Last night Anne and I were privileged to watch the taping of Rachel Maddow’s Flint Town Hall. It was an astonishing experience for a variety reasons and I think it has the potential to be a game changer in terms of how the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water by the Snyder administration is perceived by people outside of Flint and around the country.
The connection between Eclectablog and The Rachel Maddow Show goes back to April or 2011. In that first “appearance” on her show she called us “Electablog” but it was the beginning of Maddow’s championing of Michigan’s plight under the un-American scourge on democracy known as Emergency Management. Since then, of course, my writing about Emergency Managers and the outrageous assaults on American democracy in Michigan has been featured many times on her show.
I won’t rehash the entire town hall. If you haven’t seen it, you should check out the clips that are online HERE and watch it in its entirety when it becomes available. I do, however, want to note some highlights and, of course, give you some behind-the-scenes glimpses of what it looked like from inside the gymnasium at Flint’s Holmes STEM Academy where the event was held.
While Anne and I waited in the holding area before going into the town hall, Anne and I spoke with University of Michigan Professor Martin Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman has been mapping the areas in Flint most likely to have lead water lines and other plumbing to understand where the potential lead contamination is likely to be an issue. He told us that homes in the center of the city of Flint are likely to be new and not have lead-containing plumbing. Also, the outer areas of Flint, the newer suburbs, are also new and likely not to have much of an issue. However, the ring around the city center where most of Flint’s homes are likely to be vulnerable. This, he said, is likely over HALF of the homes in Flint. So, the idea that this is somehow a limited problem is completely false.
MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid came out to warm up the crowd before the taping began. After that, Maddow herself came out to speak to the residents of Flint, to express how bad she felt that it took so long for their story to be told, and to let them know how much she loves them.
All photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog. Please contact us using the Contact link at the top left of the page for inquiries on reusing them.
As the gymnasium filled up, a number of elected officials and other important players in this saga arrived.
Congressman Dan Kildee
Progress Michigan staffers Denzel McCampbell, Sam Inglot, Hugh Madden, and Lonnie Scott
Rachel Maddow hugs Rev. Jesse Jackson
Maddow started out by holding a lead pipe to show where the problem lies in terms of lead contamination. She said the thing she had learned since arriving in Flint is that, despite knowing Flint has a problem since the beginning of October 2015, the Snyder administration has done exactly nothing to address the critical infrastructure problems that led to the poisoning of the city’s drinking water.
The town hall was divided into several panels. The first panel was comprised of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Virginia Tech Professor Mark Edwards, and Prof. Kaufman. They talked about the extent of the problem and took the Snyder administration to task for their lack of coherent response. Throughout the various panels, Maddow took questions for the panelists from people in the audience.
She talked to a local plumber who contested the Snyder administration’s claim that it will take 15 years to resolve the problem of lead-containing components of Flint residents’ homes.
The second panel included Hurley Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Flint City Council Member Sheldon Neeley, and Holmes STEM Academy principal Anna Johnson. These three attempted to address the extent of the health crisis, what needs to be done, and how it is impacting the education and development of children – now and into the future – who have been poisoned by lead.
The final panel included Mayor Weaver, Senator Debbie Stabenow, and civil rights activist Rev. Charles Williams III. They talked about what is needed from both the state and federal government to address this issue. Rev. Williams was particularly vehement that the Snyder administration has completely failed the residents of Flint and that the Governor cannot be trusted.
The taped segment of the townhall finished with all of the panelists back on stage. It’s this group, Maddow said, that gives her hope that things CAN be fixed in Flint, despite the scandalously inadequate response from the Snyder administration.
Maddow concluded the town hall by reminding us that America has done big things. It has created the national highway system and many other huge undertakings. Now, she said, it’s time for us to do something big in Flint to correct this disaster that was not of their own making but that was done TO them:
This is a disaster; a man-made American disaster of national consequence. And part of the reason we came here to Flint tonight is not because I’m from here or I’ve got some Michigan connection. I don’t. And most Americans aren’t from here and don’t have some specific connection to this place. But we, as your fellow Americans, have to start thinking about the restoration of this town, the restoration of Flint, as one of the big things we need to do as a country. […]
It took awhile but America is with you now, Flint, Michigan.
After the taped segment concluded, Maddow continued to take questions from the audience for awhile. When that concluded, she was engulfed in a throng of town hall attendees and she graciously spoke with anyone who approached her.
This young man’s brother is one of the survivors
of the surge in cases of Legionnaire’s Disease in Flint
It was an incredible event, one sure to raise further awareness around the country about the human-made catastrophe in Flint and the abject failure of a corportatist-driven, Republican approach to governance in Michigan, a state with a multitude of urban areas ravaged by the implosion of their manufacturing base and the disinvestment that has allowed them to deteriorate. In the end, as Maddow so clearly and eloquently put, this is a national problem and one we owe it to our kids to solve.