Not Me, Us: The People’s Movement

On Dec. 10, more than 40 people filled a community room at The Green Union to hear Flint water activists report back about their recent trip to Standing Rock, North Dakota—and to plan for the road ahead in Flint.

Despite the fact that it was a Saturday night, the weather was cold, and roads were slippery, the room was full. A number of local organizations were represented in the crowd, including several members of Flint Rising. In one corner, the coffee pot was filled and refilled with bottled water as attendees kept themselves caffeinated.

No need to fear anyone falling asleep, however. From the start, the meeting’s discourse was impassioned.

The five activists on stage started the meeting by sharing thoughts from their trip to Standing Rock.  Reaction ranged from despair at seeing sniper rifles pointed at women and children to “restored faith in humanity” at the sight of such a broad, intercultural, and multiracial coalition standing together for a common cause. Each one came back invigorated, determined to bring the energy from the water protectors’ fight in Standing Rock to Flint.

Of the five on stage, four were U.S. military veterans. The fifth, Lisia, is an activist with D15, an organization based in Detroit that is part of the national fight for a $15 living wage.

Arthur, one of the veterans who traveled to North Dakota, shared what’s becoming a commonly observed irony: “It’s strange how they don’t want pipes [in North Dakota], but Flint does—and we can’t get them because there’s no money to be made.”

For Lisia, it was a divine nudge that called her to Standing Rock. The experience didn’t disappoint.

“It was amazing to see the different ethnic groups,” Lisia said. “Everyone was helping everyone.”

One of the main lessons that the Flint activists brought back was a critical need for everyone to “find their piece of the puzzle.”

As Arthur reflected: “Here in Flint, we have a whole bunch of chiefs, but no Indians.”

Back in May, community activist Melissa Mays made a similar point in a story reported in The Flint Journal. “Everybody wants to be the Martin Luther King and Martin Luther Queen of the water issue.”

This became an ongoing topic of conversation throughout the evening. At one point, Ryan, the event organizer and founder of The Green Union, exhorted anyone with a hidden agenda or self-serving motives to see themselves out.

In addition to talking about the need to come together for a common goal, a related discussion centered on how the Flint water crisis isn’t so much a race issue, but a human rights issue.

One of the panelists pointed out that water doesn’t care who you are in Flint, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, black or white. The same water still flows to your house.  Everyone in the city has been affected.

The Flint water crisis has made unexpected allies of the politically marginalized across Flint who feel that their voices continue to be ignored locally and nationally. Whether you’re on the right or left, what counts is your pride in your home and your commitment to clean water, now.

As we push toward a common goal, we’re each left with the question posed by one of the attendees: “What are you going to tell your kids or your grandkids?” Will you be able to speak truthfully, and share with pride what you did for your neighbor in their time of need?

For information about upcoming events, please see Veterans for Clean Water on Facebook.

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