When urban geographer David Harvey published Rebel Cities in 2012 he proposed, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city, [to] exercise collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.”
Today, groups like the Right to the City Coalition focus mainly on housing justice and access to social services. More broadly, Right to the City as a movement includes living wages, food security, access to the collective commons, and other environmental justice matters.
Less often do the most basic of necessities like breathable air and drinkable water get included. Right now in Flint Michigan, that rare struggle has become a matter of life and death.
Last Thursday, hundreds of Flint and Lansing residents occupied the capitol building on the first day of Michigan’s legislative session to loudly demand the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder for his role in causing and covering up the lead poisoning crisis in Genesee county.
Since last week, Snyder requested federal disaster aid relief from the federal government. This request was partially granted, but fell short of gaining ongoing aid a natural disaster would’ve triggered. Snyder also moved to restore full authority to Flint’s newly elected mayor now that his Emergency Manager scheme has been proved a toxic mistake.
Political statements and finger pointing from political candidates only distract from solving the Flint water crisis.
— Governor Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd) January 18, 2016
On Sunday the Democratic presidential debate ended with Hillary Clinton condemning Snyder’s actions and Bernie Sanders calling for his resignation. Minutes later, Snyder doubled down on defensiveness via Twitter in a tone-deaf remark prompting thousands of rightfully outraged replies from the public and progressive commentators.
These recent developments reached something of a climax at Tuesday’s annual State of the State address. Normally covered solely by local legislative journalists, the eyes of national media now watched Lansing. Snyder would be as much trying to save himself while aiming to save Flint. In the midst of a federal investigation and demands to publicize all state records relating to poisoning the water of 100,000 people, Snyder would be less governor and more used-car salesman.
So there we all were on a 16° Tuesday night as thousands frigidly rallied at the capitol steps, the crowd stretching down toward Michigan avenue lit by stage lights connected to a dozen news trucks.
Inside the capitol building Snyder delivered his state of the state with all the monotone robotic passion of a jeweler who cuts their own radio ads. He did apologize, made some vague admissions of mistakes, and cited a date when he tasked his staff to draft a ten point plan to tackle the Flint crisis.
He did not, however, state whether this was the same date the crisis was first brought to his attention. The governor is still playing word games, and people smarter than him are watching closely.
Michigan AFL-CIO issued their disdain moments after Snyder concluded: “Until the governor waives his FOIA exemption and releases all materials on the Flint water crisis – including those from his senior staff – his promise to release a handpicked number of emails is hollow.“
Snyder insisted he would do right by Flint over the three remaining years he planned to stay in office, which when stated aloud read more like wishful thinking than confidence this would prove true.
He moved to somewhat brighter Michigan news, namedropping praise where ever he could. He asked Detroit’s mayor Duggan (in attendance) to stand for applause for his role in ramping up urbanization in the core of Michigan’s constantly combustable city.
Faintly though, over Snyder’s podium microphone, whenever the governor would pause you could hear the people of Flint chanting outside the chamber doors – people desperate to know when they’ll be able to turn on their tap and not be poisoned.
For them, the governor’s speech rang hollowest of all.
As needed as the short-term charity pouring into the city is, nothing short of a billion dollar overhaul of Flint’s aging underground infrastructure will make drinking the water safe, regardless of the source. Word is Michigan’s sitting on a $575 million budget surplus, though Snyder made no mention of this during his state of the state. Today, a house appropriations committee authorized a paltry $28 million for Flint. Real relief will come in drips.
Unfortunately, the people of Flint may be nowhere close to this nightmare’s end. Their fight for their Right to the City has only just begun.