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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvX3XEMsowE A proposed $600 million settlement cannot compensate for Flint’s trauma, one activist says.

Story Transcript

Speaker 1: It’s been six years that we’ve been crying and asking, not one but two governors to actually make us whole again. We’ve begged for people to hear our stories it definitely was like, “Okay, thank you, finally, somebody is hearing us, finally somebody believed that what’s happened in Flint was wrong.

Speaker 2: I’ll never drink water again, never, never, never.

Speaker 3: To say 600 million is worth it for us in our lives, not nearly enough for the damages that have been done.

Interviewer: Over six years ago, when the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water source from Lake Huron to the untreated Flint River, a cascade of devastating events followed, including at least 12 dead from Legionnaires’ disease, miscarriages, brain and developmental damages to children, lead poisoning and so much more. Now, residents have been relying on bottled water for everyday activities like washing hands, cooking and all the ways in which we use water in our daily lives. But in late August, Michigan announced a $600 million settlement for Flint residents, nearly 80% of which going towards medical care for Flint’s kids. But as you heard in the opening clip, some residents feel that’s not enough. In addition, no one, and I say, no one has been held criminally responsible for the poisoning of an American town.

Joining us today is activist and organizer, Melissa Mays, from the website. wateryoufightingfor.com that’s water, W-A-T-E-R, youfightingfor.com, which amplifies the experiences of those living in Flint since the crisis began and connects people to other grassroots organizations and resources and beyond. We are joined today with Melissa who is on the line from Flint, Michigan, Melissa, thank you so much for making the time to speak with us.

Melissa: Thank you for having me, it’s a momentous time, again, but I’m going to have to agree with the residents that said it’s not enough, it’s never going to be enough. I mean, 600 million sounds like a lot, and I know that it does from the outside, but you’ve got to figure there’s 100,000 people in Flint and it is a lot of money, but also, you’re figuring it’s been over 2300 days since we’ve had safe and clean water. And that’s still ongoing because we still have corroded pipes in the ground in our homes. We are still buying our own bottled water because we only have three help sites that are community funded. And yeah, I mean, nobody’s sitting in jail for what they’ve done to us. So $600 million is a small piece, but it could possibly be a step in the right direction.

Interviewer: Well, Melissa and I do want to get into the details of the settlement, plus the lack of accountability surrounding the Flint water crisis. But first and foremostly as you just briefly alluded to, what our viewers want to know is how are Flint residents doing? Is the water in Flint safe to drink? Is it safe to cook with? Is it safe to bathe in? What is the status of using water in Flint?

Melissa: So while thousands of service lines have been replaced, lead and galvanized steel, per one of my lawsuits, the safe drinking water act lawsuit that forced the city and state to replace the lead and galvanized steel service lines, we have thousands of homes that still have not been excavated, their service line hasn’t been checked, hasn’t been replaced yet. It’s going slow, we’re back and forth with court with that, of course, COVID got in the way and so it’s an ongoing problem. But even when the service lines are replaced, the mains in the streets still need to be replaced because they are corroded just as badly and they rupture consistently, constantly so there’s no way to keep a safe level of actual protective chemicals in the water. So then we lose a lot of chlorine, we don’t have residual chlorine, which is what’s necessary to kill bacteria.

And as you had alluded to earlier, yeah, we’ve had a lot of people die of Legionnaires’ disease and they kept going with 12, 14 but then during the criminal investigations that have now been dropped, it came out that hundreds of people died of bacterial pneumonia during the same time period, which most likely could have been misdiagnosed or undiagnosed Legionnaires’ because nobody was looking for it because no one told us this was happening to us.

So we have bacteria in the water, we still have people getting sick. And now we have 100,000 immune-altered, immune-compromised people and in the middle of a deadly pandemic and there’s nothing that’s being done to protect us. People still are going without water because they can’t afford the highest bills in the United States. So even if our water was safe, which, unfortunately, it’s not for everyone. I mean, some people can afford fancy filtration systems in their homes, but most of us cannot.

And so, no, I mean, just this morning went to go wash my face, my water in my bathroom sink, smelled of chemicals and then smelled of sewer. So it changes from time to time. But it’s going to happen because even if we do get a new service line, it’s just a clean new straw that connects us to a damaged main. And then we have the interior plumbing in our home that was damaged. It’s not like the corrosion skips certain parts of the pipe, our washers, our dishwashers, our fixtures, all damaged or destroyed and still leaking leaching contaminants into the water. And of course, there’s no stability in our system with all the ruptures. So no, there’s no way that anyone can say that the water is safe in Flint.

And they want to talk about the water test showing lower levels of lead. Well, the city is in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act yet again, because they’re not testing properly. And so here we are, the same thing that we dealt with in 2014 and ’15 is still happening.

