Finding flint in Flint

This post is by JOIN for Justice Executive Director Karla Van Praag.

By now we’ve all heard the horrific story about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the massive government mismanagement, the lead-poisoned children and the systemic environmental injustice of the highest order.

So much of the coverage of this travesty focuses, on one hand, on the powerful individuals who decided that $100/day was too much to spend to be certain that an entire city would be kept safe and, on the other hand, about the nameless, faceless, oppressed Flint community. But I can’t stop thinking about Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who demonstrated lead levels in toddlers had doubled. Or Miguel Del Torel, the EPA official who leaked his report about the problems to the press after community activist Lee Ann Waltersreached out to him for help.

Many Americans until now only associated flint with a small piece of metal used to produce a spark to ignite a fuel. Now Flint has been personified. These people, and the many other community organizers whose names haven’t been as visible in the media, were the flint here, the spark that finally set the injustice alight.

These individuals, along with the community organizations who fought hard against dismissal, derision, and character attacks to gain attention for the issue, are one important part of the story we as organizers need to remember. Despite powerful efforts to squash people’s resistance and keep them quiet, there are always those who will take risks–with their jobs, with their safety, with their reputations–to uncover the truth and fight for what’s right. Given all of these risks, these people are up against a lot, and I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot recently about what role I can play to support them towards victory. What is my role in this struggle? What is yours? What will we do when we are called to be those heroes ourselves?

The folks on the front lines in Flint Michigan, the people putting their bodies on the line in direct action for Black Lives Matter, young Dreamers risking everything to fight for justice for undocumented immigrants and their communities–they challenge all of us to be better allies and better leaders.

I am proud of our work at JOIN for Justice to train organizers and leaders to join critical fights for justice throughout the country. We can all get better at embracing rather than pushing away the voices that challenge us, and we can all benefit from learning the skills to be better allies with the folks who are taking the biggest risks. And to be ready for when we must be flint ourselves.

If you’re in a place in your life where you want to invest in yourself as a leader and see how to build a spark, I encourage you to check out our organizing programs that are open right now.

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