When it comes to cities like Flint the phrase ‘ruin porn’ gets tossed around, the notion that people take delight in the ruination of people in cities. While I do think that there are people, a lot of people – too many people – that take pleasure in seeing some peole and places fail, I think that by dubbing anything as such ‘porn’ is honestly about as bad as the act of disdain. It changes the topic and discussion and charges a word with more power than the tragedy of the situation has itself.
Ah, but that’s our way, isn’t it?
To come up with a cute phrase or catch word that makes us feel good to say as we point at other people and tell them they are the ones creating the scene.
‘It’s because of people like YOU that ruin porn stories like Flint are so misunderstood!’
‘There’s just so much ruin porn out there not dealing with the issues at hand.’
It’s as if we feel WE can use a slur as an example and not get any of that cultural blood on our hands.
Such is the case with Flint, a city that was pushed into the hole it was in and then the people in charge of its care dug that hole deep, deeper, and deepest and here we sit. Then you have the culture vultures that circle low enough to point and to stare and to make notes as if we are strange insects to be studied and not people. Not families. Not students. Not children. We have become a headline, a punchline, and a warning.
Don’t let this happen to you, friend, don’t let it happen.
For us though, it’s already happened
It’s already here.
With the water crisis we have seen the best and wort in the nation.
It says a lot that strangers helped this city more than the state of Michigan and its leadership.
It says a lot when celebrities would slink into town, do good deeds, and leave as quietly as reasonable – their focus on awareness and aid – when the governor and past leadership would hold press conferences any time they farted in reference to the city.
And here is where the road forks a little.
The fiction and the reality.
The fiction shows Flint as a city of ingrates, hands out and cashing welfare checks as we churn out criminal children and wait for the government to fix our problems. This is a hackneyed parody of reality that the worst sort of people have convinced themselves exists. It paints Flint residents as useless, shiftless professional victims that want the world to hand them things because they are inherently lazy.
It’s a portrait painted with racism and ignorance and aimed at small sections of the city that the people who feel this way have never been to.
The reality is a city of people who lost their major industry where skilled people whose families had uprooted and come here from across the nation to start lives and suddenly they were abandoned. The story goes on from there but you have to understand that fact before you move on, that people took their family trees and re-planted them here and one day most of those people lost their jobs and their futures and the futures of their families were changed. Forever. Now, again, this isn’t about being a victim but that is a crack in the foundation of people’s lives that needs to be understood. It sowed a seed of distrust that has been growing here for decades until the water crisis hit and that seed bloomed and flourished.
After being lied to, after being mislead, and after many had their own health and the health of their children put into jeopardy they are asked to trust the machinery that betrayed them once to trust that this time the water is fine. The water is good.
All is well.
And people who don’t live here cavalierly pretend that THEY would trust the government and the State and they would shut up and use their water and just move on. That isn’t the reality though. Not the reality of people who love themselves and their families. The fact is that after what happened here you have to take a moment to say – do I trust it? Do I trust them?
And now the safety net is gone.
I remember as the water crisis spread like a disease through the city and how the nation started to step up and donated money and water to help the city. Sure, there were a lot of get rich quick schemes put out there, and people with more blame than care, but in the end it proved that people cared. As time wore on new tragedies sprung up and the nation’s attention turned away but not fully. Not fully. Because it is hard to turn away from a car wreck, and what happened here was there. Lawsuits. Allegations. Lies. Criminal proceedings.
And now, now the net is gone.
The water is gone.
The State has closed its wallet, the government has turned its attention to other things, and the people of Flint must ask themselves – now what?
Common sense tells you that somewhere along the way a plan should have been put together. What Next.
What do we do next?
But there was no plan.
There was trying to roller skate on ice.
There was making it up as you go along.
There was this.
While many of us can afford to purchase water, or can get filtered pitchers, or can get filters for our faucets you have to ask yourself – why?
Why am I paying for water that I cannot trust to drink or cook with or, for some, bathe in?
And the answer is because.
That is all.
Last week they announced that the sites where water was available would be closing soon. The next day they annnounced they would be closed for good after that day.
They had said before that a day would come when this would pass but suddenly…it was here with no warning. No preparation.
And like we are seeing with the national government’s indifference to social and national issues regarding the people private citizens and organizations are stepping up to fill in the gaps.
And that is awful.
While there needs to be more grass roots support in the country. – people helping people – there also has to be accountability. There has to be a plan. There has to be a point where our government owns its mistakes and works to fix them, not just do the bare minimum and sneak away in the night.
Because these are people’s lives.
These are the lives of children.
Children who are already showing the effects of the lead they were poisoned with.
I will never say that this was done with purpose and intent but there has to be a point where people take the reigns and say ENOUGH, let’s fix this, fix it right, and let’s remake this city.
There is hope here.
There are fires lit to guide the way forward.
There is investment.
There are programs for the youth.
But the shadow of this water crisis will last for decades, and like a stain, it continues to spread forward in history.
There are those that will look to Flint to pick off the last of the meat that remains. To sell their book deals, and television shows, and movies, and to build careers on the people here, but with them there are people fighting for the city. Fighting for the people.
In the end we’re alone.
People are curious, and they will slow down as they go by, to look and see what is happening, but they don’t live here.
And we’ll have to find the way forward for ourselves.
But at least in that…we know we’re folllowing someone we can trust.