FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Flint’s Water Crisis and the GOP’s Class War

shutterstock_366508430

Why did Flint suffer a water catastrophe that now requires that children be treated as if they had been poisoned?

It wasn’t because the people were negligent. From the moment Flint began taking its water from the polluted Flint River, residents warned about water that came out of the faucet brown, tasted foul and smelled worse. They began packing public meetings with jugs filled with water that looked like brown stain.

It wasn’t because the democracy failed, because in Flint democracy had been suspended. The city, devastated by the closing of its auto plants and industrial base, has been in constant fiscal crisis. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, one of the crop of proud conservative governors promising to cut taxes for the rich and get government out of the way, appointed an emergency manager to run the city. Elected officials had no say.

It wasn’t because the city manager and the state environmental agency and the governor weren’t warned. Warnings were issued from the beginning. General Motors even suspended using the water because it was too corrosive for the auto parts it was making. Nevertheless, city and state officials assured the worried residents of Flint that it was still safe to drink.

The result is that Flint’s children — particularly those in the older, poorer, disproportionately black neighborhoods — have been exposed to elevated levels of lead.

Lead poisoning isn’t like contracting a cold or getting the flu. Lead is an immediate and unrelenting threat to health. It causes miscarriages and births of low-weight babies. Children exposed to lead can have disabilities that afflict them for their entire lives. Lead stays in your bones. Yet even after a federal EPA official warned that the tests were being skewed to underreport levels of lead, even after heroes like LeeAnne Walters reported that her children’s hair was falling out and that they were developing rashes and constantly sick, even after the heroic pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, an Iraqi-American, reported elevated levels of lead in children’s blood, their concerns were dismissed, their alarms scorned, they were attacked for sowing hysteria and the poor residents of Flint were told the water was safe to drink.

Why were the people and the obvious signs and the experts ignored?

They would not have been ignored if these were wealthy suburban neighborhoods and the water suddenly turned brown. They would not have been ignored if the children of an all-white community were at risk.

State officials dismissed the complaints as exaggerated. The brown water was just rust. Officials thought people ought to be grateful for what they had. The laws, they wrote, ensure the water is “safe to drink.” It doesn’t regulate how it looks, its “aesthetic values.” The water looks bad because it’s from the “Flint River.” Flint is old and poor. The pipes are old and poor. The people are black and poor.

They just have to learn to put up with it. And if the lead seems to be at dangerous levels, flushing the system before the tests, skewing the sample to the most recently built systems can jigger the results to get by. Some might get hurt, but no one worth caring about.

This is the ugly reality of the right-wing assault on America’s working people and particularly on people of color. They want to get “government out of the way” — out of the way of their greed. The successful have earned special treatment — in taxes, in contracts, in interest rates, in public investment. The unsuccessful need to learn self-reliance. They need to accept what they get and be grateful for it.

Flint is not a bug in their perspective; it is a feature. They fought against African-Americans getting the right to vote. Now they use “emergency” to set up dictators — emergency managers — to occupy predominantly African-American communities. They worry that the poor get too much “free stuff” — food stamps (once a Republican program), health care through Medicaid (so they refuse to expand it), unemployment insurance when they lose their jobs (so they limit its coverage), minimum wages (which they fight against) and “costly regulations” that require safe water and clean air and safer workplaces.

The “establishment” Republican candidate Jeb Bush has called for a “regulatory spring cleaning” to strip away regulations that protect health and safety. The Republican Congress annually seeks to cut backs EPA’s budgets and authority. The Republican governors gleefully gut the budgets of their own state agencies. They don’t worry. The children of the rich will be protected. It is the poor — of all races but disproportionately people of color — who will be left at greater risk.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should have the common decency to resign. The state and the federal government should step in and rebuild Flint’s water system immediately. A federal investigation should issue indictments where justified. But this isn’t simply about water and Flint. This is about an ideology that believes in this rich country, the privileges of the few must be protected, even if the necessities of the many are sacrificed. “Of course there is class warfare,” billionaire Warren Buffett once acknowledged, “and my class is winning.”

More articles by:

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail