This is the story of the most important and emblematic environmental and public health disaster of this young century. More bluntly, it is the story of a government poisoning its own citizens, and then lying about it. It is a story about what happens when the very people responsible for keeping us safe care more about money and power than they care about us, or our children.
The crisis manifested itself in water – and in the bodies of the most vulnerable among us, children who drank that water and ate meals cooked with that water, and babies who guzzled bottles of formula mixed with that water. The government tried hard to convince parents the water was fine – safe – when it wasn’t. But this is also a story about the deeper crises we’re facing right now in our country: a breakdown in democracy; the disintegration of critical infrastructure due to inequality and austerity; environmental injustice that disproportionally affects the poor and black; the abandonment of civic responsibility and our deep obligations as human beings to care and provide for one another. Along with all that – which is a lot already – it’s about a bizarre disavowal of honesty, transparency, good government, and respect for scientific truth.
Resilience isn’t something you are born with. It isn’t a trait that you have or don’t have. It’s learned. That means that for every child raised in a toxic environment or an unraveling community – both of which take a terrible toll on childhood development and can have lasting effects – there is hope….
Just as a child can learn to be resilient, so can a family, a neighborhood, a community, a city. And so can a country. A country can endure trauma and neglect and become a place where people are cared for, where democracy and equality and opportunity are once again encouraged and advanced….
…When discussing a case and trying to figure out a diagnosis, he watched us run through our limited supply of options, and he always criticized us for not reading enough and therefore not knowing enough, for not seeing the whole picture.
“How can your eyes see something,” he’d say, “that your mind doesn’t know?”
She did not go looking for a problem or for a cause: the problem and cause came to her as a challenge she had to meet -- because she was a doctor, because her patients were children, because her family tradition was to stand up for others who were threatened. Her parents taught her well.
If I had to locate an exact cause of the crisis, above all others, it would be the ideology of extreme austerity and “all government is bad government.” The state of Michigan didn’t need less government; it needed more and better government, responsible and effective government.