Interviewer: Will you or anyone else in your community that you have spoken with communicated with, how can you ever have trust again in the water that comes out of the faucets in your house and how can you ever have trust in your Government?

Melissa: Well, the minute that they stop saying everything is fine and we’re going to move Flint Forward, that’ll be a good step to earning back our trust. Because people have been asking us since 2016, “When are you going to trust again? When are you going to trust the water?” Well, I brought up and I’ve said, “Okay, if you replace every single piece of tainted infrastructure that the state and city destroyed from the water treatment plant up until to every single faucet in a home, that is the only way that this water is going to be safe. And we know what is in Flint, just because we don’t have Ph.Ds, it doesn’t mean we didn’t learn quick, doesn’t mean that you can pull a wool over our eyes and say, “Oh, well, according to our tests…” Well, guess what? We know that you’ve been falsifying the tests, we know you cheated on the test, we know that you’re not doing the proper testing and it’s been that way since 2014.

And when the very people that poisoned you are the ones that are telling you that it’s safe, it’s safe, it’s safe, how in the world are you going to believe that? And why should you? Because we believe them and we trusted them at the beginning, we trusted that everything was going to be okay, we trusted them and they said it was going to be fixed and now people are dead, and people have permanent damage, and people are suffering and no, no. And the fact that they have not stopped playing games and they have not stopped dragging this settlement, we filed the class action lawsuit January of 2016. And we’re just now getting a partial settlement proposal, just now from the state. And there’s all the other defendants who aren’t budging.

Nobody wants to do what’s right by Flint and provide us the justice that we deserve to make us whole. So Water You Fighting For joined up with a lot of the other social justice warriors in Flint, and we formed Flint Rising, and we started doing a canvas going door to door every single neighborhood, every single door to ask the residents, “What do you want? What do you need? What does recovery and justice mean to you?” Because nobody else bothered to ask them. So we found out that people wanted all of the pipes replaced by Flint hands, there’s no reason we should have any unemployed folks, especially unemployed plumbers, during a water crisis, but we do. We want all of our water bills refunded to us because we shouldn’t, as consumers, be forced to pay for poison. And for those who say, “Well, maybe you should have paid your water bill this wouldn’t have happened.” If we didn’t pay our water bills our water would have been shut off and we wouldn’t have had been poisoned, so knock that off.

But then, also, what we want is full holistic healthcare. We want Medicare for all, for life, for all impacted residents. So no matter where we go, we can get proper health treatments. What we ended up getting was a Medicaid expansion for children under the age of 21. Now, when my son turned 21, his poisoning didn’t go away, the side effects didn’t go away but he lost his insurance, so that’s wrong. And then, also, parents, we need to be healthy to be able to take care of our children. My husband and I went for years without health insurance. So I had to pay from my own pocket which meant I was skipping important medical care and tests because when I’d gone to my rheumatologist and had head to toe x-rays and everything done for the bone crumbling issues and the osteoarthritis I’m dealing with now, it was over $10,000 in x-rays.

And we live in Flint, I think we are the poorest city in the United States. And we shouldn’t be, we should be full of federal and state benefits and supports because people are supposedly sorry for what they did to us. Where are the resources? We don’t have enough mental health care, we don’t have enough education support and we don’t have Medicare for all like we demanded. We have people sleeping on the streets, we have people going without, victimized repeatedly by the same government that tells us everything is fine, drink up. They’re not here, they’re not drinking this water. And I’ve offered for them to come here. I said, “Governor Snyder, come take a bath.” It burns your skin, it burns your eyes.

I had a film crew from Germany that said, “Oh, it’s not so bad, go ahead and run your shower for a few minutes.” They ran down my stairs, out my front door because it burned their eyes on camera so bad. And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s why we don’t do that, that’s why we don’t take long baths. We don’t take baths at all because I’m not putting my lady bits into this acid that breaks out my kid’s face and burns my skin. So no, they haven’t figured this out, they can’t make our water consistent, everybody is suffering. And then, now, we’ve got a pandemic on top of it, on top of our poverty, on top of the crime rates, because guess what happens to behaviors and crime when you get lead poisoned, guess what happens to the mental health here?

And I work as a social worker in mental health. My job is insane right now, and that’s a terrible word to use but that’s exactly what it is. I don’t even have the resources to get these people help. We don’t have enough caseworkers, we don’t have enough psychiatrists, psychologists, we don’t have enough support. We have the Neurodevelopmental Center of Excellence, and actually, by Dr. Mona, had a part in making this happen. So our children are getting screened for what may happen and what’s happening because of the poisoning or not, or just in general. And a lot of my kids on my case law that are getting screened have been diagnosed with autism now, but we do not have the autism services available, but here’s a two year waiting list.

