If the only water coming out of your tap was brown, murky, and contaminated, would you drink it?
The citizens of Flint, Michigan have asked themselves this question for the past four years and the situation is more serious than it seems.
In 2014, Michigan was in the midst of recovering from the economic crisis. Devastated by the closing of the General Motors factories that once facilitated the state's success, Michigan was forced to implement cost-saving programs in every facet of political life - starting with its water source. Although the city of Flint was once able to use water from nearby Detroit, the high cost of this water supply forced a transition to extractions from the local Flint River. The switch was supposed to be an inexpensive fix, a temporary solution until the state could build a new regional water system. But before long, noticeable differences began to appear in the citizens' drinking water. And when rashes and hair loss ensued, it didn't take anyone long to connect the dots.
Although the people of Flint saw the contaminated water for what it was, their state's political administration was not so easily convinced. Michigan governor Rick Snyder claimed that federal tests proved the water to be safe - disregarding the death rates and birth defects that contamination had so evidently caused. Despite popular protest, Snyder remained steadfast in this claim for the next two years. However, his government was exposed when the Environmental Protection Agency leaked a report proving that the lead levels of the water were higher than normal. Subsequently, steps were finally taken to alleviate the problem. The state transitioned Flint back to its former water source in Detroit, and Snyder's advisers were indicted for involuntary manslaughter. As the state addressed the issue of decontaminating the water, the residents of Flint were provided with free water bottles to continue daily life.
But the problems continued. In April of 2018, Snyder abruptly ended the free water bottle program, asserting that new tests proved the water to be free of toxic substances. Yet the citizens, continuing to see the effects of contamination, were justifiably unconvinced. Despite barely earning minimum wage, they began individually buying bottled water simply to sustain themselves. As protests ensued, it was clear that all trust was lost in the Michigan state government. The people wanted clean water, and they wanted their voices to be heard. And they wanted to take their case to the federal government.
But federal support has been halfhearted at best. In 2016, Republicans quietly closed an investigation into the crisis. And in 2019, it's not even a legislative priority.
Systemic racism and classism are notorious aspects of America's history, and certainly at play in the federal government's lack of a response to this conflict.
Over half of Flint's population is black, with white citizens constituting only a slim minority. In addition, Flint is the most impoverished city in the nation, with 39 percent of its residents and 60 percent of its children in poverty. We cannot ignore the fact that if this crisis concerned the white, the wealthy, or the powerful, the federal administration would have found a solution far more quickly. Our Constitution, as well as our ethical standards, should have taught us better than to neglect a crisis when the underprivileged pay the costs. The presence of large donors and PACs in US politics is far from secret. Much of the legislation in this country solely benefits the white and the rich who hold positions of power. But America is a democracy which prides itself on fair elections of its leaders. Why should the very populace that puts this government in place remain unheard? "More serious issues" are consistently used as excuses to procrastinate resolving this crisis. But it has been four years, and the effects of the contaminated water in Flint are fatal. We cannot procrastinate any longer.
Politicians of today believe that addressing the crisis will reflect badly upon America as a country. They claim that by acknowledging the water contamination as a problem, they are admitting defeat; they are admitting that the state government of Michigan was wrong. But what will truly reflect badly upon America is failing to respond to a severe, fatal crisis. What will truly reflect badly upon America is pretending that this problem doesn't exist in order to uphold the egos of powerful political leaders. It is the role of the US government to address the problems its citizens face, and our leaders should feel obliged to make this pressing conflict a priority. Simply put, Americans don't shove crises like this under the rug. We admit our faults, acknowledge problems, and make a necessary change.
The Flint water crisis is serious and affects thousands of people on a daily basis. The city's residents have been forced to drink contaminated water for four years, and cannot continue to suffer any longer. As this issue gains visibility through increased media coverage, negligent political leaders are increasingly held accountable by their citizens. The contamination of the water in Flint, Michigan needs to be a governmental priority. The time for the federal administration to act is now.