More than 135,000 bottles of water were passed out on May 27 to the residents of Flint, Michigan, who lined up for more than two hours to stock up.
Instead, it was the work of 10-year-old Flint resident Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint” for her tireless advocacy on behalf of her neighbors, according to Blavity.
Copeny started a crowdfunding page about a month ago to raise money for water bottles, and has so far generated $51,378. The money is being handled by the nonprofit Pack Your Back, and any remaining funds will go toward summer programming for Michigan kids.
Copeny and her team set up thousands of pallets of water in a parking lot and handed them out for more than two hours in 93-degree weather, according to Copeny’s Twitter.
Yesterday we passed out 135,000 bottles of water to Flint residents in 93 degree heat. We helped close to 1,000 families. People lined up 2 hours early and caused a traffic jam most of the distribution. #FlintIsStillInCrisis#Flintpic.twitter.com/02MkBM6WOm— Mari Copeny (@LittleMissFlint) May 28, 2018
The team also personally delivered packs of water to the elderly, people with disabilities, and other residents.
Copeny’s activism is extraordinary, but the fact that a child is providing something as essential as clean water speaks to the nature of the crisis that has affected Flint and the seeming disenfranchisement of its citizens.
In 2014, the city’s water source was changed and tap water quality rapidly deteriorated, leading to 12 cases of the fatal Legionnaires’ disease and causing brain damage in scores of children because of lead poisoning.
For years, Flint residents have been calling on the governor to overhaul the city’s water system, including modernizing the pipes that carry water to homes because they were badly corroded by chemicals meant to sterilize contaminated water.
But only about one-third of the city’s pipes have been replaced, and earlier this year the state of Michigan stopped providing free bottled water to residents because water quality was deemed adequate.
“We did not cause the man-made water disaster,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement at the time. “Therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced.”
Until the water system demonstrates its reliability to the people of Flint, many residents have said they will resort to bottled water for drinking, cooking, and showering.
And as long as that’s a reality, activists like Copeny will continue to be indispensable.
As for Little Miss Flint, she’s working toward long-term change, and recently announced her support for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, who spoke with Global Citizen earlier this year.
“I have seen what happens when a bad leader has control of a city, and I know that there are literally lives at stake,” Copeny told Blavity. “[El-Sayed] is someone who has spent a good deal of time focusing on the kids in Detroit and making their lives better. If people would give him a chance and listen to him, they may actually really like his ideas and support him.”
Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring everyone has access to safe, clean water. You can take acton here.