There is never just one thing wrong.

This is the great truth of everything. The connectedness of all the things that are wrong strangles even the most sincere and competent problem-solver. You can get one knot out of a silver necklace but twenty will drive you over the edge.

That’s the situation in Flint right now. There are so many layers of wrongness, going back decades and decades that untangling the current water crisis from everything else is impossible. It isn’t a stand alone event, it’s just an extraordinarily big knot in a necklace with thousands of intractable knots.

Likewise, going forward, remediating the impact of lead poisoning on Flint’s children who are already disadvantaged because of racism and poverty is a challenge of such complexity and gargantuan proportions that no one can even conceive of a plan.

So the people of Flint get a lot of bottled water. And the Governor of Michigan says he’s sorry and he’ll fix it and then hires a PR firm.

What would I tell the Governor of Michigan to do?

  1. Make sure that every man, woman and child living in Flint is tested for lead poisoning (at no cost), enrolled in Medicaid or Affordable Care Act insurance and is entered into a registry system to ensure consistent follow-up, treatment and support over the next many decades. Know and care for the people in this registry as if they are your own family.
  2. Make the restoration of Flint’s safe water the State’s single highest priority. Nothing can be right in Michigan, especially Pure Michigan, until Flint has achieved basic water safety. This means choosing not to do other things that might be necessary so the State can do the most necessary thing which is repairing its own terrible breach. This will cost billions. But if one child’s life is damaged because of your administration’s terrible mistakes, billions are not enough. But you should start anyway.
  3. Go to Flint, sit with people in the neighborhoods and take what you have coming. That the people in Flint have been poisoned is one terrible crime, that they haven’t been listened to may even be worse. To be dismissed, disregarded, discounted is an embittering, angry thing. If your vow to fix what is broken is sincere, you must begin to repair the enormous breach of trust that has been caused by your agents. No one can do this for you. You must go to Flint as a person, go to homes, hold people’s children and shed some tears for what has happened.

No one has asked, but if they did, this is what I’d tell the Governor of Michigan to do. Don’t look for excuses in all the things that are wrong. Fix the thing you know you broke. Right now.

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One way to help the people of Flint is to donate to the Flint Child Health & Development Fund at FlintKids.org. This community effort was established to begin efforts right away to address the serious health consequences of lead poisoning for children. Please help if you can.