By Tom Travis
Remembering the sixth anniversary of the Flint water crisis, several local water activists gathered on the front lawn of City Hall Saturday. Democracy Defense League members Claire McClinton and Claudia Milton-Perkins led the effort to broadcast an online remembrance of what became one of the most notorious and tragic manmade environmental disasters in the country’s history.
On April 25, 2014, then-Flint Mayor Dayne Walling flipped a switch at the Flint water plant. In that moment corrosive water from the Flint River began to flow into the pipes of of residents, schools, restaurants and businesses in Flint. The Flint water crisis began, eventually leading to lead exposure in the bodies of thousands of Flint children, a chain of disastrous health, psychological, sociological, economic and political effects.
Christina and Jeff Sayyae and their three kids packed into the family truck to be at the water crisis commemoration. The Sayyae’s truck was decorated with hand written phrases like “Water Life”, “6yrs2long!!”, “We are Strong!”, “We will never give up!”, and “Still No Justice”.
Christina Sayyae described herself as, “a sick Flint resident for six years. I almost died twice from the heavy metal poisoning in the water. We’re still here and we’re still fighting.”
Not only is it six years since the water source for Flint residents was switched from Detroit to the Flint River, but the date marks the end of the legal statute of limitations for prosecutions in the water crisis.
Fifteen state, county and local officials had been indicted in repercussions of the water crisis by former Attorney General Bill Schuette in the years before he was defeated in an election for governor by Gretchen Whitmer.
But in June 2019, after a trove of new documents related to the crisis were unearthed, in Lansing, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the state had dropped all indictments in the water crisis and intended to start over.
Whitmer appointed Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to handle a new investigation.
On Friday, June 28, 2019 Michigan’s Solicitor General, Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecuter, Kym Worthy came to Flint to face a room full of angry and confused Flint residents–including some of those who appeared Saturday for the anniversary — with questions as to why the indictments were dropped.
EVM was at that 2019 meeting, along with more than 200 other Flint residents, held at UAW Local 659. The EVM account of that meeting can be found here.
On Saturday a document titled, “Lessons from Flint for Our Current Crisis” was read by Trina Redner.
The first paragraph of the two page document read, “Flint residents know what it’s like to live through a crisis. Six years ago today, the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its water supply to the Flint River. Failure to treat the water properly caused it to destroy our pipes and harm our bodies. Even after all the national attention Flint has received residents are still waiting for justice. Flint has not been made whole, and many of the consequences of the poisoning of Flint’s water are just now emerging.”
In the midst of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic the organizers said they fashioned this event to remember the water crisis but to allow people to stay in their homes and out of danger.
The video of the read statement is being shared throughout the community by nearly 10 groups.
The groups who signed the statement read Saturday are C.A.U.T.I.O.N., Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Fight fo $15, Flint Democracy Defense League, Flint Rising, R.O.C. (Restaurant Opportunity Center), Michigan United, Water You Fight For and FlintH2OJustice.
Indigenous activist and resident of Mt. Morris, Trina Redner was asked by local water crisis activist Claire McClinton to read the prepared statement written by the event’s organizers FlintH20Justice. The prepared statement as it was read by Redner can be viewed in its entirety on FlintH20Justice’s Facebook page. Redner is a member of the Tlingit and Grand Ronde tribes.
Claudia Perkins-Milton, local activist and candidate for 34th District in the State of Michigan legislature, said with a sigh in her voice, “I’m really tired because this is our sixth year anniversary. The last few years we’ve had a lot of deaths from Legionnaires disease, people with broken down immune systems, we have had water shutoffs, we’ve had so many things coming at us and on top of all that now we have the pandemic.”
“And we’re having a high rate of deaths, especially in this city. In comparison when you look at the water crisis and here we go again when we’re not even over that here’s the pandemic. I have buried so many friends because of the COVID-19. I am heart broken. We can’t even go to the funerals and embrace anybody. There’s a lot of devestation and anxiety and I’m just praying for relief.”
Perkins-Milton added, “The Attorney General’s office needs to step up. We brought them here in June and we haven’t heard a peep.”
Perkins-Milton said, “I’ve been in politics my whole life. I put almost 40 years in the UAW. I’m the first UAW African-American female to be in the highest position in bargaining. I’ve always been motivated to fight. I know how to stand up and fight.”
EVM Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.