By Shea Howell
We are beginning the third year of the crisis in Flint. In spite of thousands of news articles, visits by politicians, apologies, and claims of relentless positive action, little has changed in the daily lives of the people. Water is still unsafe. Filters, touted as a cure all, have been operating for so long many are approaching fatigue. They require constant flushing. Many need to be replaced. Every day most people still organize their lives around water safety. They cannot simply turn on their tap to bush teeth, bath, cook or wash. This week volunteers from Detroit will again go to Flint to deliver bottles of water, talk with residences, and explore how to advance political pressure to mobilize a will to act.
Meanwhile Governor Snyder continues his public relations stunts. Making a show of drinking filtered Flint water, he quickly departed for Europe. He didn’t take his water with him. And while crisis experts are making his name synonymous with ineptness and disaster, he and the powers that support him are scrambling to protect emergency managers.
The new corporate story line is clear. Emergency Managers work. Flint was an anomaly. The EMs should have listened more. Emergency Manager Orr saved Detroit.
The effort put into this gross distortion is a measure of how important Emergency Manager laws are to corporate interests. They regard Emergency Managers as the single most important tool to further privatize public responsibilities and put a price tag on what should be a common birthright for all. Emergency managers are the key to undercutting basic democratic values that challenge the idea that private profit is more important than the public good.
Recently the Brookings Institute offered a platform for this distorted story. They hosted a discussion on the “new Detroit.” Entitled “How philanthropy, business, and government sparked Detroit’s resurgence,” Brookings pushed a new business climate survey from the Kresge Foundation. Panelist included Sandy Baruah of the Detroit Regional Chamber and Stephen Henderson of almost all Detroit media. Rip Rapson of Kresge moderated.
It was a disquietingly blind and distorted discussion. It is astonishing how the basic questions of who benefits from this “resurgence” and who is suffering in its wake were completely avoided. The reality that bankruptcy meant the destruction of pensions for thousands of elder Detroiters, greatly diminishing their daily quality of life, was not mentioned. The horrific policy of aggressive water shut offs to nearly half the city did not spark a comment, even as we are facing another round of these shut offs next week. The abuse of our children in a school system that has been willfully dismantled was reduced to concerns for personal corruption, not a colossal system failure.
In the compartmentalized world of corporate America, cities surge while the majority of the people suffer. We should expect to hear this version of reality again and again as the corporate elite prepare for the annual visit to Mackinac Island. They are into damage control. We should expect an onslaught of stories about how much the bankruptcy has helped Detroit.
In the face of such lies, it is up to the rest of us to do the serious work of advancing visionary ideas to rebuild Detroit. We cannot expect the corporate powers to shape a future based on compassion or care for one another and our earth.