I was thinking recently about the fact that in the media coverage of the water crisis in Flint almost everyone has been focused on race. Yes, Flint is a town that is 60% black, but that means its not an entirely black city. The other 40% of people in that town are getting poisoned too. I also noticed a refusal of black folks and others to analyze what was happening there beyond the concept of race.
What happened in Flint happens in cities all across this country. In the wake of the all the media exposure in Flint more stories are coming out that describe a systemic problem. This problem is not isolated to the choices one governor made. This a country wide issue, and it’s class warfare defined. Understanding that class warfare is really what’s happening is an important realization. It’s bigger than racism. Will black folks be dis-proportionally affected by any tragedy perpetrated against the poor? Of course. African Americans are dis-proportionally poor, but thinking it’s just a race problem is part of the strategy to keep folks from understanding the bigger picture.
Twenty years ago a great book about what was happening in Flint was published. A Town Abandoned (Flint, Michigan Confronts Deindustrialization), written by Steven P. Dandaneau, delves into the reality of capitalism in decline, and argued Flint, while a sad example, is a great example for analyzing the effects of capitalism not just in Flint but across the country. The book begins by detailing how Flint, only second to Detroit, was a shining example of capitalist achievement. It was a city known for its stability and harmony from the end of the Depression until the late 1970s. It was a city heralded for embodying the American dream. In Flint, and other industrial labor towns during this era, they led the way in morphing the previously oppositional working class into an integral part of the capitalist machine, as organized labor. As Dandaneau put it,
Labor’s new struggle was to wrestle from contract negotiations a lifestyle of middle-class consumption. Concern for the sphere of production, and with this the meaning of work, was devalued in favor of the concern for the sphere of consumption, and with this the meaning of leisure. Class consciousness now meant accepting this trade off: alienated work in exchange for second cars, cabins, boats, household conveniences, and a university education for the young. The American Dream.
He then later adds,
Not surprisingly, with the decline of Flint as a prosperous industrial community, the meaning of class, work, and class consciousness has shifted once again.
And lastly on this point he concludes,
… class consciousness [now] means realizing the New Deal compromise is over, and that the struggle must again be joined.
What is happening in Flint, and all across this country, is class warfare. The owning class is ever in the search for profits. Flint was abandoned in a way it never thought it would be; It never thought the automotive industry would abandon them and ship those jobs away. Why did GM, Ford, and others leave? Profits. Quickly the facade of the American Dream vanished. By 1996 we had enough of the picture for Dandaneau to write A Town Abandoned, and by 2016 we have enough of the picture to understand what happens to the working class when it has no power and no voice.
When we run city, state, and federal governments like a business then the quest for profits leads to tragedy. We see what the auto industry did to this town, why would you want to model government that way? I’ve read that it was known before the switch in water sources that a chemical sealant was needed to seal the lead pipes used to deliver the water in Flint, and that this chemical would have only cost about 9,000.00. This recommendation was ignored due to the cost. Now it’s being estimated that to replace the pipes it’s going to cost 1.5 billion. That’s what running government like a business gets us. More importantly though, when that decision was made the choice to potentially harm the residents of Flint seemed better than spending nine thousand dollars on them. If that isn’t class warfare I do not know that is. That’s murder. That’s terrorism. That’s a declaration of war.
Again, this is not isolated to Flint. This is happening all over this country. When will we say enough? When will we rejoin the struggle and come together as a class conscious citizenry? Soon I hope.