And that's in a city with 40 percent of its people living below the poverty line.

I guess it's the exclusive rainbow colors they have in the water there that makes it so expensive. Maybe the Flint water treatment workers have to put in overtime to add the red, yellow, and brown hues to the water. And let's not forget about the exclusive flavor and aroma of Flint water that no one else enjoys. They should bottle it and sell expensive Eau de Snyder to thirsty billionaires around the world. Isn't having expensive stuff that no one else can afford part of the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Those Flint people should be happy to pay premium prices for this stuff.

That's the absurdity we're living with these days. It's beyond absurd — shall we say criminal? Genocidal? That's what former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver told me recently when we talked about a recent program at the Charles Wright Museum about the Panthers. When the subject turned to the Flint water crisis she said, "That's like a genocidal plan. That's insane."

This whole thing was done to supposedly save somebody money. The water switch from Lake Huron water treated at the Detroit water facility to Flint River water treat at the Flint plant was made to save $5 million over a two-year period. It sure wasn't doing anything for the pocketbooks of the people in Flint.

By the way, another thing that caught my eye in the report is how public water systems' average cost of $316.20 per household is less than that of the private systems' $500.96 in the United States. Here again we see the claim that privatization of services saves money is not true.

Money is the central evil woven through all of this. It was money and disregard for human life. Because state authorities claimed that the water is just fine while providing bottled water to its Flint employees, the state's disregard for human life is front and center. It was disregard for the people of Flint — who are more than 60 percent minorities.

It seems that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has put people at the top of the list of her concerns. She has been such a warrior in this fight. This is not to discount the grassroots activists who fought so hard, and continue to bring the issue to official recognition and their search for solutions. However, when it comes to what they need in a mayor to get this fixed, Weaver has been extraordinary.

She campaigned on the water issue and held true to her promises. She declared a state of emergency in Flint on Dec. 14, just over a month after assuming office. And she has pushed in all directions trying to get the water situation cleaned up. In particular she has gone rogue on Gov. Rick Snyder, publicly refuting his stonewalling and pressuring him to move faster in fixing the water pipes that leach lead.

For a year-and-a-half Flint residents complained about the water while government officials told them there was nothing wrong with it. Now nobody in Flint trusts Snyder or any other government official. Weaver is the beginning of reviving that trust. So far she has put the needs of the people first. Snyder has put forward a hazy three-step plan to study which pipes need to be replaced and to see if some pipes can be recoated so they don't leach lead. He's talking about launching a pilot program with a small number of houses. But Snyder has no timetable for setting things straight across the city.

Weaver's approach is to begin to replace the pipes now with whatever resources are at hand. Last week she said this could start as soon as this week and it could be finished in a year. I wouldn't be surprised to see her out there running a backhoe to dig up the bad pipes herself.

At a time when mistrust in government is driving presidential campaigns, Weaver is giving people in Flint an example of a caring, proactive politician who is fighting tooth and nail for her constituents.

"The people weren't put first, the health of the people wasn't put before profit and money," Weaver told a National Public Radio interviewer.

Snyder was elected in part because of that same mistrust of government. He's a part of the let-businessmen-run-government-as-businesses crowd who say the financial bottom line should run decision making. Well we can see now where that got us. The mistrust has now moved into litigious regions. Lawsuits over the Flint debacle are piling up, and some of them name the governor personally as a defendant. Talk about money-saving moves. The legal costs alone should top $100 million before this is over. And that's a shame because every penny should be going to make the people of Flint whole again.

Snyder, who has often claimed that "now is the time for solutions, not to point fingers," has done his share of finger pointing in recent weeks while he drags his feet on the solutions front.

"We're going to get this done — and done quickly — by any and every means necessary," Weaver said in a press release that seemed to channel her inner Malcolm X. "The people of my city have simply run out of patience, and I have a moral obligation to act."

Fixing the bad water supply is just one step of many that need to be taken to achieve justice in Flint. It's a stop-harm move. Moving forward from there means testing to see how much damage has been done, especially to children, and dealing with the necessary health and social services. There are some who will need lifelong care; and lead poisoning can have multigenerational effects. This tragedy is beyond figuring out its dimensions yet.

Weaver seems to be the appropriate warrior to take that on. She is a clinical psychologist who was director of behavioral services at Flint's Mott Children's Health Center from 2000 to 2010. She's also a small-business owner — Shea Lavelle Boutique — who hasn't forgotten that business and community should work together to the common good.

I hope Weaver can keep her head with the eyes of the world on her now. She's met with President Barack Obama, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and entertainer Snoop Dogg. A Democratic candidates' debate is scheduled to take place in Flint on March 6, and it will be aired internationally on CNN. Can she stay grounded, focused, and dedicated when the cameras go away?

Weaver might be the most popular Democratic politician in the state right now. Snyder, who a year ago was being discussed as a possible Republican presidential candidate, has seen ratings of his job performance drop into negative territory; although a majority of Michiganders say he should stay in office. Locals may still like him, but any pretenses to national office are as dead as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign.

There are plenty of villains in this, mostly government officials or people who worked for them. All the heroes here are from the grassroots, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, activist mothers Melissa Mays and LeAnne Walters, Pastor Alfred Harris and the Concerned Pastors for Social Action, and Flint attorney Trachelle Young. All of them are worthy of praise and admiration.

Right now, Weaver is the standard bearer. She could not have been better ushering the issue onto the world stage, and she has put the pressure on Snyder to fix it.

Most expensive water in the land and you can't even drink it. Did they really think they could get away with that?

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit articles

Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.