Why is it in a city that has been put through literal hell and back scraping? Why don’t we have enough? Why do we have people without water because they can’t afford their water bills? Why did they have to fight to get their poison turned back on? Why do we have garbage pipes still in the ground? I mean, this is a huge disaster, everybody in the world knew about it, why isn’t it being fixed? We demanded that FEMA come in and bring in the water buffaloes and cisterns. And then, we demanded that the Army Corps of Engineers come in and lead the way and get our plumbers to work to get all of the tainted infrastructure out of the ground. But instead, we had to sue for a year and a half just to get service lines replaced. And even then, we settled March of 2017 and we’re still fighting to make the city and state follow their own promises.

So I mean, the biggest thing is that, no, we don’t have a recovery. Everybody keeps talking about recovery and post the crisis, I’m like, “When is post happening? We’re still 100% in crisis.” We have people going without food, we have people going without water, we have people going without their medication. I mean, this is ridiculous, we’re victims so we should be getting… And not just compensation, I mean, that’s one piece, but yeah, also, had I poisoned one person, let alone 100,000, guess where my rear end would be sitting right now? It sure wouldn’t be in my house talking to you, which is wonderful, but I would be in jail, they would have thrown the book at me.

What’s funny is the state of Michigan actually put a man, he has to serve weekends in jail for attempting to poison his ex wife and her coffee with sleeping pills. She didn’t die, she’s just fine, but guess what? The Attorney General’s office punished him while yet, here, the Attorney General currently through the criminal charges that were in process away. And so, here we are sitting here with the people walking free while we still struggle and fight for every little tiny scrap that they want to throw at us.

Interviewer: Well, Melissa, you’ve outlined a plethora of issues that the community of Flint is still dealing with. But let’s circle back to the settlement, $600 million, it sounded like a lot of money until you started listing off all the stuff that Flint is in desperate need of between the residents and the city itself just depleted of resources. But we know that, at least tentatively, because the settlement still needs to be approved by a federal judge, about 80% of the 600 million is going to go to children who were affected by the water crisis, about 25,000 kids, which doing basic rudimentary math comes out to about $16,000 per child. And this is supposed to be lifetime amount of services. I would assume the $16,000 is meant to cover children who were negatively impacted medically, physically, emotionally, mentally by the water crisis. In your opinion, is that enough money and what are members of your community and your organization saying about 600 million?

Melissa: The only way that that would be enough from the state is if the state also decided to fully fund healthcare, education support and all of the resources so parents wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for these children. The only way is if we didn’t have to pay out of our own pocket, out of that $16,000 to get our kids physical therapy, and to get our kids the medications they need, and the therapy they need. That would be the only way it would be enough is if these resources were actually fully funded and if there wasn’t a two year waiting list for a two or three year old with autism that’s going to live with this the rest of their lives. And people were upset about 80% going to the kids but they have to live the longest with the damage that was done to them.

And I just want to make it clear that this was done to us. This wasn’t like, “My pipes got old over time and oopsie.” No, this was a corrosion disaster put upon us. They switched our water to a more corrosive source and they didn’t test it properly, they just went ahead with it even with all the warnings that were given out by the people who worked in the plant and other experts. And then, once it started happening, people started dying, they just did everything they could to cover it up. So this was done to us. They refused to treat the water, they refused to put the money forth and that’s on the state.

So that being said, no, it’s not enough. Somebody had asked me, “Why don’t you demand trillions?” Well, then there’s also the reality of the situation that we’re supposed to have a two or $3 billion state deficit and a budget deficit next year, so where’s that money going to come from? And then, also, they’re not the only defendant. We still have the EPA and the federal government, we still have the city, we still have the private engineering firms, Veolia and Len, They don’t have to worry about state budget and they were just as hands-on in this as the rest of them. Depositions are still ongoing, information is still being uncovered, guilt is still being made clear.

And they should take the state’s lead and say, “Okay, well, it’s the state who has fought us tooth and nail for years on this lawsuit over, and over, and over again.” Mays v. Snyder has bounced from federal Supreme Court multiple times, and then state Supreme Court, the County Court of Claims state court, federal court, it has been all the six circuit court of appeals. And there’s like 15 different appeals and we’ve won every one of them. And so, this has been an ongoing process of almost, yeah, so five and a half years, four and a half years of just legal back and forth and delay and deny. So if the state, who fought us the hardest, is saying, “Okay, it’s time to settle and give these people justice.”

And it’s not enough, it’s not ever going to be enough, no number is going to be enough. But these private firms, they don’t have to worry about state budgets and they do have money, and they should do what’s right by us. And also the federal government, of course, who knows what’s going on with that right now, they need to do what’s right too and stop dragging us through because all they’re doing is continuing to traumatize us and tell us that we aren’t worth it. And we wear the shirts that say Flint Lives Matter because they’re telling us by their actions and their words that they don’t, and that you can poison 100,000 people, and ruin futures, and kill people, and get away with it if you’re in the government. And because we’re poor, we’re a majority black city, and so they’re just like, ” You don’t matter.” So we fought back to prove they’re wrong.

