The wealthy and their technocrat servants in government do not speak the same language as you and I. The language of the rich, when they speak to us, is one of condescension and manipulation, of cheer and redirection. It reveals its falseness most clearly when it confronts strong emotion in the people. In the face of grief or anger, our rulers can do no better than state that they share our sentiment. Few of us believe them, nor should we. They do not share our situation. They do not, in the words of their mouthpiece Bill Clinton, “feel your pain.” That is because they are the cause of our pain.
In their world of high-stakes gambling where masses of human beings—their labor and their lives—are bought and sold, human damage is an externality, a cost borne by the powerless. Such damage—death and injury from defective car parts, lead poisoning from drinking water, despair caused by a sinking standard of living—becomes a concern to the powerful only when the people are roused to an anger that suggests to them that they may not in fact be powerless. Then the people are to be mollified, assured that they are listened to and that they do matter. Such an act of mollification took place last Tuesday in Flint, Michigan.
For nine hours at an auditorium, as reported by the World Socialist Web Site, Flint residents told their stories and expressed their anger to a panel of state legislators. Opening testimony came from Flint resident LeeAnne Walters. Walters is the woman who first contacted water quality expert Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Technical University after her children had been diagnosed with lead poisoning and she had decided that it was “very apparent that the city was not being truthful” in response to her questions and complaints. “Nobody trusts the city or the state or the EPA,” Walters told the panel to the applause of the audience. “They trust Virginia Tech.”
Next to testify was pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha who noticed recurring symptoms in her young patients such as rashes and hair loss and who conducted a study of blood-lead levels in Flint children. Like Walters, Hanna-Attisha encountered resistance from officials. Also testifying was Flint Utilities Manager Mike Glasgow who was the water department’s lab supervisor at the time of the switch from Detroit-treated water to water drawn from the Flint River. Glasgow had contacted the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to tell them the city’s long-unused water treatment plant was not ready to make the switch, but the state, having “an agenda” according to Glasgow, held firm to their April 25, 2014 deadline.
Glasgow also testified that MDEQ told him that corrosion control treatment of the water would not be necessary. It was the corrosiveness of the water that caused lead from service pipes to leach into residents’ tap water.
As James Brewer of WSWS reports, “After the session had gone on for six hours, other Flint residents were allotted three minutes each to speak. Their anger became so apparent from the first speaker on, that the panel dared not enforce the time limit.”
One speaker was Keri Webber, whose husband suffers from high blood pressure caused by lead poisoning. “It is killing him by the day,” Webber says. Her 20-year-old daughter learned after having pneumonia for three months that she had been infected with Legionella bacteria, and bone scans of Webber’s 16-year-old daughter reveal lead lines throughout her body.
Adam Murphy was an employee at the GM engine plant, which disconnected from the Flint water system in October 2014 and returned to the Detroit-treated water via Flint Township when it was discovered that engine parts were being corroded by the water. “Money is power,” Murphy said, explaining how GM could change its water source while the rest of the city drank the corrosive, lead-laced water. “Where’s my job? I made $85,000. It’s all gone…Enough is enough with this mindset—heartless business.” Murphy continued, emotionally, “My teeth are falling out. All our teeth. My kids. Brand new teeth coming in. They’re all corroding.”
Little, if anything, will come of the meeting. The governor has already released his woefully inadequate 75-point plan for Flint, a plan that provides for “professional support and case management” only for children under six years of age “with high lead blood levels” and that does not even provide for the removal of all lead service pipes in the city. Rather, the meeting was a safety valve, intended to relieve pressure on the system, not to change the system.
The Flint residents at the meeting, however, showed signs that matters have moved beyond the control of the state’s public relations efforts. Murphy was not the only person calling for an end to the reign of “heartless business.” Dorothy Batchelder, whose testimony pointed out that in 2007 the Flint River was declared a Superfund site, spoke for many when she said, “I am mad, and I am angry! I thought I lived in a republic where democracy ruled and the Constitution meant something! I am tired of living in an oligarchy!”
This is language our rulers fear, but it is not a language they can speak. Despite Bernie Sanders’ talk of “revolution,” those who hold the wealth and power in the country cannot respond to Murphy and Batchelder constructively. Their two options are to ignore such talk or, should sufficient numbers begin to say “Enough is enough,” to meet it with force. For now, the state government cannot ignore Flint itself, but in Part 2 of this series, we will look at just how superficial and arrogant the state’s attention truly is.
flint mayor and people shut out
safety valve meeting—language of the people, what the rich can’t hear