What do you do in the face of tragedy when you’re 2,000 miles away?
That’s the question Tiffany Williams was asking herself after she heard about the Flint water crisis on The Rachel Maddow Show.
“I was horrified! Immediately, my husband and I made donations and did our best to recruit friends and relatives to help in the effort,” Tiffany said.
Although she currently lives in Seattle, Tiffany is a former Michigan and Genesee County resident who graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2011. The year after graduation, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest.
“I may not live there, but I will always still consider Flint one of my communities,” Tiffany told us. “The people of Flint are still my people. Always will be.”
Making donations from afar didn’t feel like enough for Tiffany, though. Feeling a need to do something more, Tiffany started working on a rally in Flint, planned for Sunday, March 6—mere hours before Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton take the stage at the Whiting auditorium for their first debate following Super Tuesday.
“Here I am, organizing this protest rally and march on my old college campus. All of the national media will be in town. We will have maximum media exposure. The debate itself is happening just down the street.”
When Tiffany first contacted us, two people had RSVP’d for the event. I have to admit my initial skepticism. I continued checking in on the Facebook event, wondering whether Tiffany would be able to pull this off and start gaining traction. As we started e-mailing back and forth, though, I quickly recognized her determined, perhaps even stubborn, nature. It’s a Flint trademark.
“My goal for this demonstration is simply to provide a stage for the people of Flint—as well as Flint’s allies—to be heard,” Tiffany said. “Safe, clean water is a human right. Additionally, I am interested in speaking to residents individually to ask what #Justice4Flint means to them.”
Once Tiffany’s on the ground in Flint, there’s more work to be done. Saturday, she will be at the Flint Farmers’ Market spreading the word.
Organizing an event from three time zones away is no small feat. For the past several weeks, she’s been using lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends to advertise and plan the event.
“Unfortunately, being so far away doesn’t make it very easy.”
“How many hours have you put into the event?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Tiffany told me. “I stopped counting long ago.”
With a small budget, limited contacts, and an abbreviated time frame, Tiffany doesn’t have the luxury to consider what success or failure might look like.
“I have to have just keep faith that I am doing the right thing and move forward,” Tiffany explained. “Honestly, I have no specific gauge to classify whether the event has gone ‘well’ or not.
“When the demonstration concludes, I will know that I have done everything that I could to make this event impactful and I will have to be OK with that regardless of the results.”
As of early Thursday morning, nearly 1,000 people have been invited and interest is growing. Tiffany is hoping for demonstrators to number in the hundreds.
“I already know of some large numbers of people that have already committed to come,” Tiffany shared. “I am really optimistic!
“This cannot go on any longer. Governor Snyder and other politicians—Ted Cruz for example—cannot continue to hold the health of 100,000 people hostage. This is horrifying. I cannot watch it go on any longer without trying to make a positive impact.”