January 13, 2018
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Queridas y queridos seguidores de la paz,
One of the most recent demonstrations of a health crisis brought on by state inaction affecting primarily minoritized communities in a developed country is the case of the city of Flint, Michigan, USA. The crisis took a “human face” some months ago when children from throughout the community began showing poisonous levels of lead in medical tests. The tragedy of this situation is that this has been years in the making. It has been documented that the state and private industries in the area knew about this situation and never communicated the risk coming out of people’s faucets. Water is life. And that is not only a liturgical statement. It is one of the most fundamental realities we share, as humans, with each other and with the created order.
Working for peace rooted in justice in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States, we call on all peace-loving people to pray for the health of the residents of Flint, and to commit to local action to require the government of Michigan to immediately provide a sustainable source of clean water and infrastructure to them. We also call on all peace-loving people of North America to remember the water crises happening throughout our region with el Niño creating drought conditions in Puerto Rico, northern Mexico, and the US West and flooding in southeastern Mexico, with oil extraction in the tar sands region of northern Alberta in Canada polluting nearby waters - a region with profound spiritual and historic significance to Canada’s first peoples, and with the commodification of water which is closing access to clean water to many throughout our region and the world.
As we encourage you to pray, witness and work for peace as it relates to water, we also share some resources that can help you organize to this end, and ask that you send us resources you might be aware of that could encourage our work for peace and justice as it particularly relates to clean water access in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States.
LeDayne Polaski Amaury Tañón-Santos
Executive Director President, Board of Directors
BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz
It is absolutely right and necessary that we respond to the water needs of our sisters and brothers in Flint, yet we do not have the luxury of resting on our charity. We must travel upstream, to the Empire, and demand justice. These two things are not the same.
Below is my signature statement to be included with other denominational voices demanding not only cooling water but cataclysmic change.
"The United States of America's founding documents endow all human beings with inalienable rights that guarantee them life, freedom, material conditions worthy of humankind, and the right to develop fully all potentialities of their intellect and their souls. The very word, inalienable, means these rights cannot be bought, sold, or transferred because they are given to us all by God. The Justice and Witness Ministries of The United Church of Christ boldly stand with the people of Flint Michigan who have been systemically and systematically denied these human rights, and offer ourselves as both allies and accomplices in the fight to adequately address the immediate and long term needs of a community that has been unjustly and unfaithfully treated as less than human.
In collaboration with Woodside United Church of Christ, the Michigan Conference, and our denominational partners, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we will continue to supply bottled water and water filters to address the immediate needs of those quenched with poisoned waters as we offer our voices, our votes, and our resources to demand the political and structural reform necessary to eradicate this present source of environmental racism and ensure it never happens again."
Rev. Dr. Traci D. Blackmon
Acting Executive Minister of Justice and Witness
Justice and Witness Ministries of The United Church of Christ
We, representatives of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (SDPC) and of our churches and respective institutions of learning, are asking that the Justice Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House take immediate action to address the problems that have been caused by the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan.
We find it morally reprehensible that in these United States, such a travesty of justice and a violation of the human right to clean water, exists, and we find it even more problematic that local and state elected officials in the city of Flint and in the state of Michigan had knowledge of the issue long before any action was taken, proven by the fact that bottled water was used in government offices during the time Flint residents were receiving tainted water.
We are asking that the state of Michigan and the city of Flint stop charging Flint residents immediately for water which they cannot use. We are asking that the National Institutes of Health declare a public health emergency in the city of Flint and appropriate dollars and personnel to that city to treat children and adults whose health has been irreparably damaged by the water.
We are asking that the Environmental Protection Agency examine the infrastructure not only of Flint but of other urban areas in these United States, as we are convinced that the situation in Flint is not an isolated phenomenon …and that the EPA issue a report on its findings, along with recommendations on what can be done to correct the situation, along with a suggested timeline on when those corrections can be made.
We are asking the United States Justice Department to examine this situation as a criminal offense, and hold elected officials responsible for this abrogation of human rights accountable. And we are asking the White House to do what it is legally able to do to expedite the above requests.
We consider what has happened in Flint to be nothing less than environmental racism, and we are asking that this nation correct the situation before more damage is done in Flint and elsewhere in these United States.
Dear Families of Flint,
I know that you might be angry or frustrated that Flint’s water crisis is fading from the news. In this fast-paced news environment, the devastation that families in Flint, Michigan are facing is beginning to fade from front page news. Yet Flint’s residents are still dealing with the short and long-term effects of contaminated water. Even as donations have arrived to help families, safe drinking water remains a precious resource. It is all too familiar.
I know this story, because I have lived it too. In New Mexico, Native communities like mine have been experiencing a similar problem for months but have not received much attention in mainstream media. As the environmental justice organizer for Tewa Women United, I’ve seen the result of a poisoned water supply. TWU is an intertribal collective of women’s voices in the Tewa homelands of Northern New Mexico.
