Rev. Cy Fields, the president of the Leaders Network and pastor of the New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in East Garfield Park, led a group of volunteers in a chant Monday morning.
“We are Flint! We are Flint! We are Flint!”
At least a dozen pastors coordinated what they called a Water for Life Campaign to collect more than 1,000 cases of bottled water to deliver in a truck donated by the relief organization World Vision to the residents of Flint. They said they’ll be purchasing at least 60 more pallets of water from a Sam’s Club in Flint once they arrive in the city.
The chant was symbolic of the similarities some residents of the West Side see between themselves and the residents of Flint, Michigan — virtually all of whom, as the rust belt city’s most famous resident Michael Moore pointed out, have been exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water after state and local officials changed the city’s water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the more corrosive Flint River.
The move, which was made in 2014 ostensibly as a way for the financially strapped city to cut costs, resulted in the erosion of the city’s water pipes and the subsequent leakage of unsafe amounts of lead into residents’ water supply.
At the time, Flint was under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R). The warnings from many residents and even some experts that the water was contaminated were initially ignored by state officials until it was too late. So far, according to reported estimates, more than 6,000 small children have tested for severely high lead levels — the consequences of which may not be known for years.
“The government did the wrong thing,” said John Thomas, a worker with World Vision. “A lot of people don’t know what their children’s outcome will be even five years from now after drinking all of that lead-polluted water. They were talking about saving money. You’re not saving money. What you’re doing is making it more hazardous for the generations drinking the water.”
“I read about it last week in the news about the contaminated water and my pastor has been preaching all week about it,” said volunteer Larry Wallace. “I think it’s a shame, because the City of Flint is not doing anything for those people that we have to bring in water. It’s just like Detroit. It’s the same situation. It’s a shame, but they need the water.”
“Flint, Michigan is 57 percent African-American,” said Rev. Ira Acree, the co-chairman of the Leaders Network and pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin.
“It’s hard for us to comprehend that this, what we would call a crime, could be perpetrated on a community that’s been left defenseless by a manager appointed by the governor. So, we add our voices with those around the country that want a full and through investigation of how this decision was arrived at.”
“This breaks our heart,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, New Mt. Pilgrim’s pastor. “It’s hard to imagine it happening to any other [racial and economic] group. Flint is black and poor and powerless. Democracy was thwarted, in effect. It’s almost a crime scene.”
“This isn’t an act of God,” said Rabbi Max Weiss of Oak Park Temple and a member of the Leaders Network. “This isn’t a hurricane or tornado. This is an act of men. And it shows an incredible disregard for human life and especially for poor lives, for people who don’t have political power.”
Weiss and other clergymen emphasized that the Jan. 1 effort wouldn’t be the last action. Fields said the pastors will follow-up that action with more sustained outreach to Flint residents in the future.
“This should never have happened and it should never be repeated,” said Weiss. “That’s why efforts like this that call public attention to the crisis are so important. You can’t let this rest.”