Interviewer: Melissa, is your lawsuit against former governor Rick Snyder, is that still pending?

Melissa: That’s part of the state’s part, Mays v. Snyder is part of the state’s part. But the other pieces, the other pieces, the other defendants are still in place. So this is only the states part of that lawsuit. They all kind of got combined then everything kind of got blended because, otherwise, the court would be blocked up with 50,000 lawsuits. So that all got kind of combined together and so the lawsuits against the city EPA, the private firms are all still active. So yeah, but Mays v. Snyder is part of the state part. So yeah, that will oddly enough come to an end. We have, what is it, 30-some days now, to come to a finalized agreement with the state part of the settlement. Because one of the things I’m personally pushing for is that the state accept a clause in there that no money received by any family or individual from this lawsuit, from this settlement, held against the people when they are applying for or re-certifying for any state agency or benefit.

Because people are going to get booted off their SSI, they’re going to get booted off their food benefits, their housing vouchers, because this money is not enough to change anyone’s lives or get rich and it’s not like we expected to. But it’s not enough to make that big of a difference, but it is just enough to get people kicked off of their benefits that are keeping them stable, their Medicaid, I mean, all of these things, we don’t have enough, but if you’re going to yank away what little that people do have to survive, just because you’re giving them a little piece of reparations, or justice or whatever you want to call it, no.

So I hope that the governor, and of course, her team, doesn’t want to. And I wouldn’t think that she would want to inflict more harm than good on the Flint residents. So that’s one clause that I’m pushing to be put into the final agreement before we all agree to it and take it to the judge because we all do have to agree and sign off and then present it to the judge to sign off, so that’s still in process. And we’re trying to make sure that nobody’s getting left out and that, I mean, it’s not going to be a lot but it’s going to be, hopefully, a little piece of something. And then, of course, the bigger thing is, okay, this is the first time that they’ve actually admitted fault which is kind of nice instead of, “I’m sorry,” from Governor Snyder in January of 2016, but actual fault and taking any kind of responsibility. So I guess that’s something that we can hold onto.

But then, also, not forgetting about the criminal charges that need to be going forward, that need to be restarted as promised to us because people need to be sitting in jail because people are dead, period. And then, also, the fact that we do have the federal government and EPA that still need to do the right thing by us and come to terms with a good settlement as well as these private engineering firms, and the city, and the state, and of course, the city that we’re going to be looking more like these community type settlements where they can fund resources more than, I guess, individual. I mean, that seems to be how it’s working with government type settlements, but we need to make sure they don’t harm anybody and we need to make sure that the private engineering firms, maybe that’s where they should be paying the individuals the money that they deserve and without the red tape so much of making sure that it goes into resources, even though our resources need to be fully funded. So we are not a crumbling, decaying, dying city full of very angry poisoned people, so.

Interviewer: Well, let’s get back to the accountability part. Back in April of 2019, it was reported by several outlets, Vice News, The Guardian, and some others that former Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, actually had prior knowledge of the crisis happening in Flint before he publicly acknowledged it. And that sort of set off a number of people being charged criminally, a handful of those with some felonies including former emergency managers, Darnell Earley, Gerald Ambrose, I said some others were charged in connection to what they knew and when about the crisis happening in Flint. But as of now, all these criminal charges have been dropped against everyone, that was a stunner when I read that. What does that say to the people of Flint when it’s made perfectly clear that no one’s going to jail, no one’s going to be held criminally accountable nor responsible for the poisoning of thousands of people, including thousands of children, and for the deaths of at least two dozen, possibly many more.

Melissa: Well, June of 2019, actually, a couple of the defendants, Nick Lyon and Eden Wells, were being bound over for manslaughter for trial. And so, we were excited because I mean, yes, it was taking years for the prosecutor to put this together, but this isn’t a simple open and shut case. So the former prosecution team actually worked really hard with the residents, they helped gather evidence, we had people testifying left and right trying to help. And so, we were seeing progress.

And it’s hard because you’re going up against governmental immunity. I mean, the same thing with the class action lawsuit, if we didn’t have such brilliant, constitutional rights attorneys that proved that our constitutional right to bodily integrity was violated, we wouldn’t be getting anywhere with the damages lawsuits with the class actions, but we do have a brilliant and dedicated legal team.