Last August, the Animas River was poisoned when the Environmental Protection Agency caused a leak while attempting to treat contaminated water in the Gold King Mine in Colorado. That toxic water then tainted the Animas River and the San Juan River, creating lead levels 12,000 times the normal amount, in addition to contaminating the water with arsenic, mercury and other poisonous minerals. The toxicity of the water in Flint is eerily similar. This spill directly impacted our local Native communities that depend on the Animas for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
To us, water is life. It’s an intrinsic element of our humanity and faith as we are all water beings, and it’s how we survive living in the desert. It is our human right. Our ceremonies depend on clear water and we see the Animas in spiritual terms as a living being. However, the Animas spill is one of many instances in a long history of environmental racism against Native Peoples. The New Mexico state government is more concerned about saving money or making money through oil and gas companies, uranium mining or nuclear weapons production in Northern New Mexico, than in taking care of the people who live here. By turning our sacred water and land into commodities for profit regardless of the cost to the Native communities who live here, the government has done irreparable physical, spiritual, emotional and cultural harm. It’s continuing a policy of genocide, a loss that Native Peoples have endured for centuries and it’s part of a shared history with other communities of color and poor people in the United States. Just like in Flint, just like in Detroit, poor people of color are considered collateral damage for big business.
As someone who has experienced ongoing environmental racism, and witnessed my elders survive through the relentless attacks, I want to offer solidarity and support to our comrades in Flint. I understand the anger, pain, and hurt of having their children harmed, and the fear of what’s in store for their children as they grow. I know the heartbreak that comes when the people who are supposed to protect you are the one’s who caused the problem. I want the families of Flint to know: You are not alone. Even though we are miles and states apart, we are in community together.
While it’s heartbreaking that there are so many parallels between what Native communities are experiencing and what’s happening in Flint, we have an opportunity to fight together for justice.
Woodside Church is a UCC/American Baptist Church (part of ABC's Metro Chicago Region) also affiliated with our partners, The Alliance of Baptists. As you'll see, they are part of a comprehensive effort to respond to both immediate needs and the larger justice issues. Indeed, they've been concerned with larger justice issues for a long time as you'll see from this excerpt from their website:
As a member of both the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ, Woodside continues to speak its mind, to raise questions, to invite unconventional answers.
From its earliest days, Woodside has been a community force. A stop on the Underground Railroad in the time before the Civil War (when we were still known as First Baptist Church), Woodside in the next century put itself on the line as an advocate for fair housing, civil rights, an end to Jim Crow. In recent years, Woodside has ruffled feathers and faced public fury over its welcome of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Lately, Woodside has been catalyst for examination of policies of incarceration, poverty, water rights. There may never be an end to the ways humans oppress one another. By the grace of God, in the name of God, we will continue to speak and advocate for a human community reflective of divine imagination.
You may have heard we have some issues here. While we work on getting safe and affordable water to all the residents of the city, it is also critical that people of faith have a clear understanding of how this could happen, so that we can agitate, Jesus-style, for better public policies and a greater regard for the common good.
Instead, we are working to set up "re-filling stations" in our church, to make free, filtered water available to the community in whatever size containers they would like. While we're still gathering data, which we hope to complete shortly, we can tell you we expect to install a multi-phase point-of-entry filter on our building, and replace all our drinking fountains with water bottle refill stations, so that the people in the community can have access to safe water in their own refillable bottles. We have a child development center, another congregation, about a dozen 12-step groups, and multiple other community groups who use our space, and we expect this would be a relief to them all. Hard to know exactly how many, but neighbors in the hundreds. We are also on a bus route, and located on the edge of a residential community, so that adds to the volume. Finally, we are adjacent to a community college, which further increases the usefulness in the community.
Based on what we know so far, we are estimating the cost at $15,000 or so for our building. Beyond our own building, as funds allow, we will seek a partner church or organization in another neighborhood for whom we can offer the same arrangement.
Send contributions to: Woodside Church (marked "water"), 1509 E Court St, Flint MI 48503.
Justice Like Water
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The Old Testament Prophet Amos longed for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. But what happens when the water that flows is not good enough-- is not clean, healthy, or drinkable?
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has shown how our care for the earth and our care for people are intertwined. The water crisis has disproportionately affected poor communities and people of color.
What can you do? Consider signing this petition put together by Color for Change, the world's largest online civil rights organization. The petition encourages he US government to restore funding for the Center for Disease Control Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention program in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
Furthermore, be aware of water issues in your own community. Where does your water come from? What are local challenenges related to water scarcity? Consider how you can make sure this important resource is acknowledged and protected in your community.
