As Tunde Olaniran was getting ready for bed on Monday night, he got to thinking about what his Flint, Michigan community has gone through in the past few years. The 32-year-old musician recently had his water shut off because he forgot to send in the minimum payment on his now $1,500 accumulated bill, but he felt lucky that he was able to deal with it so quickly.
“I actually have resources to pay a bill, and I was like, ‘Wow, it’s so lucky that I have the time to drive up to this place at 4:00, and I have a working car,’” he told Global Citizen. “What if I had children, or what if I was elderly? All of these things were running through my mind.”
So he took to Twitter, composing a ten-part thread on the frustrations of life in the aftermath of the Flint water crisis.
i live in Flint. i haven't washed my hair in my home in 4 years. when I brush my teeth, i use filtered water. i shower and my skin has strange reactions. my accumulated water bill is almost at $1500 at this point. i'm not paying.— Tunde Olaniran (@tundeolaniran) April 10, 2018
His words struck a chord and quickly went viral. As of the time of this writing, his thread had been retweeted more than 27,000 times.
In 2014, emergency city managers appointed by Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, switched Flint’s water source from the more expensive Detroit water system to the Flint River in an attempt to save the city money. When the Flint River’s corrosive water ran through the city’s ageing pipes, lead levels skyrocketed, leading to dangerously elevated lead levels in children and a dozen deaths from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
Since the crisis, Flint has switched its water source back to the Detroit system and the state has provided homes with filters. Contractors are also working to replace all of Flint’s lead pipelines by 2020.
As a result of these efforts, lead levels have been on the decline for two years, but uncertainty still looms regarding the safety of the water, particularly for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and the elderly.
Additionally, residents and activists are still angry over the government’s handling of the situation.
A report by a watchdog organization claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order seven months later than it should have, leading to residents’ increased exposure to poisoned water. Many have also blamed the Snyder administration for ignoring red flags about the safety of the Flint River. Two emergency managers have been charged with felonies due to their decision to switch the water supply since the crisis began.
Olaniran complains that contractors still aren’t communicating with residents about the status of their water as they replace the lines.
“If you’re a working class person of color in the city, there’s just a level that you don’t deserve an explanation about what’s happening,” he said. “I think that that sentiment is what led to the water crisis” in the first place.
nobody from the city or state has ever directly reached out to me to say "here is the water quality in your home"— Tunde Olaniran (@tundeolaniran) April 10, 2018
In his thread, Olaniran also points to discrepancies between Michigan’s treatment of working class people and corporations when it comes to water rights.
On Friday, Governor Snyder announced that the state of Michigan would stop providing free bottled water to Flint residents. Flint city officials denounced the decision.
Meanwhile, Michigan residents are in an uproar over the state allowing the Nestle corporation to pump 400 gallons of Michigan groundwater per minute for a fee of $200 a year.
i'll repeat: the State of Michigan announced Friday that it was ending bottled water distribution in Flint, four days after it approved Nestle's permit to pump 500,000 gallons of fresh water per day for.... $200.— Tunde Olaniran (@tundeolaniran) April 10, 2018
However, for Olaniran, the situation is “beyond Nestle.”
“It’s about what we think people have a right to and when are we going to privilege that over corporate interests,” he told Global Citizen.
“There’s got to be basic minimum human rights,” he said. “If we live in a country where we have a Jeff Bezos, I just don’t understand why can’t we have access to clean water for everyone.”
Perhaps that universality is what made Olaniran’s twitter thread go viral.
“These kinds of issues are popping up all over the country,” he said. “We need to have a much stronger approach to how working class people access resources in our country, and that needs to be prioritized on a policy level.”
we suffer from a systemic disregard for working class people in this country. flint is just one of the ugliest examples of it.— Tunde Olaniran (@tundeolaniran) April 10, 2018
Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring everyone has access to safe, clean water. You can take acton here.