Dear next President,
As a student who has not yet reached legal voting age, it is hard to think of ways my voice could make an impact in government and elections. Many of my family, friends, and church family have suffered due to the lead poisoned water in Flint. My church is next door to where candidate Hillary Clinton spoke in February and my family and I drive past the Flint Water Plant once or twice a week. Through this crisis I learned there is a definite gap in society on how we treat our low income and minority communities compared to others. This is what I believe you, new president, can change. More programs should go toward building stronger relationships between elected officials and the citizens they represent.
To begin, we must ensure that a healthy relationship is maintained between the government and the people especially in lower income communities. Every citizen should have their questions answered. Many residents of Flint including my friend’s grandmother were extremely wary of the water long before the scandal broke loose. When the pipes were switched from Port Huron water to Flint River water in 2007, the public protested but their calls were turned on deaf ears as officials insisted that the water was safe. “Flint Water” was an infamous phrase among residents and those outside of Flint and in the Grand Blanc area. CNN analyzes a river assessment done by the DNR in July 2001:
“Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to "the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances." In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed, including industrial complexes, landfills and farms laden with pesticides and fertilizer.”
A system known to be a risk to families was still used despite opposition. After the scandal broke I asked myself: Why do leaders wait for crises to escalate before changing policy? Instead of being an advocate officials pushed their own agenda looking at the dollar sign and disregarding the people almost to say that Flint doesn’t matter. As you drive by the abandoned homes in Flint and talk to educators you begin to see a government that simply doesn’t care about it’s people who are at or below the poverty line. “The Government failed Flint at every level. (CNN)”
My hopelessness for my surrounding community changed when I joined Michigan Youth in Government; a program that helps develop leadership skills and awareness of state government and national issues for kids and teens. During meetings, I met and debated with people of all different political views, incomes and ethnic groups from the entire state. There I felt empowered to make my own decisions. My voice mattered in political discussions despite race, income or gender. Every American should feel that power and we should instill this power into future generations. Programs such as Youth in Government should have a larger presence in schools to show the youth that politicians are not as far away as they seem. Community leaders should schedule regular accessible town hall meetings in which individuals can freely express concern. As President I think you can view this crisis as a learning experience. Support ideas and legislation that bridge the gap between communities and elected officials. We shouldn’t let communities slip through the cracks just because it is small in size or because half of the population is a minority.
So why is all of this still meaningful a year after the crisis? Because after the headlines fade and cameras leave the city the impact on the people still remain. You can see it in the abandoned homes and in the eyes of the youth and in church congregations. Will our leaders heed the lesson of this crisis as an opportunity to rebuild not only the pipes but the community? Or will they go back to the Capital and isolate themselves from the issues? I hope as new Commander and Chief you will heed this lesson and keep close contact with the average Joes and Janes that elected you into office.
Thank you for listening,
"EPA Should Have Intervened in Flint Water Crisis Months Earlier, Watchdog Says." Washington Post. The Washington Post. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
Journal, John Foren | Flint. "Get Ready for a Nice Gulp of Flint River Water." MLive.com. 19 Dec. 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
"Michigan Governor's Emails Shine Light on Flint Water Crisis." CNN. Cable News Network. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
"Mission Statement." Board of Directors for Michigan Youth in Government. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.