Poor lives aren’t even on the radar
As a lifelong Michigander, I’m particularly disgusted by what’s going on 165 miles away in Flint. This once thriving town fell hard in the 1980s when General Motors closed nearly all of their auto plants. In 1978, GM employed 80,000 Flint workers. Today it’s around 7,200.
Residents who could move out of Flint to follow the jobs did. But those who stayed and struggled have been hit by an even bigger blow. The switch from Lake Huron as a water source to the less expensive Flint River resulted in lead-tainted, poisoned water. A crime to be sure. But the final insult was getting bamboozled by Michigan’s government, who knew the truth but didn’t care about Flint’s human beings. They were told to hush and drink the funny smelling, bad tasting, brown water for 18 sickening months.
The man in charge of Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder, holds a lot of the blame. For those of you outside my state, allow me to bring you up to speed. Snyder was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014. He is a squeaky-voiced, former accountant and venture capitalist whose campaign slogan was “one tough nerd.” These days we just think of him as “one big turd.”
You see, Governor Shit4Brains exercised a law that gives him the power to yank the reins from elected local leaders in cities that are in financial crisis. Snyder then appoints an emergency fiscal manager (EFM) who can sell public assets, revoke labor contracts, dismiss pension boards and take over pension funds. So when Governor Snyder sort of apologized in his state of the state address and pointed a finger at local government as one of the culprits, that finger (the middle one) was really meant for him.
Flint’s local government was wiped out and replaced with an EFM in October 2013. But they weren’t alone. Governor Snyder also did it to Detroit in March of 2013 and extended the EFM in April of 2011 for Benton Harbor.
For me, Benton Harbor hits closer to home. Literally. It’s 20 miles away. Like Flint, back in the 1980s companies closed their automobile parts factories. And hometown appliance maker, Whirlpool Corporation did the same and moved their plants to Ohio and Mexico. Full disclosure, I worked for Whirlpool for 15 years until I got the boot in 2012. As traumatic as that was (please see my “58 and Fired” column) I earned a good living and will receive a nice pension for as long as I’m breathing. The residents of Benton Harbor who live in poverty and never recovered from the job losses are the ones who deserve our compassion. So what do these three Michigan cities have in common? Let’s go to the chart . . .
CITY POPULATION AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILD POVERTY UNEMPLOYMENT Flint 100,000 57% 62% 12.9% Detroit 680,000 83% 56% 14.8% Benton Harbor 10,000 89% 60% 17.3%
My initial reaction to the news in Flint was, here’s another justification for the Black Lives Matter movement. But as you can see, Flint’s population is pretty evenly split. What’s happening in Flint is really about poor people. Look, I’ve been very critical of anybody messing with the Black Lives Matter message. Because I get it. When somebody counters with Blue Lives or All Lives Matter they are diminishing the fact that black people are not treated with the automatic respect and benefit of the doubt that cops and whites receive. If this water crisis happened in Detroit or Benton Harbor, whose populations are overwhelmingly black, it would have been all about Black Lives Matter. But it’s bigger than that. Who’s going to say Poor Lives Aren’t Even on the Radar?
I love Bernie Sanders and his lifelong dedication to addressing the issues of income inequality. He pledges to create more well-paid jobs, expand the social safety net, extend Obamacare for all and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Sanders is a champion of the shrinking middle class. And that’s great but what about the poor? The last politician who made poverty a focal point of his platform was John Edwards. Well at least there’s ONE good thing we can say about him.
Today there’s only one leader who truly cares about the poor. Pope Francis released his 2016 message for Lent, telling the wealthy and powerful of the world that if they ignore the poor they “will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell.” So he didn’t exactly tell the rich bastards of the world to go to hell, but rather reminded them that’s where they’ll end up if they continue their unChristian ways.
Whatever the motivation, we need to do the right thing for our brothers and sisters. The state needs to replace the bad pipes for all 30,000 homes in Flint as well as their schools, hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers and businesses. The city must not only stop billing their citizens for poisoned water, but reimburse the residents for their water bills going back to April of 2014. We need to build nearby grocery stores with fresh food for the people of Flint. We need testing, monitoring and special care for children and adults for as long as it takes. And while we’re at it, we must take care of all the poor communities across our country. It’s unrealistic to think Flint is the only city that’s been contaminated by cost-saving measures. Rick Snyder said he’s going to “fix it.” But so far no steps have been taken to replace the pipes.
Flint doesn’t need our pity. They need our compassion and resolve to make things right. A good place to start would be signing MoveOn.Org’s petition to impeach and arrest Governor Turd. http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/impeach-and-arrest-rick