Second Wednesday Night Live features Flint Water Crisis panel

October 21, 2016

Story by RCAH student Christina Igl.

For the second installment of the Wednesday Night Live 2016-2017 series, RCAH welcomed a panel to discuss the Flint Water Crisis. On October 12, panelists Steve Carmody, Emily Elconin, Melissa Mays, San Juana Olivares, and moderator Sara Fingal joined RCAH students and community members in the RCAH Theater to discuss the history and current state of the Flint Water Crisis.

Steve Carmody, a long time reporter for Michigan Radio, has covered the Flint Water Crisis since the beginning. He spoke about the ethics and politics behind reporting on the Flint Water Crisis, noting that the economic standing of Flint was an important factor in the amount of service and respect the community has received.

San Juana Olivares, President of the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative in Flint, focuses her efforts on the undocumented Hispanic/Latino population living in the area. Olivares and her team canvass neighborhoods in the city in order to inform the undocumented people about the dangers of their water.

Since the government sent out the water safety violation notices, a very small number of the undocumented population were informed about the chemicals and bacteria in their water and continued to drink it. Olivares told a story about a mother of a three-month-old baby with lead poisoning. Olivares remembered, “The baby was a mess. The mom blamed herself. She said, ‘I thought I was protecting my baby, but now they’re poisoned.’"

Melissa Mays is the co-founder of Water You Fighting For, an activist organization dedicated to educational campaigns, rallies, protests, meeting, and marches to “keep the attention on what was happening to Flint residents,” Mays states. She and her family are one of the 45,000 households directly affected by the unsafe and poorly treated water pumped from the Flint River.

Emily Elconin, a senior at Michigan State with majors in Journalism and RCAH, traveled to Flint to document the water crisis through a photojournalism project called Stories From Flint. It was during her time documenting protests that she met Melissa Mays. Elconin began collaborating with Mays, photographing Water You Fighting For events. 

The conversation between the four panelists and students, faculty, and community members was moderated by MSU Assistant Professor, Sara Fingal. Fingal has a dual appointment in Lyman Briggs College and the Department of History. Her current work focuses on “conflicts over water access and property rights along the Pacific coastline in the mid-twentieth century,” while her experience and research expands beyond to other topics involving natural resources.

After Fingal led the panel through a series of questions about the timeline of the Crisis, the panelists’ roles in working for publicity, relief, and change, as well as the broken trust between Flint and the government, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions.

When asked what can be done now to help, panelists encouraged students and community members to keep talking about Flint, continue donating water, and to stand in solidarity with the Flint residents. Mays ending the panel discussion saying: “People power makes the change! We’ll keep fighting!”