Someone who lives elsewhere asked me this the other day. It gave me pause for a split second.
The easy answer would be, “No.”
Flint, after all, has absorbed sucker punch after sucker punch for the past three decades now – layoffs, decline, crime, blight, flight, City Hall shenanigans.
And now, of course, there’s the water crisis – the stinking, stupid, never-ending, why-does-the-government-response-continue-to-be-slower-than-bottled-ketchup water crisis.
Stack that disaster atop the rest and, “What the heck does Flint have to be thankful for?” becomes a reasonable question if you’re not from around here.
Well, I am from around here and my answer to that question is “Plenty. Same as always.” And I’m hardly anyone’s idea of a Pollyanna. On my worst days, I could be president of the International Order of Skeptics, Scoffers and Cynics.
Even so, I say Flint has plenty to be thankful for, beginning with the local response to the water crisis. This truly has been Flint’s finest hour.
Let’s start at the beginning with the protesters and researchers who wouldn’t go away. Leader after leader assured the people of Flint – and the world – there wasn’t a problem: Nothing to see here, folks, everything’s fine, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, it’s all in your imagination, run along now, too-da-loo!
But was Flint buying it? Was Flint fooled? No, sir. Say what you want about Flint, but the people of Flint are nobody’s fools – never have been, never will be. Instead of meekly accepting what they were told, people here instead trusted their gut, their eyes and their taste buds.
And they roared. Oh, how they roared.
They packed public meetings, shoved bottles of brown, cloudy gunk into the lenses of TV cameras, hollered into microphones, dared officials to take a sip if they thought it looked so damned appetizing.
In ways great and small, they refused to take no for answer, and not just for a day or a week or a month. They did it for months on end. They’re still doing it, in fact.
And for that we can all be thankful. Through their feistiness and courage, they not only saved a generation of children from debilitating, slow-motion lead damage that no one would have noticed for years, they also created a roadmap for other communities to follow.
And make no mistake: there will be others. Countless others. As we speak, what happened to Flint’s infrastructure is happening to countless other cities across the U.S.
Many just don’t know it yet.
But they will. Sure as I’m sitting here, our nation’s chronic inattention to its pipes, roads and bridges is about to come home to roost, good and hard.
And when it does – when the water turns vile and people are getting sick and suit after government suit steps forward to say “Trust us, all is well” – people will remember Flint’s experience and Flint’s moxie and they’ll step up – loud and proud – to protect themselves, their children and their homes.
And when they’re done, they’ll silently give thanks for Flint, the Sit Down Strike city that also taught people how to stand up.