Flint and the Call to Activism

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One of the biggest stories in the news this week is the water contamination in Flint, Michigan.  As this story unfolds, we are shocked to discover public officials’ negligence in the face of this huge health crisis for Flint citizens.  Although citizens began expressing their concerns about the water soon after Flint switched its source of water  from Detroit Water and Sewage to the Flint River, it has taken two years for some government officials to take action and for others to resign over the decisions they made that have jeopardized the health of children and adults.

Often it is this kind of crisis that prompts local citizens to become activists.  Activism can be frustrating, but it can also be highly rewarding because those in power must act to remedy unsafe or unjust practices when their constituents pressure them to do so.  No matter the gains made, activism is never an easy road to travel.  It takes both courage regarding one’s abilities to speak truth to power and faith in the process of civic action, characteristics we must cultivate as we mature into full citizenship.

Finding the Courage to Speak Out

When our children are hurt, we are often more willing to get involved in making change.  Still, questioning authority takes a special kind of bravery because entrenched power holders often ridicule the concerns of people with whom they disagree.  An example of this attempt to discredit involves Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center.   When she went public with the increasing lead levels in her young patients’ blood samples, state officials accused her of inciting hysteria before finally admitting that children and adults were indeed being poisoned by the Flint River water.

Because Dr. Hanna-Attisha had medical records proving higher lead levels, she had the authority of science on her side, but for two years, concerned parents spoke out constantly against the toxic nature of the water using their senses as their evidence – if it looks bad, smells bad, and tastes bad, then the water must be bad.  Their courage in relentlessly confronting state representatives is activism at its finest.  The two year period in which they fought suggests they had more than courage; they also had faith in the process of civic action and its ability to bring about change.

Finding and Holding on to Courage and Faith during Dark Times

When in a situation such as the citizens of Flint find themselves, it is helpful to remember Margaret Mead’s potent quote:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has.”    It is also helpful to remember the biblical definition of faith as “. . .  the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  I often say these statements as I tap through the points on my fingers and on my face and torso because I want my system to remember, especially when my senses are overwhelmed by apparent defeat, that we can make change through well informed, organized action.

State representatives’  negligence and/or incompetence that results in citizen harm is potentially paralyzing.  “What do you expect?” people ask.  “It’s the government.  We can’t ask for more.”  So says the voice of defeatism, that dangerous companion of cynicism that keeps us stuck in victim mode.

Taking action changes defeatism’s voice to its opposite, cautious optimism:  ” We can and should ask for more; we can hold our elected officials accountable.  We can become informed and organized.  We can be agents of positive change.”

Tapping Before and After Taking Action

Tapping before taking action is a vital component of self care.  As we tap through the points, we simply speak our truth.  That truth might be:  “I’m terrified.  I’m too angry to be coherent.  I can’t do this.  They will be disrespectful and I’ll lose it.  I’m afraid I’ll make things worse.”   Following this negative round with a faith round is helpful:  “I’ll do the best I can.  I will open to guidance.  I’ll trust this process of positive agency.   This work isn’t all on me.   I’ll show up and I’ll work with others who show up.  I’ll take this risk for my family, my friends, and my community.  This is necessary work, and I am willing to do it.”

After an event, it is important to tap on any negative emotions that we carry away with us.  Finishing a round with an optimistic statement is helpful:  “Even though it was very challenging to hear them deny the truth of our situation, I trust the word is getting out and we are making change.  Even though I am still angry, I have a right to be.  Even though I feel this change is happening too slowly, I trust this process and commit fully to it.”

While it is hard to have to fight against injustice, it is also empowering.  As long as we answer the call to community involvement, we are making vitally important partnerships with those who join us in the work.  We are also making meaning as we fulfill one of the most valued purposes a human being can have:  Being of Service to Self and Others.

Until next week



Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, jane@winterblooms.net, 802-533-9277

Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age.  To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, jane@winterblooms.net.  Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.