Who to blame for the Flint water crisis

Story by Mackenzie Murphy, Opinion Editor
Image courtesy of commondreams.org

In my American government and politics class, we do a lot of theorizing about what role the people should play in a democracy. From John Stuart Mill to Howard Zinn to Carole Pateman, one common theme continually appears in the philosophy we study: the people must always be questioning and challenging their government.

This is exactly what the people are doing in the wake of the Flint water crisis. But it should have happened sooner.

In the frenzy of who-to-blame and what-to-do, I’ve read op-ed after op-ed applauding the resignations of official after official, of what “systems” created the crisis in Flint, of who to really, actually blame. These pieces all read with a vivid thirst for vengeance. These pieces all miss a holistic point: the people of Michigan don’t examine their government closely enough.

Calls for Gov. Snyder’s resignation (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) are crass. Symbolic and powerful, yes. Helpful? No. While I agree that those involved in the making of the crisis should receive some sort of reprimand (but that’s a whole different can of worms), one man did not create the crisis in Flint—our system of government and the lapse of the people did.

Rep. Justin Amash’s stance against federal aid, aside from what you think the Constitution says, is, at first, shocking. But when you look into it, there’s a symbolism in his stance that conveys part of the problem in Michigan: the state should be accountable to its people, and the people should be accountable to their state. The fact that the federal government is now “handling the problem” should be deeply embarrassing to the people of Michigan and to their government.

Why didn’t it matter to us that 50% of Michigan’s African-American population was being governed by unelected officials until after the crisis? Are we okay with this upward and downward delegation of task that happens in our city/state/national government? Are we alright with accepting federal aid, and if so, under what circumstances? Is it acceptable to us that geographical areas with larger populations (e.g. Detroit) weigh elections that affect entirely different segments of Michigan’s population (e.g. the Upper Peninsula), and vis-versa? These are subjects that should have come under scrutiny before something like the Flint water crisis happened, not only as preventive measure (with a disclaimer that no one has the foresight to predict catastrophe), but as part of an active participation in democracy.

I am not a Flint native. I am not a student who drank poisoned water from a drinking fountain, I am not the mother of a newborn who bathed her child in lead-contaminated water. I am, however, a native of Michigan, and I owe a lot to the people of Flint.

About the Writer…

Mackenzie Murphy
is a sophomore at Aquinas where she is the Opinion Editor for The Saint. She is also a freelance writer and high school debate coach. In her spare time, Mackenzie enjoys reading and geeking out over David Foster Wallace. Follow her on Twitter at @MurphyKenzio

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