Beyond Snyder and Flint
By Shea Howell
Governor Snyder delivered his sixth State of the State address this week. In spite of his efforts to keep protesters out of the room, voices chanting “Flint Lives Matter” and “Arrest Snyder” made their way into the House Chamber. Within hours, President Obama signed a declaration of emergency for Flint and Snyder has been summoned to Washington for Congressional hearings.
In his speech, Governor Snyder said he accepted responsibility for Flint and that he would release his emails to support his claim that he took action as soon as he knew there was a problem. These claims are hollow. They fall far short of meaningful actions.
The blame for the tragedy of Flint is much deeper than Governor Snyder, his emergency managers, and his callous bureaucrats. All share specific responsibilities for violations of the public trust, but they are symptoms of much deeper problems. Confronting these problems has as much to do with the future of our country as it does with the lives of people in Flint.
Governor Snyder came to office in 2010 as part of the wave of republicans swept to power in the backlash against the election of Barrack Obama. Snyder’s election, like that of Scott Walker in neighboring Wisconsin, signaled a renewed effort by the white power structure to regain control from progressive forces, gaining momentum as people of color, women, young people, and immigrants from many lands form an emerging majority. Central to protecting the power and privilege of a small white elite are policies that require a direct assault on democracy. The majority of people cannot be allowed to make decisions about the things that affect our lives.
Michigan just enacted a host of state wide legislation intended to repress the vote in urban areas. We are experiencing gerrymandering of a kind unseen since Reconstruction. Urban districts are diminished as they are stretched to include mostly white, suburban and rural areas. Meanwhile the wealth and public assets of our cities are being turned to private profit. Under the guise of financial crisis, largely orchestrated by with holding state funds and the refusal to assist cities in everything from the collection of city taxes unpaid by suburban residents to cuts in services and schools, more than half the population of African Americans have been denied the right to vote for effective local government. A draconian “Emergency Manager” law was passed in a lame duck session. This law defied a statewide public vote by the people to eliminate emergency management. Emergency managers are widely understood to be undemocratic and open to abuse. This law is at the core of the poisoning of children in Flint, the massive denial of water to those who can’t pay in high bills in Detroit, the attack on pensions, and the destruction of schools.
To focus only on Snyder, and not the ideas he represents or the moneyed interests that support him, is a mistake. He is the result of efforts by right wing forces to consolidate their power as they loose numerical majorities.
Corporate interests globally are acquiring control of vital resources as a way to block the emerging efforts to develop self sufficient, sovereign communities. Snyder and his legislature are part of this effort.
The reality of poisoned water in Flint is a future awaiting many of us if this kind of right wing control is allowed to dominate. For many of those in power today, poor people are expendable. We are a problem to be solved, a danger to be controlled. Our voices are not worth listening to, our lives are not worth protecting.
The brutality of bottom line decisions cannot be hidden. Its racist and genocidal consequences are clear every day in the harsh reality of Flint. It is up to us to create a new democracy that will never again allow this kind of abuse to become normal.