Grassroots Organizing in Flint, MI
The people of Flint created a grassroots movement to:
- Acquire safe drinking water
- Raise public awareness of the problem
- Propose classroom remedies to mitigate the enduring harmful effects of the lead-exposure on learning
Leading their Flint Change campaign, Michigan Faith in Action brings people of faith together to address the root causes of the Flint Water Crisis. It helped, and continues to, facilitate the distribution of safe drinking water to Flint residents. Flint Rising developed an action plan with three explicit demands from state and federal government to counteract the harmful effects of the Flint Water Crisis: (1) replace lead-damaged infrastructure, (2) water reimbursement to residents who paid in 2014 until now for unsafe drinking water, and (3) health and education services for their children and elders in the community to mitigate the effects of lead exposure.
Grassroots organizing groups in Flint not only intend to tackle the harmful effects of lead in their water, but also rallied together to change the patronizing rhetoric surrounding the Flint Water Crisis. The portrayal of Flint amidst crisis in popular media sources dismisses the potential power of community members to recognize their shared discontent and organize to relieve it. Featuring Flint in terms of deficits and related factors of disenfranchisement may quickly lead to not acknowledging Flint residents as powerful actors capable of enacting change. By identifying ways for its citizens to succeed despite the difficult obstacles confronting them, community organizers do the important work of fostering resiliency among their fellow Flint residents.
#FlintFwd inspires Flint’s residents to recognize themselves as agents of change in their own community: “We continue to push, build, and create a better city every day, because together, we’re moving Flint Fwd.” Flint Promise connects Flint students with opportunities for higher education after high school. By emphasizing the potential of young people in Flint to attend and achieve in academic institutions, Flint Promise changes the rhetoric surrounding Flint residents’ capacities. Instead of focusing on what obstacles Flint faces, it chooses to highlight what opportunities Flint can access.
It might be helpful to acknowledge the lack of privilege and cultural capital present in a community as a reason to why powerful government actors could easily mistreat the community. However, it is important to not circulate rhetoric concerning Flint residents’ inability to develop their capacities to build power. Because, clearly evident in different Flint grassroots efforts, community members built power through equally demonstrating the harmful effects of lead-poisoning and also emphasizing positive components present in their community. All of these efforts demonstrates the resiliency of Flint residents. Community organizing efforts focus on messages of community resilience and means of revitalization, thoughtfully disproving the media’s dismissive representation of the city and its’ residents. Similar efforts across the country to mitigate the effects of lead-exposure and other environmental pollutants on their children’s education mirror similar actions and organizing.