Healthcare and Democracy: A Political Public Health Emergency

Flint mom, Lee Ann Walters, was lauded by Pen America in New York for her courageous stand in exposing the Flint water crisis. PHOTO/BRETT JELINEK

Flint mom, Lee Ann Walters, was lauded by Pen America in New York for her courageous stand in exposing the Flint water crisis.


ATLANTA, GA — “As registered nurses, we are compelled to advocate for all our patients, whether at the bedside or in our neighborhoods and communities. To that end, we, the National Nurses United, on behalf of the nurses of America, declare a public health emergency in Detroit … And we demand the guarantee that all Detroit residents have immediate and full access to clean water.” National Nurses United declares the city of Detroit a Public Health Emergency Zone, July 2014

Over 91,000 Detroit homes had been disconnected from life essential water. Today, a new round of cut-offs is underway targeting another 20,000 homes.

Meanwhile, Flint residents (except pregnant women and young children) are still being asked to drink filtered water that’s running through lead contaminated and corroding pipes. Just two months before the nurses righteously declared a public health emergency in Detroit, Flint’s dictatorial Emergency Manager switched the city’s water supply to the highly polluted Flint River.

Both Detroit and Flint were subject to Emergency Managers who, under Michigan Public Act 436 have complete power to void union contracts, seize public assets from parks to pension funds and eliminate the authority of any elected body. The kind of austerity imposed on the cities of Flint and Detroit requires the destruction of even limited democracy.

To willfully shut off water to Detroiters and to arrogantly dismiss the complaints, illnesses and even deaths of Flint residents demands a sustained and unlimited public health response. No half measures, no untrustworthy promises, and no failure to hold accountable the corporate state structures and Governor Snyder responsible for these unconscionable acts will be accepted.

Though they were disenfranchised, the people of Detroit and Flint are not deterred. They have brought these criminal acts to light nationally and internationally, through their independent and collective actions. An inadequate Medicaid expansion has been promised but what of the lasting effects of this kind of trauma? Thousands of children have been put at risk from lead laced water, a potent neurotoxin. Families are suffering unimaginable stress that’s taking a physical, mental and spiritual toll. As the public health crisis in Flint unfolded, it has exposed the political crisis at its heart. The working class of these cities was essential to stretching America’s industrial democracy rooted in militant history like the Flint sits down strikes. Their fight to stop the water shut-offs, replace all the pipes in Flint and immediately, expand Medicare for All is a fight for working class democracy for all! The crisis is nationwide and so must be the response.

New Orleans taught us that assaults on democracy and healthcare multiply after the cameras and posturing subsides. Michigan is a harbinger of the future. We cannot “go back” to an industrial democracy in this era of labor replacing digital technologies. The democratic vision today is one that guarantees free universal access to clean water and all life’s necessaries, especially healthcare through public ownership and administration of life sustaining resources.

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