Despite the drinking water crisis epitomized by the scandal in Flint, Michigan, Donald Trump has pledged to scrap regulations protecting our water resources.
Meanwhile, the victims in Flint are reaching out to other communities, hoping to organize grassroots groups and pressure government at all levels to remove the threat of lead and other contaminants from our drinking water.
Last week, LaShaya Darisaw, a member of People’s Action affiliate Michigan United, and three other moms from Flint traveled nearly 600 miles to meet with moms in Hoosick Falls, New York. The women live in different towns and have different lives, but they share a tragic common bond: They know that their children and families have been harmed by drinking water from their kitchen faucets.
The lead-laden drinking water in Flint has been well publicized. President Obama declared a federal state of emergency. City and state officials who ignored the serious problem for months were called before the House Oversight Committee and Governmental Reform Committee to answer in an emotionally charged hearing.
But Hoosick Falls, 30 miles northeast of Albany, has attracted less attention. In Hoosick Falls, high levels of PFOA, a toxic chemical used to make industrial products including Teflon, contaminates the town’s water supply. Local factories run by Honeywell and Saint-Gobain are blamed for allowing to it leach into the groundwater. Hoosick Falls families have struggled to make their voices heard even in their own state.
“I do believe our citizens were advised incorrectly to consume water that was unsafe for at least for 12 months,” said Marcus Martinez, a Hoosick Falls physician who testified in a hearing in August, according to the New York Times.
There are many Flints, and many Hoosick Falls across the country with aquifers, rivers, creeks and dams vulnerable to toxic contamination. Many are already contaminated from mining runoff, agricultural chemicals, fracking and industrial dumping.
"The masses have to know what's going on and they have to organize," said Darisaw told the Albany Times-Union last week.
Some 1,600 miles west of Hoosick Falls, Native American Indians at Standing Rock have been organizing. Over a matter of weeks, their numbers reached 4,000. Some have been there for months, determined to protect the Missouri River, the reservation’s sole water supply, from the Dakota Access pipeline.
The pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day under the Missouri River. A leak would quickly destroy both water and food for the reservation and beyond.
Judith LeBlanc, the director of the Native Organizers Alliance and a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma, called the banding together of tribes to protect the water, “the largest show of unity and grassroots power in our history.”
People’s Action Institute and Native Organizers Alliance joined the tribes in delivering letters to the Army Corps of Engineers opposing the pipeline route.
“The Army Corps of Engineers continues a sad tradition of our government prioritizing corporate need and greed instead of honoring our commitment to Native people,” said LeeAnn Hall, co-executive director of People’s Action Institute.
By undercutting the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump would multiply that threat hundreds of times over, supporting corporate greed over the health and welfare of every family in America.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton isn’t completely off the hook. She was painfully slow responding to Standing Rock, and to Hoosick Falls – in her own state of New York.
Yet, as a senator, she was a focused advocate of clean water and energy regulations. Clinton co-sponsored a bill to repeal subsidies to oil companies. She consistently fights for clean water, and was outspoken on Flint.
Importantly, Clinton grasps the connection between racial justice and clean water and air:
“We need to face some hard truths about race and justice in America. After 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, and decades of ‘separate but equal,’ our country’s struggle with racism is far from over. That’s true in our criminal justice system. In our education system. In employment, housing, and transit. And tragically, it’s true in the very air our children breathe and in the water they drink …”
We will all have to stand vigilant, like the Native Americans at Standing Rock, and the families in Flint and Hoosick Falls. There is too much at stake. We cannot sacrifice the planet for profits.