On March 6th, Democratic Presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sec. Hillary Clinton will have a debate in Flint, Michigan. Flint is the most profound example of environmental racism in recent history. As such, this debate should focus on the long-term, systemic, institutional racism that lead to this disaster and impacts communities nationwide. Click here to tell Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to focus the Flint debate on racial/environmental injustice.
The atrocity occurring in Flint, Michigan, has captured the conscience of the entire world. For more than two years, despite complaints by residents, Flint's citizens were ignored by their local and state government and exposed to lead tainted water. The results include a litany of acute and chronic health impacts that will afflict many residents for the rest of their lives.1 The situation in Flint is nothing short of bona fide Environmental Racism, engendered by our nation's painful and continued legacy of racial injustice.
With Flint still in the news and the Democratic primary heading to states where voters of color comprise a significant portion of the electorate, both campaigns are scrambling for Black and Brown endorsements, releasing ads that highlight their civil rights records and giving speeches that address racial justice.2 But for all of the advertisements and endorsements, nothing will inform voters of color, and all voters, more than hearing how the candidates plan to address these issues during a debate focusing solely on racial and environmental injustice.
That's why we are teaming up with a coalition of racial justice, social justice and environmental groups including Color of Change, Democracy for America, Honor the Earth, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Daily Kos and Courage Campaign to demand DNC and Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz sanction the March 6 debate in Flint to focus solely on racial/environmental injustice. Click here to add your name and demand that the Flint debate be used to inform all voters how these candidates plan to address one of our nation's greatest social & environmental challenges.
Flint is not the poster child for environmental racism, it's a snapshot of similar situations happening coast to coast -- from the Bronx, NY, to Cancer Alley in Louisiana, to Los Angeles and Richmond, CA and Tribal Lands in between. From toxic water, to toxic air, low-wealth communities of color have been disproportionately impacted for decades.3 This partly explains why African Americans and Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than Whites4, and why low-wealth communities of color have disproportionately high cancer rates.5 Moreover, it's also widely documented that low-wealth communities of color also experience disproportionate climate change impacts.6
And governmental responses to toxic disasters like Flint are also determined by race. In fact, leading Environmental Justice scholars, Dr. Robert Bullard and Dr. Beverly Wright remarked in their book, The Wrong Complexion for Protection, "Too often, African Americans have experienced slow, unequal or no response from various local, state and federal government agencies on a range of [environmental] emergencies. This scenario has often been the rule -- not the exception..."7 As in Flint, it is no coincidence that frontline communities of color are also home to vast income inequality, elevated unemployment levels, reduced educational opportunities, mass incarceration and police brutality. This is the story, and it's been going on in our country for too long.
In his new book, Brown is the New White, Steve Phillips argues, "... robust voter participation in low-income communities requires not only year round civic engagement, but also a sense that the issues and priorities of these communities are being addressed directly and authentically by the nation's leaders."8 If DNC claims to represent ALL voters, it can no longer take people of color for granted. The DNC must show it cares as much for Black and Brown issues as it does for Black and Brown votes. No more eco-tourists passing out bottled water for a day -- we demand a real debate on the challenges of racial justice, environmental racism, solutions for climate justice and a just transition from a fossil fuel economy.
It's time for a national discussion on these issues and there's no better place to do it than Flint, and no better time than during a competitive election for the highest office in the land. Help us Shape the Debate: Click here to tell DNC and Chairwoman Schultz: It's time to have a LONG overdue discussion in Flint on March 6th.
Thanks for sounding off,
Anthony and the Environmental Action Flint Freedom Fighters
1. Nelson, Libby. The Flint Crisis, Explained. Vox. February 15, 2016.
2. Gambino, Lauren and Gabbat, Adam. Clinton and Sanders Vie for Black Voters With Eye Towards Critical Southern States. The Guardian. February 17, 2016,
3. Taylor, Dorceta E. Environmental Racism. Pollutionissues.com. February 2016.
4. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Reducing Asthma Disparities.
5. Johnson, Robin E. Cancer Dispariies: An Environmental Justice Issue for Policy Makers. Physicians for Social Responsibility.
6. Schwartz, Lydia. Climate Change: Disproportionate Impact on People of Color. InsightNews.com. May 21, 2014.
7. Bullard, Robert D. and Wright, Beverly. Black History Month: "Wrong Complexion for Protection" When Disasters Strike. NYU Press. February 23, 2013.
8. Phillips, Steve. Brown is the New White. The New Press. January 2016.