So they were moving forward with the criminal charges and then we were very helpful when the new Attorney General got into office. We’re like, “Okay, cool, she’s promising justice for Flint, this is awesome.” We have these cases moving forward, except then the prosecution team who had done all this work for us on our behalf, was fired. And we’re like, “Okay, what’s going to happen here?” And they promised us,” Oh no, no, no, we’re going to put this new team in. There’re lifelong, they’re just dedicated prosecutors, blah, blah, blah, blah,” made all these promises and people believed it.

And then June of 2019, all the charges were dropped, even the ones that hadn’t even been brought to any kind of hearing yet, were dropped. And we’re like, “Oh my God.” Because nine months later, so April of this year, was when the statute of limitations would be up for the felony misconduct in office, which is the baseline for the manslaughter charges and all the other charges, you have to start with misconduct in office to prove the manslaughter and all the other things, poof, gone in the garbage. We weren’t able to even hear from them for like three weeks from the Attorney General’s office.

And then we went to a town hall, which was a disaster. And basically, the only thing they said was, “Well, we can’t say anything, we just have to go where the evidence leads us.” And then, radio silence, nothing, no charges had been brought. And then, yes, when Vice, and The Guardian, and all these other stories came out, even through this year, about what Governor Snyder knew and his right hand man out there putting out all of these bribes, or silencing and threatening the former mayor and all this stuff, making her shut up, when all this is out there, it’s all these documents and emails that are proving, who knew what, when, nothing, nothing has happened.

And we’re like, “Okay, so now we’re past the statute of limitations, now what?” And people have said, “Well, maybe they wanted to get the civil cases but the class action case is out of the way because if there’s no criminal charges pending, they can settle for less.” And I’m like, “Oh dear Lord, everything is about money, everything is about saving money, and cutting corners, and not giving Flint anything, except poisoned water and excuse, okay, great.” So help me if I find out that that’s what it is about, that they dropped justice for giving us pennies, going to be a problem. But the thing is, is that none of us in Flint trust or believe anything that anybody says anymore because it’s been lies or just silence.

Basically like small children, “Just sit there and accept what we’re doing to you, you have no say, you have no input and we have no reason to tell you what’s going on. We don’t have to explain anything to you because we’re above you.” That is literally how the people of Flint feel. And that is what’s adding to the trauma, to the anxiety, to the depression, and the waking up every morning, being like, “Well, got to tell myself in the mirror over and over again, I matter, I matter, my life matters, my work matters, my baby’s lives matter, my clients matter, my friends matter, we can’t let them get away with it.”

But after 2300 and some odd days it’s getting old. And it’s really hard to tell yourself this when everybody is sitting there having these cushy, six-figure or more jobs, nobody’s in jail, we feel like we live in a prison in our own homes and everybody’s just out there like, “It’s all okay, let’s be on TV.” And people think that we’re a hero for offering this, except it’s not enough. And I just hope that once the papers signed, then maybe if that’s the green light to put the criminal charges back in play that should be ready to go, it should be done same day, whatever needs to be done because we’re never going to feel like justice is served or that our lives matter until there’s actual proof.

So, I mean, and money’s one thing we need it to put filtration systems in our home to be able to combat the garbage that’s still being pumped through our pipes, but money is only one piece of it. I mean, again, we don’t have that here but we need to go to bed at night knowing that people are serving justice and paying for what they’ve done to us and what they’ve dragged us through all of these years. And again, then the laws, the racist laws that were put into place, austerity policies that say that if a city is struggling or assets that the government wants to privatize, that they can come in and take over and suspend democracy to have somebody that is unqualified, unelected and appointed by the governor actually become dictator over your city, overrule your elected officials because our elected officials voted unanimously, which they never vote unanimously on anything in Flint, they voted to get off of the Flint River in March of 2015. And the governor and his emergency manager said inconceivable.

So again, it was going to cost too much money to get us clean water because who cares about our lives. Let’s just worry about that dollar. And of course, they privatized all of our public assets so we don’t have the revenue streams anymore. So they’re just shoving us into bankruptcy like Detroit. And then the state gets to run all of our everything, all of our public assets and somebody gets their buddies, get to privatize it and profit off of it like the privatized pipeline that they’re trying to still force us to go on and that’s what it is.

And the fact that emergency management which is just that it’s dictatorship. The fact that they can say, “Well, look at the successes of emergency management.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, we’ll look at the failures and you need to own that.” You need to own the fact that 89% of black cities in Michigan have been underneath emergency management, but zero for white cities. And the fact that they took away people’s lives to make a profit, I mean, you just boil it down to that there you go. And the fact that that law is on the books in some form in 37 States people need to wake up and it’s not just Flint. So that’s another thing too, I encourage everybody to test your water, don’t listen to what they tell you. And do your own research for real because just because somebody’s got a Ph.D. or their job is to protect, you doesn’t mean they’re going to.

