On Tuesday, Jan. 19 we spoke with Charlise and Antonia, two sisters from Flint who had traveled to Lansing to protest outside the Capitol during Governor Snyder’s State of the State address. Here’s what they had to say.
Do you mind telling me your names and where you’re from?
Antonia: I’m Antonia and I’m from Flint, Michigan local 651 UAW.
And do you mind me asking your name?
Charlise: I am Charlise from UAW local 651.
And what brings you out here tonight? It’s cold, we’re all in a church across from the protest right now at a warming station. Can you tell us what you’re out here doing tonight?
Charlise: I’m here, I brought my sign, for human rights matter. It’s not just people, it’s human rights. It’s a basic human right for the people in the city of Flint. They’ve known about this, the government has known about it and swept it under the rug for years. And because support from outside of the community has come, now there’s an awareness being brought to it and I appreciate that. But because I’m resident of Flint, I want to be a part of the movement. I want to be an advocate for the people that aren’t able to come here and speak for themselves.
Antonia, anything to add to that?
Antonia: I think that it’s time that we stand together and we take care of our senior citizens, our babies, our our cities, and, and take it back and and it’s about democracy. And so we’re here, standing together with the city of Flint, I as well am a resident of city of Flint and I am here on behalf of my children, my grandchildren, my grandparents, my family members, and my community just to stand, and be united for this cause because they’re not able to come. We’ve been, we’ve been going through this a long time and like my sister said, it’s now just been coming to the forefront to everybody else, so as we all come together collectively to make a difference, that’s why we’re here.
Are you encouraged by the amount of people here tonight, people who have come here from Northern Michigan, Grand Rapids, all over the state? What does that mean to you as residents of Flint?
Antonia: It touches my heart to know that we are not alone and that people are adding their strength and their voice so that the voiceless can be heard.
Charlise: It is absolutely [sigh] a show of compassion and human nature that people care and they want to do something positive. They came from around because it could possibly be them one day day. It may affect them. And so I’m glad to see so many supporters. I’m glad to see that it’s been highlighted and brought to the attention. And the media and the government can’t deny it now. It’s no longer something we can continue to sweep under the rug. The people have come out in this cold weather, shown their support, and we are truly grateful.
Is there anything that you want to hear Governor Snyder say in the State of the State address tonight?
Antonia: He needs to own it. His responsibility is to own what’s going on and what has been going on. Be truthful about it. No longer are we in darkness, it’s time to let everybody see and know what’s going on and then put a plan of of action together, to move forward, to do what’s right for the city of Flint.
Charlise: Absolutely. Well-spoken. I’m in agreement. Show integrity, admit it, and then do something about it.
People around the world are watching this now and people can’t believe what’s go on in the United States of America, in the wealthiest country in the world. Can you talk about what this has been like, the health side effects, the stress, what this has meant for your family, not to mention the financial burden of having one of the highest water bills in the country?
Antonia: I grew up in Flint. I no longer live in Flint. It is not that is doesn’t affect me. It’s just I have a will so it doesn’t affect me directly. My daughter has visited family that lives in the city. So they had to be careful not to just drink the water but also not to use it to bathe with because of the effects of it.
We live in one of the, if not the, wealthiest countries in the world, as you said; why has it taken so long to do something about it? Why is the impact so great now when it was still so great a year ago and nothing was done? The bills are ridiculous. You’re paying to kill yourself. You have to buy bottled water. And some people are less fortunate and they don’t have the money to do it. So they have to rely on the other people to come in and donate.
The UAW has come and made water donations for schools, the community has come together and donated to the elderly, so there’s been some help as well as outside communities as well. It’s a terrible situation where the people have to suffer with the basic human needs right now. It’s sad.
So you said your family lives in Flint.
And what are you doing? Do you have water filters? Have they been distributed to you?
What sort of precautions are you taking?
Charlise: The Red Cross has been around knocking on doors, passing out water filters as well as cases of water. The fire department, you can go down there every day of the week, seven days a week, to pick up cases of water, also water filters. They’re also giving you a bottle where you can actually test the water that’s in your home for lead. The Red Cross is doing something really positive; we really appreciate it. They’re knocking on doors get out. And they’re able to get to people who don’t get out. That is powerful right there.
You have people who have already have skin irritations, like eczema, and so my children and my grandson have eczema. So it’s really hard because the water that we do get, we use half of it to bathe with, brush our teeth with, as well as drink on a daily basis. And I cook with the water as well. I no longer cook with Flint water.
So this is something that’s very serious. We used to boil it. The boiling is not working. At all.
In fact it makes it worse.
Charlise: It does. And a lot of people didn’t know that. And so I no longer cook with the water. I use bottled water for everything. It’s funny to watch my 16-year-old to get up in the morning and brush her teeth with a bottle of water.
Antonia: It’s kind of sad because when you read the filter it says it reduces lead. It doesn’t eliminate it, it reduces it. So, thank you for your efforts. We appreciate it. It has not gone unnoticed. But a reduction in lead and an elimination of lead are two different things.
We want the support from our governor. I didn’t vote for him. I’m not sure if I can say that or not, but I don’t think he belongs in place. If I committed a crime, I’d be in jail. He’s committed a crime and he knew and it’s not okay. If he can stand before us and say he did not know in good conscience, then I might consider. But I don’t believe that’s the case.
There’s been many occasions where he’s been asked direct questions in the media and he has not answered. But now it’s important, but let’s just see how important it is. What are you going to do for the people of Flint? Because we have a voice. And we’re going to be heard. And it is going to resonate through the nation.
Charlise: It already is. It already is. We are truly thankful for all the super stars, everybody from across the nation, across the world that is looking at Flint now. We really appreciate all the prayers. We really appreciate all the donations. We really appreciate the love that we’re getting, and the support that we’re getting in the city of Flint, because Flint lives do matter.
I’ve had a lot of people from across the country asking ‘What can we do?’ What would you tell people in Texas or Mississippi or California, right now who might read this and want to know what they can do to help?
Charlise: Prayers always. And if they want to donate water or even if they want to just help us put pressure on the government. It’s time for the government to stand in accountability for what they’re doing. [Rick Snyder] wanted the responsibility to be the governor of the state of Michigan. Now you have to take care of every city in the state, every local in the state of Michigan. You can’t just take care of Lansing, you have to take care of surrounding areas and communities as well.
Are you a Flint resident, activist, or volunteer? Do you have a story to share or know someone who does? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.