On Jan. 19, citizens from Detroit and Flint, joined by Michigan State University students, took buses to the Capitol in Lansing to protest the water crisis and demand the resignation of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. The protest took place before, during and after Gov. Snyder’s State of the State address – an annual speech to Michigan’s legislature which gives an update on the affairs of Michigan.
Gov. Snyder’s speech was relatively short compared to others and was strangely abrupt. He talked about Flint for only a few minutes at the beginning of his speech, promising to release his emails over the crisis. Many believe that his remarks attempted to shift the blame from himself to others.
In April of 2014, Flint switched its water source from Lake Huron to using water from the Flint River. The Emergency Manager of the city, Ed Kurtz, implemented this change in order to save money. After the switch, the water coming into people’s homes was reportedly discolored, had a bad taste and a putrid smell.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality assured the citizens of Flint that the water was safe to drink – this turned out to be false. In an article from the Detroit Free Press, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha said she discovered high levels of lead in children’s blood – indicating lead poisoning. Despite this finding, local officials claimed that water tested at the water treatment plant and in homes indicated no lead contamination.
Many other studies were completed by medical centers and university researchers, including Hurley Medical Center and Virginia Tech, which all indicated high levels of lead. The people of Flint began to criticize the emergency manager, state agencies and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Flint’s water crisis has rapidly gained national attention, becoming an important talking point on broadcasts such as The Rachel Maddow Show and the recent Democratic Debate, most notably from Hillary Clinton. People from all across Michigan and the United States have sent water filters and water bottles to Flint to show support.
The crisis has escalated to the point of President Obama declaring a Federal State of Emergency in Flint. The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the Attorney General of Michigan, Bill Schuette, have opened investigations into the crisis. Some believe that Attorney General Schuette’s investigation is a political showing, due to his ambitions to potentially run for governor. There are also allegations that he appointed a top Snyder campaign contributor to lead the investigation.
What’s clear in this crisis is that the people of Flint need an immediate solution to fix their pipes and to return safe and clean drinking water to their homes. Along with the necessity to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing, the well being of Flint needs to be secured.
The next steps include congressional hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the crisis and whether there was criminal negligence or not.