It was already a week and a half ago that the first group of Calvin students loaded up trucks with water and headed to Flint. While time has passed, the problems that the citizens of Flint face because of their lead-leeched water, of course, have not.
As I continue to reflect on my brief time in Flint, one sentence by someone we met comes to mind.
My group was sent to a large warehouse in Flint that was the hub for receiving and distributing shipments of water. Upon arriving, we met Sergeant Keschtner, “Sergeant K,” who broke us into groups and instructed us through unloading water, filters, and test kits, counting the supplies, putting them in respective places in the warehouse, and then loading up the trucks with a certain combination of supplies from the stocks in the warehouse. At a low point in the work, Sergeant K explained her role in the National Guard. Reminding me of a superhero, by day she works at Planet Fitness selling memberships, but she is also a part of the Michigan Chapter of the National Guard, called on at any time to “respond to domestic emergencies, overseas combat missions, counterdrug efforts, reconstruction missions and more.[i] ” Each state’s National Guard is mostly called on by their governor, although on rare occasions, during a national crisis the President can send out a call. In fact, to illustrate the severity of the situation in Flint, Sergeant K talked about this: “Guys, the last time the National Guard was called on by the President was 9/11. Flint is the second time since you were in preschool.”
My mind couldn’t let this sentence go, and I thought: “The last time was a terrorist attack… wow.”
At first glance, these crises seem different—9/11 was a relatively isolated act by non-American religious extremists. The Flint water crisis is the tipping point of a crisis that has been going on for over a year. It’s a home-grown problem born of governmental neglect; the media-captured result of systemic injustices over time.
While different, terror is at the heart of both of these national emergencies. This past summer, after the attack of Emmanuel AME in South Carolina, the New York Times ran an important article with new research findings: since 9/11, almost twice as many terrorist attacks have been due to white supremacists and other American extremists than outside terrorists[ii]. The attack on Emanuel AME was an act of white terrorism.
While not fully white terrorism, the privilege and power of white supremacy has its fingerprints all over the Flint water crisis. America is a state built off of the enslavement of a people… and after slavery was abolished, racist economic and social systems developed under white leadership that contributed to the concentrated poverty and violence that Flint knows all too well.
I’ll stop here, because I know the context but not the details of what I’m talking about… After a long day loading water, the work of service might have been done (for that day), but the work of service-learning was not. Service-learning gives us a context and launching point for asking questions. As this reflection points out—I want to pay attention to the racialized nature of the current problems of Flint—from governmental neglect to the distribution of demographics in the city. It’s my (our) job now to fill in the details.
The Latin root of the word terror is terrorem, meaning, “fear, dread, the cause of alarm or terrible news[iii].” Maybe the goal of all of this—everything from bringing water to asking questions that begin to uncover the roots of the issue—is to stand with Flint and say: we don’t want terrorem anymore.
[i] "Legacy | National Guard." Legacy | National Guard. United States Army National Guard, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
[ii] Shane, Scott. "Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 June 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
[iii] "Terror (n.)." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 206.