By Robert R. Thomas
Since Flint has become the rock star of rust belt disasters, all manner of journalistic requests come through East Village Magazine’s office seeking some Flint access. You know, “the real Flint”—that kind of thing.
When a request arrived from a journalist named Alan Goodman representing a publication titled REVOLUTION Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, I caught that assignment instead of my imaginary interview with Rachel Maddow or my one-on-one with Bernie Sanders. Journalism can often be cruel.
How the commies found EVM and my front door is PURE FLINT.
REVOLUTION was doing Flint research during which they came across a link to East Village Magazine’s web site. They derived some of their Flint water research via back-issues of EVM’s reportage over the last year.
Despite my disappointment at catching the short straw, the assignment was fitting. The commies and I have a history dating back to my duck-and-cover elementary school days with the bomb and the global threat of godless Communism looming large on the horizon. When I wasn’t practicing crawling under desks, I kept my eyes on the skies, proudly carrying my official Civilian Air Patrol card. The card had silhouettes of various “enemy” aircraft as seen from the ground. My vigilance paid dividends; there were no enemy aircraft sightings in Genesee County in the 1950s on my watch.
Would that a desk and a card had saved my brother from being blown apart in Vietnam, defending the homeland from the incursion of communism into Southeast Asia. While communism was the boogeyman of my first quarter-century, officially sanctioned by my nation and my religion, this last event was a game-changer in my view of a world gone wrong.
I woke up in the real world.
History became very important in broadening my world vision. Without history we are lost; without awareness we are doomed.
History teaches that communism did not kill my brother; that was accomplished by a U.S. foreign policy based on the game theory of Dominoes—as goes Vietnam, so goes Southeast Asia, so goes…. The policy’s business model was capitalist imperialism.
History teaches that the real enemy of human life is the peril of policies derived from ideologies that proclaim the way, the truth and the life for the rest of us. If I have learned anything in my seventy-two years circling the sun, it is that the mystery of life is much too grandly elastic to conform to the confinements of ideological human blueprints.
Buoyed by this elderly wisdom, I greeted my assignment with a certain egalitarian curiosity. What were the commies up to in these days? Who has been worrying about communism during these days of jihadism? This is the age of global corporate capitalism. Communism is in retrograde. What’s the deal with the commies being here?
Alan Goodman, a semi-grizzled graybeard arrived with a nasty cold in a damp, gray snow fall. He reminded me of a slightly younger me. His plan was to spend three days on the ground in Flint. For his first day he had requested a contact with an EVM representative and an interview with some real Flint residents. My wife Ingrid and I satisfied both requests. We warmly welcomed his arrival with hot tea. There ensued a lengthy, refreshing, free-range conversation among equals.
We began talking about our people and their immigrant roots.
Mr. Goodman, married and a father, lives in Brooklyn, but he was born and raised up on the Mesabi Iron Ore Range of northern Minnesota, a territory with a long history of Jewish socialism. My paternal roots in the Keweenaw Copper Range in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula echoed much of Goodman’s Mesabi roots. Both our peoples took a terrible pounding in the mines, then moved to the urban factories for more of the same.
Goodman’s grandfather was a junk man who collected trash. As he told his story, I had a searing flashback to a long-ago conversation with my father. He was telling me that when he was a kid my age the sheeny man came through his Eastside Flint neighborhood with donkey and cart collecting trash. I did not know a sheeny man from a shoe-shine man, but what I learned was the sheeny man like the shine man was not one of us, whatever we were and he was not.
Goodman was particularly interested in Ingrid’s Central European roots, similar to his own. He learned she was born in a fascist country. At eleven months old she and her mother fled their home in Silesia, escaping the invading communists as well as the Allied firebombing of Dresden by a day or two. Her great fear, she told Goodman, is that she will die in a fascist country. The poisoning of her public water supply by her beloved American government of the people, by the people and for the people in her beloved adopted hometown of Flint has not lessened her fascist fears.
She related a story about her visit to Bethlehem, specifically the public well from which purportedly Jesus and his people drank for free. Ingrid applied the what-would-Jesus-do metric to our present Flint circumstances. Her answer was that Jesus turned water into wine, not toxic waste to be sold back to the public at robber rates for purely financial reasons. To which Goodman and I offered an “Amen” and a high “Hallelujah!”
Following his socialist leanings, Goodman quit college to become a serious man of his populist convictions. I come from activist blue-collar union stock. I have always been a populist. I belong to no political party.
None of the three of us come from elite stock. We are each immigrant mongrels. All ideologies aside, we three come from a history of immigrants and refugees in search of survival, a better life and a living wage. We are the working class, the salt of the earth, the sweat equity that fuels the master’s wealth. We stem from the disposable people, the collateral damage who survived their rulers.
Because of our common bond our conversation was noticeably absent political cant and ideology. Nobody was trying to proselytize anyone as we discussed this Flint crime against humanity and the mounting damage done to our community. We were all adults. We spoke with each other as equals, as humanitarians. I found that stimulating, hopeful and enlightening.
