The Flint Water Crisis, Environmental Racism,Police Brutality
Context: Protesting and using the power of the voices in the community has always been a way to invoke change. There’s power in first hand experiences and there’s power in hearing what victims have to say. There’s also power in resisting and creating a united front to stand up for injustices. Most often it is Black and Brown people who are at the forefront of these protests. We’re there demanding justice and fighting for what should be basic rights. Race has a lot to do with why minority groups don’t have easy access to things like clean air and water. Race also plays a role in why it is so easy for non people of color to overlook issues that happen within these communities. Once we start overlooking entire communities it opens the door for injustices to happen. With the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd we see now more than ever just how powerful protesting can be and the results that can come from it. The fight for Black lives doesn’t just stop at police brutality, it goes beyond this and is a continuous fight.
Just as water is a human right and should be fought for, the right to not be killed by the police is also more than worthy of fighting for.
Goals: Grade Level: 6th-12th
Contextualize recent events in the broader fight for social justice and equity
Think critically about examples of environmental racism
Learn how to use your voice through a narrative
Supplies: Time: 45 minutes
Instructions: Gather your loved ones, watch the following videos, and respond to the questions below all together. Then, read the narrative at the bottom from one of our Green School Coordinators to get a good sense of how to use your voice to write a narrative about your experiences and your beliefs, and to see how to connect those personal experiences to the world outside of you.
Video 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJZ1-LAFOTo&t=17s The Dakota Access Pipeline, 2016-17
Video 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iADw1HRTjhU&t=1s Flint Water Crisis, 2014-Present
Video 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cXgCR_dAzA&t=29s Climate Strikes, 2019
Do you believe that water is a basic human right? Should clean, treated water be free? If not, how do you suggest people should pay for their water?
Consider the following definitions of structural and strategic racism. What is the difference between structural racism and strategic racism?
Structural racism includes the institutions and their systems that create different outcomes for people based on their race.
Strategic racism is when someone utilizes these racist structures, for their economic or political gain.
Using these definitions, which form of racism might the following movements be attempting to address?
Police brutality protests
Global Climate Strike
Flint Water Crisis
What are the similarities between the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for environmental justice?
What are the similarities between Standing Rock and the Flint water crisis?
Brainstorm with your family some ways you might be able to raise awareness of environmental injustices in your community. If it were up to you to organize a protest what might be some steps you’d need to take to ensure the safety and effectiveness of your protest?
To me Janisa Nelson, someone who was born in Flint, Michigan, water is a basic human right. We all need water to live and should have access to clean water for free. That’s my opinion and many may not agree. I however gathered this opinion from my personal experience with the Flint Water Crisis. In April 2014, Flint stopped purchasing already-treated Lake Huron water from Detroit to switch to the Flint River. The decision was planned to save an estimated $5 million over two years while work was completed on the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline to Lake Huron. The more corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from the water system pipes, leading to high levels of lead in hundreds of homes. The lead contamination, which could have been prevented with anti-corrosion treatment of the water - became a national political scandal once emails and documents began to emerge showing that Michigan officials tried to play down the problem for months. The question is, why would these officials feel as if it would be okay to downplay something as serious as clean water? How could someone do that? And would this have happened in Grand Blanc, Montrose, or Flushing? All of which are predominantly white suburbs outside of Flint. I being 16 at the time, didn’t believe that it would, so after extensive research I stumbled upon the term environmental racism. I’ve been advocating for environmental justice ever since.
I watched my friends and family suffer and through this experience, I began to question how something like this could happen here, in the 21st century. I then decided that it was time for me to get active and get down to the root cause of it all. I wasn’t the only person who felt this way at the time either. While I was fixated on exploring environmental racism, many others protested to let their voices be heard. Protesters came from all over to demand new pipes and clean water for the city. Through the many people who came out and protested, the water crisis was able to get national attention and receive help in the forms of donations and bottled water for water distribution sites.
We see with the many water shutoffs that occur here in the city of Detroit that access to water is still an issue. In 2019, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department cut service to 23,473 homes whose occupants had fallen behind on their bills—a 44 percent increase over the year before. By January of 2020, 9,500 of those homes were still without water. Even after water was shut off, DWSD charged each household $27 a month for being connected to the city sewer system. In Flint, despite the water being unsafe people were still expected to pay for lead laced water. Why should people have to pay for water that they can’t even use? Why is it okay for this to happen in our communities? Most importantly, what can we do about it?