Distorted Story

By Shea Howell

shea25 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.

No Excuses By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

No Excuses

April 17, 2016

shea25This week headlines warned that the crisis of water in Michigan is far from solved. More than one third of Detroit elementary schools reported unsafe levels of lead and copper in their drinking water.

Officials believe the problem rests with old lead pipes, not the quality of the water.

Still Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the city of Detroit’s Health Department, said that all Detroit children under 6, regardless of whether they attend a DPS school, should be screened for lead.

These reports were followed by an announcement that Henry Ford Hospital advised patients and employees to drink bottled water after water flowing from their pipes started coming out brown. The problem was attributed to a construction issue with the M-1 rail line, not water quality in general. “No patient services are affected and all hospital operations are fully operational. We are using sterilized water for all procedures,” hospital officials said.

The immediate alarm raised by these situations speaks clearly to how concerned most people are about access to affordable, safe water. For many children in Detroit, the schools are their only source of fresh water. Thousands of households are still unable to get their water turned on and the Mayor is announcing another round of aggressive shut offs this spring. Drinking water and school showers are now no longer available to children who have been counting on these resources.

While Henry Ford acted quickly and responsibly, the fact that the problem was discovered by turning on the tap, not by those doing the construction, raises serious questions about decision making and overall understanding of how fragile our water system is.

This fragility goes beyond the pipes. The Oakland Press ran a little noticed report by Ron Seigel raising concerns about the quality of Detroit Water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality raised serious questions about how layoffs of personnel effects the safety of water and sewerage treatment. MDEQ is concerned that layoffs made last October by both Detroit and the new Great Lakes Water Authority mean that the plant is operating with fewer people that required by state law and specified in a consent agreement made years ago.

The violation notice sent to DWSD and GLWA charged that they had failed to provide “adequate documentation” for the MDEQ to determine whether there is enough staff to “properly operate and maintain the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the Combined Sewage Overflow Facilities in the Detroit Water System.”

The local union, which has trying to get attention on this issue said simply, “Action must be taken before another disaster is allowed to happen.”

Susan Ryan, the union president, said: “We have been very fortunate so far that nothing has happened but we are concerned about what is happening in the waste water treatment plant. There are not enough staffers to assure water quality and keep sewage from our basements.”

One hundred and thirty seven people were dismissed, including senior sewer plant operators, water system control instrument technicians and mechanics with special expertise in repair and operations of equipment.

The crisis in Flint happened because unelected officials acted with depraved indifference. Detroit elected officials, especially the City Council, needs to demand a full accounting of what is going in with our the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. They have no excuse.

The Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs: “Re-imagine Everything” Jan Thomas – SoulandMeaning.com

Jan Thomas – SoulandMeaning.com

The Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs: “Re-imagine Everything”


On March 20, 2016 a celebration of Grace Lee Boggs’ 100-year life was held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. The memorial speakers offered memorable social change stories and lessons learned from knowing her over the years. Here is a small sampling of what was shared, followed by my full notes.

1.    We remake ourselves to remake the world.

2.    What do I need to change in myself to be more effective in changing the world?

3.    What does it mean to “grow our souls”?

4.    Praxis is about changing our minds and our perspectives in response to changing conditions.

5.    Questions are more important than answers.

6.    Go beyond simply complaining and waiting for others to change it or fix it.

7.    Seek out like-hearted people who are weaving the sacred hoop of humanity back together.

8.    Put less energy into stopping the bad and more energy into creating the new.

9.    Balance action with reflection, and tune into heart as well as head and hands.

10.  Create spaces that pre-figure or model the change we want to create.

11.  We can’t change the times that we live in, but we can change how we live in these times.

Grace_Lee_Boggs_my_last_pic12.  Combine a sense of urgency with patience.

13.  We are the end of one epoch and the beginning of another.

14.  Reimagine everything. Live in the new ways. Evolve to a higher humanity.

15.  It is up to us to envision and create a world beyond our wildest dreams.

My journal notes from the memorial:










To learn more about Grace’s life of social change, view the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

A trailer for the film is here.

Two of my previous posts have selected quotes by Grace:

Grace Lee Boggs, Social Change Evolutionary

Grace Lee Boggs Sees a Looming “Great Sea Change”

I took the photo of Grace in 2014 at a showing of American Revolutionary at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, on what turned out to be her last West Coast trip.


Establishing justice By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Establishing justice

March 27, 2016

shea33This week the Flint Water Crisis Task Force released its final report. The report makes critical contributions to the public discussion of what happened in Flint, where the responsibility rests, and what should be done about it. Most importantly, the report makes clear that state authorities treated the people of Flint with contempt, disrespect, and disregard for their health and lives. At the core of the State’s actions was deep-seated racism. The report invokes the concept of Environmental Justice, opening important perspectives for us to consider as we decide how to move forward.