Flint's Water Crisis is No Accident, It's the Result of Years of Devastating Free Market Reforms – In These Times
By most accounts, cities like Flint are victims of structural forces. The common-sense canard that globalization and technological change have made rust-belt cities unviable has been a convenient narrative for restructuring industrial cities through fiscal austerity programs. But while deindustrialization is an important part of Flint’s story, it obscures broader political forces that have decimated budgets and battered working class populations across the Midwest.
Michigan's Great Stink – The New York Times
This story — America in the 21st century, and you can trust neither the water nor what officials say about it — would be a horrifying outrage even if it were an accident or an isolated instance of bad policy. But it isn’t. On the contrary, the nightmare in Flint reflects the resurgence in American politics of exactly the same attitudes that led to London’s Great Stink more than a century and a half ago.
The Political Coup Behind the Flint Water Crisis – Los Angeles Times
The poisoning of the people of Flint, Mich., is a failure of government at its worst, and the finger-pointing will turn into a blood sport. There already are calls for the state’s governor, former Gateway Computers executive and venture capitalist Rick Snyder, to resign, and some are urging criminal investigations into the motives and knowledge of those who let Flint residents, including young children at elevated risk, drink lead-contaminated water.
Democracy, Disposability, and the Flint Water Crisis – The Third Coast Conspiracy
Local, regional, and state governments are removing the basic, infrastructural supports that are necessary for the reproduction of life. As a consequence, residents of cities like Flint and Detroit, in particular black and immigrant populations, have been subjected to increasing vulnerability in forms like declining life expectancy and appalling infant mortality... These disposable populations are raced... What racism names, in other words, is not bias, prejudice, or discrimination, but the systems that orchestrate the siphoning of resources away from some populations and redirect them toward others. These systems do more than just define which lives matter and which lives don’t—they materially make some lives matter by killing others more.
Who Poisoned Flint, Michigan? – Rolling Stone
By the fall of 2015, news began coming out of Flint about undrinkable water, kids getting sick and a stonewalling state government. I headed back to Flint for a week. I saw orange water running from a hydrant. I read FOIA'd e-mails that prove the city and state decided not to chemically treat Flint's water, something required in every town, village and city in America... Recently, Michigan was forced to declare a state of emergency in Flint. Some of the public servants involved have resigned. Now, the feds and the state are investigating what one water expert calls one of the greatest American drinking-water disasters he's ever seen.
Something in the Water: Privilege and Poison in Flint Michigan – Midweek Message, First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
It must be something in the water, they say… When a common trend takes hold of a community. Like a bunch of women in the same church get pregnant at the same time; or an extended family has a big wave of weddings in one summer; or a bunch of houses in the neighborhood go on the market at the same time... In the instance of a small town in Michigan, it is not proverbial. It is no folksy appellation... It is cloudy; it is dirty; it is poison. And somebody, somewhere knew about it and did nothing... What’s in the water in Flint is the living embodiment of white privilege; and a living example of how real and present racism still is in our culture.
Why Chicago Won't Go Bankrupt – And Detroit Didn't Have To – In These Times
Detroit’s bankruptcy was not borne out of financial necessity and was not a foregone conclusion. It was a political decision made by state officials. Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature chose to push the distressed city over the edge in order to accomplish two otherwise difficult political goals: slashing pensions and regionalizing the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. It was disaster capitalism at its finest. Austerity hawks are now hoping to use the Detroit playbook in other cities to force the public to accept extreme measures to fix budget crises. And the bond markets seem to have finally settled on an answer to that question about which city will be the next Detroit: Chicago... Chicago is the test case for whether the Detroit playbook can be run in other, more prosperous cities. If it succeeds there, cities across the country will likely emulate this strategy to balance budgets on the backs of working-class communities while letting banks, big corporations and the rich off the hook.
The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos – by Karen Piper
"There's Money in Thirst,” reads a headline in the New York Times. The CEO of Nestlé, purveyor of bottled water, heartily agrees. It is important to give water a market value, he says in a promotional video, so “we're all aware that it has a price.” But for those who have no access to clean water, a fifth of the world's population, the price is thirst. This is the frightening landscape that Karen Piper conducts us through in The Price of Thirst—one where thirst is political, drought is a business opportunity, and more and more of our most necessary natural resource is controlled by multinational corporations.
Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis – by Andrew R. Highsmith
In one of the most comprehensive works yet written on the history of inequality and metropolitan development in modern America, Andrew R. Highsmith uses the case of Flint to explain how the perennial quest for urban renewal—even more than white flight, corporate abandonment, and other forces—contributed to mass suburbanization, racial and economic division, deindustrialization, and political fragmentation. Challenging much of the conventional wisdom about structural inequality and the roots of the nation’s “urban crisis,”Demolition Means Progress shows in vivid detail how public policies and programs designed to revitalize the Flint area ultimately led to the hardening of social divisions.