Interviewer: So, I mean, gosh, there’s so much there to get into Melissa but I have to ask how has COVID-19, how has the pandemic impacted or worsened the Flint water crisis?

Melissa: So even though the governor did her best and put out an executive order that said that everyone’s water needs to be restored because we’ve had people with our water shut off for quite some time because they can’t afford the water bill payments. I mean, some people are paying, I know every time I turn around, I’m dropping $300 on a stupid poison water bill, a month. And so, yeah, our water bills have gone from 150-300 a month, depending on your home. With water that you can’t safely use without a filter or boiling it and then filtering it and then boiling it because boiling it alone may kill bacteria but it condenses the metals and releases those carcinogens into the air. But then if you don’t boil it, and you just filter it then you’re left with the bacteria and that’s what killed a lot of people.

And yeah, so you have to do all these special steps just to make the water even close to palatable. But even then, I mean, there’s so many things like PFAS and even copper isn’t even filtered out. And bacteria definitely isn’t filtered out by these tap filters that we were given. So we have people that were then not allowed to work or go to school. And so they can’t bath because they are in a home without running water. And yeah, the very basic thing of washing your hands during a pandemic our city is just cool to let people go without and said that, “Oh no nobody’s shut off.”

So we started collecting data and collecting names and addresses of the people that are still without water. And most of them are seniors and people with children, the poorest and the most vulnerable, the sickest people, the disabled people, the people that are the most vulnerable to COVID. So then they’re having to go out in public without being able to wash your hands, and mind you during this time, we still have the country’s largest hepatitis A outbreak happening in the Detroit and Flint, this general region of Michigan because that’s where all the water shutoffs are and hepatitis A is spread by not being able to wash your hands.

So we have that going on on top of it because it’s layered. All the health centers shut down, the places shut down, people weren’t able to get bottled water, they weren’t able to do the things they need to do. Then our transportation shut down, people couldn’t go to the doctor. Our death rate and here in our County for COVID has been upwards of between 9 1/2 % and 12 1/2% which is way higher, at least two to three times higher than the rest of the country and the rest of the world, why? Because we have 100,000 people here. Flint is only about 23%-25% of the entire population of Genesee County but has half the cases of COVID.

So again, immune-compromised, you’re just an easy target. And of course, we also have a large undocumented immigrant population here, nobody was testing them, nobody was allowing them to get tested. One of my closest friends, she’s a permanent resident so she works in pays but they refused to test her and her sister, her sister almost died of COVID and they’re still recovering months later because they cannot get help or treatment for it. But then also being a white woman with insurance and a frontline worker, couldn’t even get my tests done until a month and a half after.

So I’m still currently dealing with lung damage, heart issues. I have an arrhythmia or I have bradycardia and tachycardia now. Like I didn’t have enough issues with the poisoning with the seizures, tremors, damage, the autoimmune disorder, COVID acts like the autoimmune disorder that we have for our bodies have been attacking ourselves. So it just basically just ran right over me and so I’m seeing the pulmonologist here in a week and I’m just sitting here like… all of us are sick. And not to mention, we’ve all been going door-to-door to try to help one another. And our mayor here, he did nothing, he just disappeared. The only thing he did was put in a nine o’clock curfew and we’re like, “Okay, well I get the COVID is a vampire it’s out of luck here.”

But yeah, I mean, there’s no special services, no warnings, no making sure people are okay. So it’s up to us in the community to do it. But now our sick and poisoned, battered bodies are now fighting off COVID and the longterm effects from it because a lot of us when we’ve had a lot of people, we’ve lost a lot of good people. We’ve had a lot of good people die and we have a lot of people that, no, I mean, Nayyirah Shariff, she’s one of our leading activists and she is an amazing human but she’s like, “I can’t leave my house, I already have damaged lungs and an immune system that’s completely compromised.” She was like, “If I catch this, I’m going to be the first person on a ventilator immediately.” And she knows it, so she’s trying to fight injustice from her house.

And so we’re all trapped in our little poison water prisons, trying to save each and getting no help from anyone. And yet we’re screaming “Hi, we have a 12 1/2% fatality rate.” We’ve been screaming that for months and nobody’s listening. I’m like, “Does anybody see that the world’s like 3%, 4% and the country’s like at this.” The States at 9% because what blowing it up us and Detroit we’re killing it because we’re up in the percentages because that’s where the poor people are, that’s where the minorities live. And that’s where we don’t have proper healthcare, we don’t have running water, we don’t have basic services. So it’s, once again, the poor minorities, we’re just getting marked off the map. So with the poisoning, the Flint water crisis didn’t get rid of enough of us, well, now we’ve got COVID and there’s nobody, it’s just like the water crisis.