The report falls short in calling for the repeal of emergency management legislation. It acknowledges that it was unable to investigate the Karegnondi Water Authority and issues surrounding its creation. However, it cuts through some of the lies Governor Snyder has been pushing to avoid responsibility.

First, the Task Force places blame squarely on the State. In response to the Governor’s strategy of blaming everyone, they say, “Though it may be technically true that all levels of government failed, the state’s responsibilities should not be deflected. The causes of the crisis lie primarily at the feet of the state by virtue of its agencies’ failures and its appointed emergency managers’ misjudgments.

Second, the report highlights the role Emergency Mangers played in the key decisions surrounding the water crisis. It emphasizes the consequences of legislation that concentrates power in the hands of a single individual without democratic checks and balances. The Task force concluded, “The Flint water crisis occurred when state-appointed emergency managers replaced local representative decision-making in Flint, removing the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making. Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD once water quality problems were encountered.”

Third, the Task Force addresses openly the environmental injustice embedded in the chain of choices made by the Governor and his appointees. As the New York Times commented, the report “makes clear the principal cause of the water crisis in Flint, Mich.: the state government’s blatant disregard for the lives and health of poor and black residents of a distressed city.”

The Times editorial goes on to say of the report, “While it avoids using the word “racism,” it clearly identifies the central role that race and poverty play in this story.” This report should be read along with the Principles of Environmental Justice. They offer a standard for us to judge how we are meeting our responsibilities to Flint, to one another and to the earth.

These Principles were crafted at the People of Color Environmental leadership Summit in 1991 “to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities,” and to “re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth.”

Among the 17 principles are these:

  • Environmental justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
  • Environmental justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
  • Environmental justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
  • Environmental justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
  • Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
  • Environmental justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.


Governor Snyder, his appointed administrators, and the State Legislature violated these core principles. We have a long way to go to establish justice.

Diminished capacity By Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves

By Shea Howell

Diminished capacity

March 22, 016

shea25On the eve of World Water Day, Governor Rick Snyder released his new “action plan designed to ensure Flint’s recovery and strong future.” The banner heading of the plan repeats Snyder’s slogan “Getting it right. Getting it done.”

Designed by public relations experts and vetted by lawyers, the plan is intended to show everyone that Snyder is continuing his positive, relentless action. It is also designed to focus attention away from the causes of the catastrophe in Flint and to shift the blame to federal levels.

This plan reflects the moral failures of Governor Snyder, his administration and all those who support him. Ever since he was forced to acknowledge a crisis in Flint, Governor Snyder has failed to understand the human consequences of his own arrogance and indifference. He has half stepped, tried to deflect blame, accused others of failures, distorted his own role, and been reluctant to release all information necessary to uncover the full degree of complicity, complacency and duplicity in this disaster. His latest plan reflects a complete lack of simple human empathy, a diminished capacity for understanding.

Snyder’s distorted view of this human tragedy is expressed in his first point. It reads “Children under 6 with high blood lead levels offered professional support and case management.”

Let us be clear. Every child in Flint has been traumatized by what has happened to their community. Every adult has been traumatized. Every animal, plant, garden, building, road, school, and sidewalk has been poisoned and carries the scars of this tragedy. Every bone in every body for now and future generations will carry some measure of the terrors and pain people have endured.

Governor Snyder sees none of this. He chooses to say some children, who test at some level, for one substance, will be “offered” support.

This kind of small spirited and weak minded response is exactly why Snyder should resign. It is why the Federal Government needs to declare a Public Health Emergency in Flint. It is why we need to support Mayor Weaver and the local activists who are calling for broad support and a truly comprehensive response to the crisis they face.

While Snyder’s pathetic attempt to respond works its way through the media, activists and community members gathered to support efforts by the State legislators to advance a package of bills designed to insure water is a human right in Michigan and make our water, safe, affordable and accessible to all. The Republican Committee Chairperson, Lee Chatfield, is keeping this package of 11 bills from a public hearing.

Moving these bills toward law is a crucial step. But equally important is moving to remove Emergency Management legislation. Even Governor Snyder conceded that “it would be a fair conclusion” to say that Michigan’s emergency manger law failed in Flint.

It is time we act out of fairness and love for one another. Small steps, with even more narrowly devised guidelines designed to save money diminish us all.

Here is the contact information for Representative Lee Chatfield:

S-1486 House Office Building

P.O. Box 30014

Lansing, MI 48909

Phone: 517-373-2629

Email: LeeChatfield@house.mi.gov