Crisis in Flint

February 3, 2016

By now, we don't have to tell you what's going on in Flint, Michigan - the 100% preventable lead poisoning crisis forced upon their community has made international news. Congress held a hearing on the disaster just this morning, a high-level EPA official has resigned, there have been calls for the Governor to be arrested, and journalists around the country have descended upon the city to try to understand full scope of the situation. We're sure you've watched this unfold along with us -- probably with a similar mix of heartache, outrage, and pride -- as stories of Flint's victimization and community action have begun to get the attention and respect they deserve. In just a few months, the mass lead poisoning of Flint residents has emerged as an iconic story of environmental injustice, most likely already more (in)famous than Love Canal.

Rhode Island is not Michigan, and Providence is not Flint. But the voices of Flint's families have a deeply familiar echo to them. To be honest, it's been really tough to hear about a lot of what's going on. We really, really, really know how preventable Flint's lead crisis was, and we couldn't be angrier about it. To put it bluntly, we consider government officials in Michigan to be responsible for nothing less than a violent attack on Flint's children; lead poisoning causes irreversible traumatic brain injury. At the same time, we are similarly angered by the everyday lead poisoning crisis in Rhode Island, where we see about a thousand more kids lead poisoned every year. Despite recent organizing victories and measurable signs of progress, collective outrage and support are nowhere near the level they should be. There's no question that our own community crisis is re-created for each new generation of children by many of the same underlying causes of Flint's disaster; racism and poverty are very deeply rooted in our society nationwide. This reality binds us together in a common experience with Flint, at the same time that it works to divide our communities on a local level. We need to unite to demand justice for Flint and for ourselves, as well.

Looking to the future, we also hear echoes in Flint community members' vision for the city they want to live in; that they deserve to live in. We want safe, lead-free homes to live in, too. We want healthy food and water and a clean, unpolluted environment. We want excellent medical care and schools with the resources to help all kids thrive. We want fulfilling jobs for everyone, no matter what their skills or challenges. We want reliable information about the issues affecting our own community - and the power necessary to act in response. We want respect and equality for everyone, and for racism and the institutions it has created to come to an end. We want accountability for those who profit from present and past injustice. This is how we can ensure that no more children will be lead poisoned in the future, and that those harmed by lead in the past will be supported throughout life the way they deserve to be.

None of these ideas are new, trendy, or innovative; and we won't claim that they will be easy or cheap to implement. But we believe that this is simply what an honest, practical conversation about dealing with lead poisoning looks like. And our collective failure to make the immediate changes this demands is directly responsible for the ongoing local crisis of lead poisoning. The fact that this failure is completely unacceptable appears to be quite obvious to people in Flint, and it should be obvious to all of us, too.