And people were surprised that COVID is gone so bad to where you can’t get testing, you can’t get help. We’re in Flint going, it’s the norm, you can’t get your water tested, you can’t get tested for lead in your blood, you can’t get proper healthcare, you can’t get a doctor to say, “Yeah, it’s because of the water.” You can’t get help, you can’t get anything you need. We’re like, “Yeah, we’ve been going through this for years and so none of this is new to us but now we just kind of feel terrible because the rest of you all are in the same spot as us.” And it doesn’t feel really good. And it’s a sad, sad mark for our country that if they consider you poor or basically, if you’re not a wealthy white man, you’re just done for and you’re just left to be ignored, we’re disposable.

And so that’s what we have to wake up in the morning and be like, “Okay, I hurt everywhere. So when my Tylenol kicks in and I feel a little bit better and then I take my Lasix to get the fluid off of my heart and lungs so I can breed and move, I’m going to get in here and I’m going to kick some butt today and I’m going to stand up for my clients and I’m going to stand up for my neighbors and I’m going to stand up like, oh my God, I’m so tired.” And so, yeah, it’s hell and everybody keeps saying, “Well, we hope that things will change with the election.” Yeah, I hope so too except we thought that here in Michigan too and the new attorney general dropped all the charges that the Republican attorney general had helped push through.

So both sides have failed us here, Michigan, hopefully, it’s better for the rest of the country but then again, I mean, what’s going to happen. You just to be four years of damage control and clean up but and that even makes it to there, there’s that whole meteor thing.

Interviewer: And [inaudible 00:36:09] question, the issue of the environment in general, clean water, clean air, I believe has been a bipartisan failure. I don’t think that that’s my opinion. I think that’s what the record shows. But when we look at towns like Flint which some say, is the canary in the coal mine but actually there’s lots of places across America where the water is undrinkable, uncooked-withable, unbathable, the Pulitzer center did a really good piece about towns in areas across the country, including Lowndes County, Alabama, where they don’t have a sewage system to treat sewage water. So people’s toilet water gets backed up in their backyard and they’re dealing with human fecal matter feet away from where they live.

Navajo Nation has been greatly impacted with uranium in the drinking water as a result of mining in their town, on the reservation. In addition, there’s a town in Kentucky called Inez, Kentucky, I believe where coal ash runoff was poisoning the water low these last 20 years and the people are still dealing with it. Talk to me about what you have discovered through this experience about how decrepit and continuing to deteriorate the water system is, the infrastructure is in the United States.

Melissa: It’s funny when Flint burst out into the news, people were shocked. Like, “Oh my God, this is so terrible, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe this has happened to Flint.” And then people would say, “Well, why don’t you just move?” First of all, you buy my poison waterhouse buddy because it sure didn’t increase the property value of my house. Second of all, yeah, we’re poor so where are we supposed to pack up? Who’s got the money. Are you moving us? Are you paying for all those bills? And what I like to tell people also is if we move then they win because if Flint doesn’t get fixed with all of the attention and all of the congressional hearings and all of this and that, and fine and all but, if we don’t get fixed properly, then your city won’t either because then onto my next point why I don’t move because I don’t know where I would move to.

I have traveled all over the country, Canada and Mexico, and nowhere is safe. They’re either on the verge of becoming Flint or they already are in the same boat as us. And so what people need to realize is, yeah, it’s not just Flint but it’s happening everywhere. So I’m not sure where I would move to because I’d rather stick to the devil I know because I’ve had my water tested independently from different labs, certified labs. So I got a general idea of all the things that are hurting me. I’m not going to go move to a brand new place and get nailed all over again because there was a lady that moved from Flint to get out of here and moved to Corpus Christi and got poisoned by what’s in their water because that’s where they make the plastic bottles for our stupid bottled water that we don’t want to have to survive on.

So, now, of course, we’re making the private companies like Nestle a ton of money by being poisoned, by them refusing to put funding where it goes into our pipes. Yeah, we have native reservations where they don’t even have infrastructure. They still have clay pipes which are extremely deadly if they even have pipes and people who think that they’re in a rural area, so they don’t want to deal with it, they need to check the plumbing inside their home because nobody’s even bothering to test their wells because it’s a private issue. So it’s on you yourself to deal with it because everybody’s water experts, well, they should be, they’re going to need to learn to be because ain’t nobody out there helping us and looking out for us.

So you have to learn to be your own experts and get your water tested thoroughly, don’t just take it then you’re okay with it. But one of the things that we have been pushing since I think 2016 or ’17 is the Water Act, my group is one of the ones that signed onto the water Act to basically close a loophole incorporate offshore profits, meaning they have to pay taxes on their profits and it would provide 35 billion a year in grants, not loans because most cities like Flint don’t have the credit ratings to take out more loans and can’t afford a larger debt load, to be able to replace all of the tainted and destruction D plus rated infrastructure across this country. And also make sure that native reservations, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, daycare centers, where the most vulnerable people are, are getting all of their infrastructure replaced and then maintained properly funded. So that way nobody ends up like us after all these years, even though there’s plenty like us already.

