In Flint, Michigan, Nayyirah Shariff is known as a “water warrior.” She’s been sounding the alarm over that city’s outrageous toxic water crisis, and battling powerful politicians who’ve shown little regard for their constituents. Shariff will not rest until the people of Flint get justice.
Flint first captured the nation’s attention in 1989 with Michael Moore’s acclaimed documentary Roger and Me. Moore chronicled the devastating impact of auto plant closings in Flint, where tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. Twenty-five years later, the city became the site of another tragic story.
In 2014, politicians switched Flint’s drinking water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a so-called money saving measure. Soon after, residents noticed that the water looked and smelled suspiciously awful. They complained, but government officials insisted nothing was wrong. Then a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak hit the city — and at least 12 people died.
Experts said the root cause of the deaths was most likely the Flint River water. But it wasn’t until 2016 that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency. Charges of cover-ups and corruption surround the disaster, and activists say politicians are still dragging their feet. Enter Nayyirah Shariff.
Shariff is the director of Flint Rising. It’s a coalition of community organizations that’s pressuring Snyder and other politicians to handle the toxic water crisis as a public health emergency. They want three things:
- Replace all damaged water service lines immediately using Flint workers;
- 100 percent water bill reimbursement dating back to April 2014 and until the water is deemed safe;
- Health and education services for all children, adults, and seniors in the community.
“In things that matter,” Shariff said in an interview with TYT Politics, “not much has changed for the day-to-day lives of people. You’re still relying on using your own resources to go and get bottled water from these state-managed sites. People are still making value judgments based on how much water they have in their homes to meet their daily needs. And even though there’s all these talks about money coming in, it hasn’t reached residents en masse.”
She added about government’s indifference: “Many of the institutional players were in denial or did not know or did not want to know, and were not beating the drums that something was going on.”
Nayyirah Shariff and other activists changed that with constant, unflinching advocacy. She’s now sharing her expertise with Pittsburgh residents, who may be facing their own toxic water crisis.
Such activists contribute mightily to American society. Across the United States, they are defenders and practitioners of our rights and freedoms, and they push back against power structures that threaten our lives and liberties. Without activists, the ongoing American experiment — 240 years old and counting — would die. Washataw thanks Nayyirah Shariff for her work, sacrifice, and dedication.