Democrats need to start paying attention to Flint, Michigan, again

Posted at 6:09 PM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-31 20:09:22-04

The state and federal governments say the water in Flint, Michigan, is safe to drink, but many residents don’t believe them.

Marianne Williamson had a breakout moment at the first night of the Democratic debates Tuesday when she called the neglect of Flint and cities like it the “dark underbelly of society.” She said Democrats will lose the election if they don’t come up with a way to address decay, particularly in communities of color.

It’s impossible to talk about places like Flint now without also pointing out Trump’s characterization of Baltimore, another mostly black city with infrastructure problems, as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where no one would want to live.

Trump was lashing out at his political opponents and immediately drew accusations of racism. But Democrats would be remiss if they did not use the opportunity to address the fact that some cities and communities have been helped to do better than others. The entire debate in the party about how to address inequality by more effectively using the government will focus on communities like Flint.

Flint is a majority African American city where institutional inequality for communities of color runs into the nation’s failing infrastructure and tells the story of a country where some communities have flourished and others have been left behind.

President Barack Obama signed a measure into law that specifically sought to deal with the Flint crisis and President Donald Trump used that authority to pledge $100 million for infrastructure there. But five years after the water turned brown, people in the city still say their water isn’t always clear.

CNN’s Drew Kann and Jeremy Moorhead found residents idling their cars in a miles-long line for donated bottled water at a church because the state no longer provides it. You should read and watch their report.

CNN’s research library has maintained a years-long timeline of what’s been going on in the city. Some of the latest developments include dropped charges against state officials so that a new investigation can take place.

Democrats running for president say they’ll finally deal with the crisis.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver attends the debate Wednesday as the guest of former Vice President Joe Biden. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro of Texas, who said he was the first candidate to visit Flint, invited a pastor and environmental activist from the city.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who proudly lives in inner-city Newark and has made representing urban minority communities a main platform of his campaign, has visited too.

On the first night of the CNN debate, both Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas mentioned their visits to the city.

Klobuchar promised to put $1 trillion into infrastructure spending and address issues like Flint’s water.

But it was Williamson, the author and spiritual adviser, who had the debate crowd cheering when she warned that “wonkiness” won’t solve the water crisis. Unless Democrats turn toward communities like Flint and others, she argued, voters of color and those from marginalized communities will not show up at the ballot box.

“We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities all over this country, who are suffering from environmental injustice,” said Williamson, who argued that she used to live in the wealthy suburb of Grosse Pointe and said — to cheers — that there would be no water issues there.

“This is part of the dark underbelly of society,” she said. “The racism, the bigotry, the entire conversation we are having here tonight.”

“It’s bigger than Flint,” Williamson said. “It’s all over this country. It’s particularly people of color. It’s particularly people who do not have the money to fight back, and if the Democrats don’t start saying it, then why would those people think that they’re there for us, and if those people don’t feel like they won’t for us then Donald Trump will win.”