We’ll hold Snyder accountable

February 2, 2016

A Michigan activist reports on the protest against Gov. Rick Snyder's self-serving State of the State address, in which he tried to spin the poisoning of Flint.

ON JANUARY 19, hours before Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was scheduled to deliver his annual State of the State address, a crowd of several hundred began assembling just across Capitol Avenue from the state house in Lansing.

Labor unions, community advocacy organizations, environmental protection and public health campaigners, Black Lives Matter activists and others gathered in the courtyard of Lansing City Hall, across from the Capitol building, to decry the tragic mismanagement of Flint's emergency financial manager and the lack of response from Snyder's office over the poisoning of Flint's water and its children.

From all corners of Michigan, these disparate groups converged on the capital to express fury at the administration's handling of the public health crisis in Flint. Outrage over this man-made disaster is gripping a broad swath of Michigan residents, and calls for both transparency and Snyder's resignation were common among protesters.

In what seemed like a frantic attempt to save face and win a few desperately needed public relations points, the Michigan Republican Party, which had reserved the steps of the Capitol building, conducted a bottled water drive as protesters gathered across the street.

Hundreds demonstrated outside the Michigan state Capitol building as the governor was speaking
Hundreds demonstrated outside the Michigan state Capitol building as the governor was speaking (SW)

While the GOP members glad-handed and posed for photographs, a number of speakers, ranging from Flint-area health care workers to union officials and former Michigan Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mark Schauer, addressed the crowd of protesters. Despite the presence of the Republican Party staffers and supporters, the crowd of demonstrators quickly moved across the street to occupy the Capitol steps and lawn at the conclusion of the press conferences.

The crowd chanted loudly for Snyder's resignation and aired their anger at environmental racism, economic discrimination and institutional cruelty. After occupying the steps of the Capitol for some time, the crowd moved onto the section of the lawn directly below the House chambers in an attempt to be heard by those inside during the governor's address. A makeshift graveyard was placed on the lawn to represent those who have and will continue to suffer from exposure to the toxic water in Flint.

The impressive size of the crowd drew an equally sizable contingent of local and statewide media attention and bolstered calls for public access and renewed scrutiny of the governor's e-mail communications regarding Flint's water supply.

The anger and frustration are very justified, but it is critical to view these disasters as more than just the failings of the incumbent party or leader. They are symptomatic of capitalism's shortcomings and highlight the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots under such a system.

While Flint serves as a reminder of the callous nature of an entrenched, self-serving power structure, assigning blame shouldn't just be limited to pointing fingers finger at the sitting Republican governor. Emergency managers have, after all, been appointed by governors of both parties in the past.

Flint serves as yet another example of what years of austerity politics and the accumulation of wealth and power will always result in--an unmitigated disaster.

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