Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action


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February 8, 2016

Since we’ve covered it here on ChoiceWords before, I’m not going to tell you exactly why the Flint Water Crisis is a reproductive justice issue. Others have done that with more tact than I might have. What I want to do today is tell you how important it is to muster a response to this crisis, from my own experience.

I used to report on business news in Birmingham, Ala. It was an interesting job, to say the least. I got to interview everyone from cookie barons to the Japanese Consul-General of the Southeastern United States.

And while I worked there, I would have to do a great deal of research on the companies I wrote about. If I was going to interview someone from Caterpillar, I needed to know how their distribution system worked, for example. None of this research never ended up in the paper- most of the time it didn’t need to. During one such story, I investigated Alabama Power, a Southern Company subsidiary based out of Birmingham, and a name just about all of South Alabama is familiar with. Alabama Power supplies electricity to 1.4 million people through a combination of nuclear, hydroelectric, oil and natural gas.

Yet, most of their power comes from coal. Even so, I was a little shocked to find out in my extensive research that the company had been literally raining ash on impoverished black communities without regard to their health for years. I dug through medical reports, personal stories and even brought it up in a less offensive fashion in interviews with company representatives. The Birmingham group GASP, which advocates for cleaner air throughout the state, even made a documentary on the toxicity of Birmingham’s poor air quality.

I thought maybe I could write something about this, but far from being unheard of, this was a topic most of the journalists I met around Birmingham seemed to know about.

And I learned that Alabama Power got away with it, wholly and unequivocally. They continue to harm the environment with wanton abandon. Any attempts to make them change, ends with the company foisting larger fees on their customers (even though they have admitted the fees are unnecessary) and putting more money into the coffers of friendly politicians.

I bring this up because what is happening in Flint, Michigan right now reminds me of what is happening in Birmingham, Alabama. A poisoned water supply affects children, expecting parents and everyone in the city. And it hurts poor people of color the most. Any medical issue is a reproductive issue when it impacts the ability to live a healthy life or raise healthy children. Planned Parenthood was one of the quickest to respond to the issue, according to local field organizers. And if this situation is not dealt with soon by voters, the federal government, or the average citizen, then the people responsible for the water crisis are going to get away with endanger the lives of thousands. There have already been a number of children who contracted Legionnaire’s Disease in Flint. Just about everyone using Flint’s water system has been exposed to it. And somebody, somewhere, knew what was going on and figured people’s lives were worth less than money. These are the same people who who pollute the air of communities of color, who carelessly flood low-income black neighborhoods,  and who lobby every year to cut the minimum wage. 

And if we don’t monitor the businessmen and political officials in charge and hold them accountable, those endangered lives could easily become our own.

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