So we’ve been pushing this bill and the Republicans won’t even look at it. They won’t even look at it. I testified in front of Congress and said about the damages that happen when you roll back environmental regulation and cut infrastructure funding. I actually made a Republican Congressman leave the room, he got so angry with me because he was trying to talk down to me and that doesn’t work well. But he was trying to say Flint was our fault because we’re poor and we’re stupid and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but I happened to list off a couple of… I did research on the committees before I went in there and I was kind of looking for it.

And everybody was doing the right PR thing and I’m like, “Well, they’re not going to attack a poison Flint mother.” Well, one tried it and it didn’t work out because I listed his community is that he is supposed to be looking out for that we’re already in crisis and where privatization had failed. Because that’s another thing too, don’t let them tell you that if you take it away from because the government can’t do anything and so what they’re doing is trying to give it to privatized companies like Veolia and all these other companies. And there’s zero public-private partnerships that have been successful. You can look at Atlanta, you can look at Philadelphia, you can look at these cities where they privatized the water, thinking that a private company could do better.

Well, when you take it out of the hands of the public and out of municipalities, then they don’t have to report to you because they’re a private company now, they don’t have to answer the same types of regulations because they’re not a public entity, they’re private. So privatization bad, I mean, basically Flint is a privatization scheme that went bad because that’s what they wanted to do was put us on a privatized pipeline that we didn’t need but we paid for because why not?

So that is exactly the issue that’s happening across the board. Yes, there are many Flints but if we don’t get fixed, they’re not going to get fixed either. And then when it happens to the next city and the next city, they’re going to do the same poison the poor black people and push it under the rug playbook and get away with it scot-free playbook to their city, to your city, to the next city, it’s going to be repeated and it’s just going to continue to get worse.

So we keep asking people to stand with us, please don’t forget about Flint, please reach out to us. I would say, come visit but don’t because of COVID, I mean, visit us virtually because we got people, we got cool things here. We have music and artists if there’s anything left after the pandemic but we have things worth fighting for and your city is worth fighting for too. So we’ll help you, we’ll stand with you. I mean, we’ve done it, we share our platform, we share any kind of media attention we get, thank you very much for not forgetting us. We talk about what’s happening in these other cities and we’ll do everything we can to stand with you and fight with you because if one of us falls, we’re all going to fall and then what’s going to happen is they’re going to basically just literally rape our cities of all the assets that we’d gotten and just leave us for dead and then push us out and then gentrify the living hell out of us and that’s what’s happening.

You can see where the funding has gone to Flint, downtown area and theaters, the $5 million worth of theaters. I’m like, “That could have bought a lot of water heaters for people, okay.” So things like that but we’re trying to keep people aware of it, we’re trying to keep it up, I mean, a lot of people thought that since mainstream media left, they thought we were fixed, no, we’re not, the people are shocked, it’s still going on, it’s still terrible and that nobody’s in jail for it, it is terrible. And the thing is this is absolutely replicable in your city.

And if you pay a water bill, you’re a consumer, they can make money off of you, they can cut corners and make money, guess what, it’s happening. Not to scare everybody but yeah, scare, you be scared but actually just be aware, don’t let your fear paralyze you. And don’t think like what I did. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I mean, I’m in PR and marketing for crying out loud and I’m social worker, what do I know about water treatment? Well, you learn, you’ll learn quick. And there are people out there that will help, we’ve had amazing help from Lois Gibbs, Erin Brockovich, Bob Bowcock just amazing human beings that have reached out to help educate us and help us fight. And it is happening everywhere. So we all are in this together believe it or not.

Interviewer: We’ve been speaking with Melissa Mays, she’s an activist and organizer check out her website, it’s Water You Fighting For? W-A-T-E-R youfightingfor.com part of the Flint rising coalition we’ve been discussing the news of the $600 million settlement offered by the State of Michigan, it has not yet been formally accepted but there’s a lot of varying opinions about whether or not this is adequate. And Melissa, I can’t tell you how much, I appreciate you making time to speak with us and know that we stand in solidarity with you and the rest of the people of Flint, Michigan. So thank you so much.

Melissa: Thank you.

Interviewer: I’m Kim Brown reporting for the Real News Network, thank you so much for watching.

Speaker 4: Thanks a lot for watching, appreciate it but do us one more sound favor, hit the subscribe button below, you know you want to. Stay up on the videos.


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Kim Brown

Kim Brown has been covering national and international politics for over 10 years and has been a sought-after voice on issues on race and culture.