What the Cameras Won't Show in Flint
It has been over 1,300 days. More than 3 years.
Flint still does not have clean water.
You may remember when the story broke, but why did media interest fade though the problem still has not been solved?
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city decided to stop channeling water from Detroit and instead draw from the Flint River. Officials deem this a temporary switch while they wait to connect to a new regional water system. Almost immediately residents complain that the water is murky, has a odor, and tastes tainted. Residents begin exhibiting rashes and hair loss among other health issues. It takes over a year for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to admit that action needs to be taken in Flint. 12 people lost their lives after being poisoned by the water.
Four years later, many residents still do not have access to clean water. Recently, the Governor terminated the free bottled water program though the city's lead service lines still have not been fully replaced. Unfortunately, Flint barely penetrates the news cycle in 2018 though the problem is still as urgent as ever.
Last week, I made Flint my final filming location for To All The Little Girls. Since the start of production, I knew I had to highlight the Flint Water Crisis and 10 year-old activist Mari Copeny, also known as "Little Miss Flint".
For one, Secretary Clinton was passionate about the crisis during the election. She penned an op-ed entitled "There are too many Flints" back in January of 2016.
In it, Clinton writes, "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."
A month later, Clinton was expressing this sentiment in the Democratic Candidates Debate. Her campaign would continue to work with people on the ground in Flint and highlight the urgency and severity of the ongoing crisis. Even after her loss, Secretary Clinton would continue to draw attention to the issue by including "Little Miss Flint" in her edition of Teen Vogue and discussing the crisis on her "What Happened" tour.
The biggest reason, however, that I wanted to stop in Flint is because Mari Copeny is the embodiment of the quote behind this documentary: "To all the little girls, never doubt that you are valuable, powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world."
Since age 8, Mari has been using her voice to fight for the clean water her community deserves. She has earned the respect of President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and a plethora of politicians, activists, and everyday civilians. She has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase water, buy prom dresses, and meet as many needs as she can for Flint residents.
When I was 8 years old, fighting for human rights was the last thing in my mind. That was because I had incredible privilege. I was getting a strong public school education, didn't think twice when turning the tap on, and was surrounded by people who were similarly comfortable. While Copeny clearly has a passion and love for activism, it saddens me that she has such serious burdens on her shoulders at such a young age.
When Mari entered the room for our interview, she immediately grabs markers and begins drawing a background for our interview. She's quite talented, I note, and her mom tells me that she loves to draw. I learn that she's into art and cheerleading and doesn't spend too much time in front of screens. If you met her on the street and didn't already know who she was, you would assume that she is just an average 10 year old. But when she is not at cheer practice or class, she is doing the groundwork that the state of Michigan has refused to do.
"I became an activist when I was eight years old," Mari tells me, "I [saw] when the Flint water crisis started happening. So I asked my mom, can I please start going to protests and help[ing] people 'cause the people didn't want to listen to the grown ups. So I said hey, they won't listen to the grown-ups, they're going to listen to me now!"
All of the passion, energy, and ideas come from Mari herself, her mother Lulu Brezzell insists. Since I started following "Little Miss Flint" over two years ago, I have noticed the pushback that has come from adults insisting that Mari is being used by her parents to push a political agenda.
This is an argument I've heard a lot. When I worked at Somerville For Hillary, we had a lot of kids volunteer with us. Some were snack captains, others made phone calls, and some even knocked on doors. Young people were our best volunteers. They understood what was at stake, knew Hillary Clinton's plans better than some of the adults, and captivated voters with their drive. Yet when I would share their stories on our social media, many were critical.
In response to her doubters, Mari says, "I am not too young. I can do whatever I want. If I want to run for President, I can run for President. I get to have my own ideas."
"Little Miss Flint's" plans for the future include the #FlintSummerBash, a concert celebrating her birthday to raise money for her bottled water efforts, and yes, a run for the Presidency. To support her activism, you can donate to her GoFundMe or buy a #DontForgetFlint shirt.
The media may want to portray Flint as a wasteland or overlook it completely, but I see a city that showed resilience in the face of a state and federal government that turned their backs on it. Where you can stand in the middle of the street and see a housing development on one side and a crumbling abandoned building with a mural of Mari Copeny and President Obama on the other.
What country, I ask myself, lets its children be poisoned and lose their lives at school without taking immediate action?
America does. Despite everything stacked against them, Mari Copeny, the Parkland kids, and so many young people are standing up for their communities.
#ToAllTheLittleGirls, Mari wants you to know this, "No matter how big or how small you are, you can change the world no matter what." I believe in this sentiment with all of my heart, and I know I'll be around to see a President Copeny someday.