By: Bethaney Lee
Claire McClinton, a member of Michigan’s Flint Democracy Defense League Water Task Force, discussed how privatization, austerity and corporate dictatorships led to the poisoning of 99,000 Flint residents—including herself.
“I bring you greetings from the occupied city of Flint, Michigan,” McClinton said at City College’s Multi-Use Building. “A city where you can go to the gas station and fill up your car with lead-free gas. A city where you can go to the hardware store and buy a gallon of lead-free paint. But a city where you go home and turn on your faucet, and cannot get lead-free water.”
In April 2014, the state of Michigan imposed upon Flint former emergency manager Jerry Ambrose, whose powers superseded all locally-elected officials. He moved Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the toxic Flint River.
General Motors (GM) realized the new water source was corroding their engine parts by October 2014 and complained to Ambrose, who switched GM back to Detroit’s services.
Flint residents started demanding the same thing not long after, but they were told it was “incomprehensible,” McClinton said. “Our city council voted unanimously to go back to the Detroit water system and the emergency manager said ‘No.’”
“Our city council voted unanimously to go back to the Detroit water system and the emergency manager said ‘No.’”
A resident asked Ambrose that same day, “Why does GM get clean water and not the people of Flint?”. McClinton gritted her teeth and repeated the answer given to the community., “He told us, ‘Well that would be like comparing apples to oranges.’”
With residents stripped of their rights to access clean water, citizen protests and water studies began, McClinton said. Entirely ignored and neglected by their local and state governments, frustrations mounted and residents began saying that living in Flint was like living in a third world country.
The impoverished area was forced to drink and bathe in the toxic water, causing residents to break out in rashes, lose their hair and develop a series of disturbing health concerns. 9,000 Flint children now suffer from lead poisoning. Another 77 residents suffer from Legionnaires Disease, a water-bound illness that has taken 10 lives.
Relating what’s happening in Flint with Marshall Law, Claire paused and hung her head before leaning into the microphone. “We don’t just have a toxic water problem in Michigan. We have a democracy problem in Michigan,” McClinton said.
McClinton warned of privatization and how the placement of emergency managers has led to a “Michigan state takeover,” urging the crowd to remember that the Bay Area currently has emergency managers instated at City College and in Oakland.
“We got poisoned under the appointment of an emergency manager,” McClinton said., “We’re told they are appointed to help us with our fiscal matters, but I know what the emergency managers are really like.”
“They are like the thief who breaks into your house and takes your television. Then runs out of the house with it. Then brings it back to you later, up-charges you for it, all so you can watch your own television again.”
A roar of applause and laughter from some attendees filled the room, but smiles faded as discussion picked up on the similarities of the Flint water crisis and City College’s ordeal with the ACCJC.