I was leaving Canada for Detroit, consulting my trusty map, when something caught my eye. Flint, Michigan, home of the famous debacle that has poisoned the water supply ofan entire town. This crisis first came to light three years ago, and in spite of international attention, the city water supply still remains too toxic to drink, or even to use for bathing and washing.
I knew nobody in Flint, so I put out word to my friends in the activist community that I was looking to make connections. I also looked for permaculture groups in the area, and I sent a few messages out that I was coming to town and interested in talking with local folks.
When I arrived, I went downtown first, where I did my usual walk about. Flint is a nice looking city, right on the cusp between a large town and a small city. Of course, Flint’s population has shrunk substantially in recent years, going from a city of over 200,000 people to less than half that number.
I heard back from several people about where to visit in Flint, and my first stop was a local park where Camp Promise of Flint has been set up. In response to the failure of the city and state to resolve the water crisis, some activists and water protectors set up Camp Promise in protest of the many crimes of negligence and corruption that have allowed this disaster to continue for three straight years.
When I arrived at the camp I was greeted by a group of people by the entrance, who told me a bit about what was going on. They had a camp kitchen set up, as well as an infirmary, and a whole tent to store the goods that were coming in from donations. In the center of the camp they have a sacred fire circle, which they have vowed to keep burning until the pipes are fixed and the water of Flint is clean again.
It’s not that no one has tried to help Flint. Millions of dollars were raised in a celebrity fundraiser, and several non-profit organizations are working tirelessly to distribute goods that have been donated to help the people of Flint. When I talked with people at Camp Promise, however, it was clear that they were not impressed with the results. The main problem they cited was corruption at the city, state, and county level.
I was reminded of the posters I saw in the parking lot on the way in, which depicted this discontent, including allegations of corruption against Michigan governor Rick Snyder, who was also brought up in my conversation with folks down at the camp. Also named was Sheriff Pachel of Genessee County, whose offenses were not specified, but who was considered to be an enemy of the movement by those occupying Camp Promise.
Flint’s crisis has achieved worldwide renown, and yet all the money and support the people there have received, has been channeled through non-profit organizations like the Mott Foundation and the Land Bank, as well as the many churches. These organizations act as gatekeepers to the money and supplies that come in, I was told, and the general feeling was that they were skimming more than a little off the top and distributing the rest in a less than equitable way. One man spoke of the churches as if they were the new feudal lords of an otherwise lawless land.
I did not spend enough time in the area to investigate these allegations further, and digging up the dirt of such situations is not really my focus with Permagora, but I report on this to give you a sense of the climate in Flint. The people are disgruntled, and who can blame them? Their water is nearly unusable, and they don’t even have the option to cut off the service. If they try to disconnect from the city water system, I was told, they are threatened with fines and eviction. So they are in effect being forced to pay for poisoned water, and they are not happy about it.
And they are long past the point of expecting the government to do anything about it. Hence the organization of Camp Promise, where people join together to do what they can with what they have. Without political sway or millions of dollars, the best they can do is continue to raise awareness and go out into the community to be force of positive change. Very few people were there at the camp during my visit, because most of them were out doing community service projects. Every day teams of people from Camp Promise go out into the community to help their neighbors, be it with yard work, clean up projects, gardening, or tree planting.
It speaks volumes of the people of Flint that when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, their response is to organize community service projects and hold a sacred fire circle. And it’s not just people from Flint who have stepped up to contribute. People have come from all over the country to join Camp Promise, helping with food and organization. And of course, donations of food and water continue to come in, even outside of the official channels like the churches and non-profits.
If you are interested in helping the people of Flint, I suggest making contacts locally (which can easily be done on the internet) and sending your donations directly to on the ground organizations. And while donations help, what Flint really needs is a whole new water system. This is a project of such magnitude that no one person can take it on, but a coordinated effort by activists and non-profits from around the world could conceivably raise the necessary funds and organize the construction projects, piece at a time.
What a powerful statement it would be for the people to take this matter into their own hands, writing off the state as defunct and doing what needs to be done without them. Not that this would be easy, but it is possible, and as our civilization continues to plunge deeper into the general crisis of overreach and insolvency, these kinds of grassroots, citizen-run projects may be the only option we have left.
Much love to the people of Flint, and to all those who are doing what they can to help. We are our own best hope, and together, we are building a better world.