Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis

Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis

by Benjamin J. Pauli


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An account of the Flint water crisis shows that Flint's struggle for safe and affordable water is part of a broader struggle for democracy.

When Flint, Michigan, changed its source of municipal water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, Flint residents were repeatedly assured that the water was of the highest quality. At the switchover ceremony, the mayor and other officials performed a celebratory toast, declaring “Here's to Flint!” and downing glasses of freshly treated water. But as we now know, the water coming out of residents' taps harbored a variety of contaminants, including high levels of lead. In Flint Fights Back , Benjamin Pauli examines the water crisis and the political activism that it inspired, arguing that Flint's struggle for safe and affordable water was part of a broader struggle for democracy. Pauli connects Flint's water activism with the ongoing movement protesting the state of Michigan's policy of replacing elected officials in financially troubled cities like Flint and Detroit with appointed “emergency managers. ”

Pauli distinguishes the political narrative of the water crisis from the historical and technical narratives, showing that Flint activists' emphasis on democracy helped them to overcome some of the limitations of standard environmental justice frameworks. He discusses the pro-democracy (anti–emergency manager) movement and traces the rise of the “water warriors”; describes the uncompromising activist culture that developed out of the experience of being dismissed and disparaged by officials; and examines the interplay of activism and scientific expertise. Finally, he explores efforts by activists to expand the struggle for water justice and to organize newly mobilized residents into a movement for a radically democratic Flint.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262039857
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 05/14/2019
Series: Urban and Industrial Environments
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Benjamin J. Pauli is Assistant Professor of Social Science at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

List of Figures and Tables xix

Timeline xxi

Introduction 1

1 Flint First: The Injustice of the Flint Water Crisis 29

2 How Did It Happen? Two Tales of the Origins of the Crisis 49

3 Poisoned by Policy: The Political Narrative of the Crisis 71

4 The Pro-Democracy Struggle In Michigan and the Prehistory of the Water Movement in Flint 101

5 The Rise of the Water Warriors: Transforming Personal Troubles into Political Action 127

6 Demanding the Impossible: Deliberation and Activism in the Battle over the River 149

7 The Water Is (Not) Safe: Expertise, Citizen Science, and the Science Wars 179

8 From Poisoned People to People Power: Fighting for Justice, Expanding Democracy 223

Conclusion 255

Notes 259

Selected Bibliography 335

Index 379

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

A powerful telling of a remarkablejourney as the people of Flint rose up to fight for their health, their water, and their democratic rights. Flint Fights Back is a story of tragedy andbetrayal, but as well, one of hope and the human heart.

Maude Barlow , author, activist, founder of the Blue Planet Project, and Chair of the Board of Food and Water Watch

Flint Fights Back is a breathtaking book. Never before has Flint's movement for water and democracy been chronicled in such exciting, intimate detail. Transcending the usual narrative traps, Pauli has given us a brilliant account of political agency and possibility that does justice to the movement's complexities, conflicts, and power.

Anna Clark , author of The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy

What a wonderful book! Flint Fights Back is unlike any other coverage of Flint's water crisis. Ben Pauli is a scholar-activist and Flint resident. His ethnographic analysis reveals the role of anti-democratic decision-making in creating Flint's water crisis—with valuable insights for anyone interested in understanding or fighting environmental injustices.

Dr. Amber Wutich , President's Professor and Director, Center for Global Health, Arizona State University

Flint Fights Back is an indispensable account of what happened, and how ordinary people fought back. Pauli's first-hand experiences, analysis drawn from political theory, and attention to science, social movements, and policies is utterly unique. This book allows us to better understand justice and democracy in our current moment and beyond.

Julie Sze , Professor of American Studies at University of California, Davis

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