As a village resident and EVM/ Village Information Center journalist, I explained to Goodman that my primary interest was that he get the Flint story right. As proof of his good intentions, he offered me the Feb. 14th issue of REVOLUTION (www.rev.org) and requested feedback in the interests of getting the Flint story right.
In reply, I gave Comrade Goodman the Flint codebook. If one cannot know a place without knowing its history, then Andrew Highsmith’s Demolition Means Progress is essential to knowing Flint and how it got to the here and now.
Analysis of what I call the “Flint issue” of REVOLUTION is enlightening, much as is an analysis of Professor Highsmith’s classic history of Flint during my lifetime. (Cf. my review of the book in the January, 2016 issue of EVM.)
REVOLUTIONS tabloid cover photo of Flint water protesters is the perfect backdrop for the top three headlines:
“What Poisoned the People of Flint?”;
“A Conscious Callous Policy of a Racist, Capitalist, GENOCIDAL System!”
As for REVOLUTION, Ingrid and I assured Mr. Goodman the populist uprising here has been ongoing since the public poisoning began nearly two years ago.
Just because nobody was listening to the the voice of the people, observers should not infer that there was no uprising. Congressman Kildee said it best: “This is a story about people who would not sit down and stood up to their own government.”
The Communist Party was playing catch-up here. They were here for some schooling on revolution, not inciting one. That job had already been accomplished by another American political party whose capitalist business model for state government proved to be profits over people, not the people’s welfare, which is the only valid reason for government.
The Flint revolution had nothing to do with commies nor jihadists nor whatever might be the flavor du jour of our current nationalistic demonized enemy, one of those axis of evil deals like the commies or immigrants, refugees, poor people, people of color, Flint people who brought this heinous crime on themselves, yada yada yada.
No, this revolution originated when people were poisoned by their government in the interests of saving a buck on the almighty bottom line. Flint is a new chapter in this sordid history of failed socioeconomic engineering.
“What Poisoned the People of Flint?” is concisely answered by the AP photo included in the cover story titled: “I’ve Been Poisoned by Policy.” The child in this photo could not have spoken more eloquent truth to the authority whose policies caused Flint’s poisoning. Those policies derived from six years of a Republican Party-run state government whose purpose was to run a government as a business for business by business. Profits over people prevailed; a crime against humanity resulted. Policy, and the ideology behind it plays a huge role in Flint’s disaster. And not a communist nor jihadist anywhere near the crime scene. Nope. This crime fell soundly on the shoulders of a major American political party, the elephants in the room, and their vision of what America ought to be.
“A Conscious Callous Policy of a Racist, Capitalist, GENOCIDAL System!” is well-documented in the REVOLUTION cover story and backed up by Highsmith’s prodigious Flint research. One does not have to be a commie to understand what happened here, but with this issue of REVOLUTION, the commies have done an admirable job of getting the story essentially right to date.
All the propaganda these days emanates from all those complicit in poisoning my public water supply. The operation is commonly known as the cover-up aspect of a crime. CYA to the max.
Flint was once the capitalist Mecca of the industrial age. But, as REVOLUTION puts it, “The same system that squeezed so much wealth out of the people of Flint for half a century now has no use for them.” We have returned to our disposable roots, but not completely.
The truth is vulture capitalism based on debt still has a use for picking Flint’s bones. There is money to be made in junk all over the world. As much as failed leadership, Flint’s destruction is about a predatory junkyard extraction economy—capitalism at its most viciously predatory. Does it get anymore genocidal than poisoning babies by governmental policy to save or make a buck? Who are these people? Alien beings? Are we in the Twilight Zone?
As for the commies and those immigrant refugees like my wife, I am of the existential persuasion that whoever is not my enemy is my friend. Mr. Goodman represented his name admirably. His political persuasion is decidedly not the ideology of the party that precipitated Flint’s poisoning. That party is the party of PURE MICHIGAN running our state government like a company that needed trimming. And did they ever trim us here in Flint. This is the group that needs serious surveillance. I see nothing in the current state of communism as dangerous as the homeland insecurity this state’s oligarchical rule has delivered to my hometown like domestic terrorists.
These days the axis of evil for me has shifted from commies to capitalists. As Dr. Mark Edward’s, the water expert from Virginia Tech and a true Flint hero, succinctly put it, “I think what happened here is evil.” So do I.
My moral litmus test is this: Are we all in this together, or are we not? From that answer much will be derived from all parties and ideologies and religions and public policies and smartest guys in the room. This is what we village people care about. Do you care about us? Or are we just another municipal commodity like water to be privatized for personal gain? Truth will tell, won’t it?
Meanwhile, this old, lead-poisoned, realist Flintoid trusts them to do what I have seen them do.
Alan Goodman’s article from his Flint visit can be found here.
EVM columnist and board member Robert R. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.