Why am I living in Flint? On the surface, the answer seems obvious: this is where my job is, and where most of my friends are. But about a month ago I realized that there is another reason I’m here; indeed, a divine reason. I came to see that God has put me in Flint to experience, on some small level, what it means to be poor and forgotten.
By now just about everyone knows about the water crisis here in Flint; it’s been in the national news for quite some time. As a Flint resident, this affects me directly: I have to pay what many would consider an exorbitant amount for water that I can’t drink or cook with.
This is an injustice, to be sure – and damn inconvenient; but the truth is that I’m one of the lucky ones!
You see, I have a job that allows me to pay all my bills (at least so far). I have health insurance. I have access to clean (bottled) water. I have family and friends who could help me out if I ran out of money. I don’t have any children to take care of, and I don’t have to worry about being harassed because of the color of my skin or my family background. Finally, I have access to a computer, and the education and training to make my voice heard.
But many of my neighbors here aren’t so fortunate. Many of them pay water bills even more costly than mine. Many don’t have health insurance, and are only one accident away from losing everything they have. Many live paycheck to paycheck, never being sure where their next meal is coming from, or how they will take care of their children. Many have no one to turn to if everything comes crashing down.
And most don’t have a voice. Most have been forgotten by the people in power.
Now I, for one, am fairly confident that the water crisis here will be resolved eventually, even if it takes a long time and a lot of money. And I’m also pretty sure that those who have created this crisis will have to pay for their injustice – whether in this life or the next.
But I’m afraid the real problem goes far deeper than just Flint! The truth of the matter is that there is a system in place, all over the world, which is keeping millions of people in poverty.
And this is no accident! I wish I could say that it was. But the truth is that there are people who profit from keeping others down, and who genuinely do not care about the suffering of others – especially if those “others” are a different color or come from a different background than them.
Furthermore, this problem is not limited to one political party or philosophy. This isn’t a “liberal” problem or a “conservative” problem. Electing new politicians isn’t likely to change much; indeed, they all have their hands dirty!
Whether Democrat or Republican, male or female, black or white, virtually everyone with any power is a part of the same corporate machine – and while I still plan on voting, I doubt it will make much difference. I am pretty sure that all the seats will go to those who have given the most to the corporations.
I don’t claim to know what to do about any of this. I could say that we should give more money to those in need (which we probably should). I could say that we need to organize more efficiently on the local level to fight for justice (which would also help). I could say that we need to cut back on our wasteful spending, that we should be more environmentally conscious, that we should stop supporting companies that exploit the poor.
All of these are undoubtedly important things to do, and I am just as guilty as anyone in my failure to do these things. But all of this has been said before, and not much seems to be changing!
There is one thing I cannot do, however; and this is to stay silent while my brothers and sisters suffer. I don’t claim to have the answers, but as one who has at least some voice, I must keep the conversation going. For in the end, we are all connected.
It would be tempting to think that this is someone else’s problem, that as long as me and my own are well-fed and happy and healthy, all is well. But living in Flint has forced me to shed such illusions. We really are all one, and what we do to others, we do to ourselves.
The Bible tells us that those who shed blood will be forced to drink it (Rev 16:4-7); and the Flint crisis has shown us that if we dump pollutants in our neighbor’s yard, we will eventually have to drink that, too!
I don’t know what the ultimate solution is, but I’m convinced it begins with recognizing our oneness with others – indeed, with all creation.
When this happens, we can no longer treat others as disposable, or sit by and do nothing in the face of injustice. We have to do something, because we see that the suffering children over there are really our children as well, and it tears us up inside to see them suffering!
I hope that more people will come to recognize this, and that when we do, we will have the courage to do something about it. Ultimately, we will have to recognize our oneness in one way or another.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
If we can’t see our unity in life, we will most certainly see it in death! While we still have time, let us hope for the former.