Editor’s note: EVM board member and contributing writer Bob Thomas was at Luigi’s for the “after party” following the Rachel Maddow taping. Above is a brief video of U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee’s remarks to the group. Here is Bob’s account of the evening:
By Robert Thomas
While I was not one of those invited to Rachel Maddow’s Town Hall meeting, I found an alternative that better suited my need for citizen participation.
I went to Luigi’s. State Senator Jim Ananich hosted an “after the town hall” pizza party to watch the telecast with neighbors and constituents.
Since 1955, Luigi’s has been a Flint institution famous for its thin-crust pizzas. To East Siders, the restaurant has been something of a neighborhood clubhouse for several generations. It is an old-school neighborhood joint where I can walk up to my U.S. Congressman and say, from one villager to another, “Wow! A politician who actually represents me. What a concept.”
Which is exactly what I did say when I greeted Congressman Dan Kildee. He has seen my act before. I was rewarded for my impertinence with his beaming smile. I felt at home among my people in Luigi’s, even the politicians.
The buzz of the crowd, which never ceased even during the telecast of Maddow’s Town Hall, was a commingling of fierce Flint resilience, anger and distrust, all ping-ponging between euphoria and despair.
Standing at Ground Zero of a post-industrial, manmade disaster of national proportions caused by a failed government offers a stunning perspective and its ensuing emotions. Incensed would seem a reasonable emotional reaction to being poisoned by your own people to save a buck.
This village meeting was overflowing with scintillating snippets of conversation. At one point wandering through the crowd I felt I was listening to interwoven multiple soundtracks like the technique used in the film Nashville.
Several interwoven themes threaded their way through the Luigi’s soundtrack.
The villagers enthusiastically agreed with Congressman Kildee when he said we’ve been to hell and back and we remain Flint strong. My worn and tattered black Flint hoodie concurred: FLINT: the toughest town around since 1855. Flint strong was palpable.
The impatience of the villagers centered on the procrastination of state government to begin fixing the problem it caused. Instead of its unsustainable band-aid solutions like endless plastic bottles of water and a filter, the lead pipes need replacement. State government appointments and commissions are not going to change one lead service line was a common refrain.
Another thread permeating the crowd was broken trust, with emphasis on broken. Why would we trust the state government to fix what they have caused?
While Flintoids empathize with those who are sincerely trying to craft a solution to this human disaster, the broken trust itself is a terrible wound. On Maddow’s panel, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said: “I don’t trust anything the State says.” And Mayor Weaver asserted, “Democracy needs to be restored.”
Rachel Maddow concluded her town hall meeting with: “You here in Flint did nothing to bring this disaster upon yourselves. It was done to this town by your state government.”
Congressman Kildee concluded our village meeting with: “This is a story about people who would not sit down and stood up to their own state government.”
I conclude, after experiencing both village meetings simultaneously, how fiercely Flint I feel these days. As Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha reminded all, “It took a village to save a village.”
That’s the bottom line from this village reporter.
EVM board member and contributing writer Robert Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.