In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan started using the Flint River as its main source of water. The pipes, however, contaminated the water with lead. This caused a national outcry. The governor declared a state of emergency and health officials told residents to stop drinking, bathing in, or in any way using the contaminated water. Instead, Water Resource Centers distributed bottled water to the residents until they received individual water filters. As of today, the pipes are still not fixed. On the other hand, lead levels in the water are below the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion and the pipes are in the process of being repaired. According to several studies, the water is now safe.
Although residents now have access to clean drinking water, it took more than three years for their water to become drinkable again. This is a clear failure of both the state and the federal government. Moreover, many politicians, celebrities, and social media activists used the crisis as a platform to gain publicity. Some seemed genuine in their desire to raise awareness about the issue, but others only paid Flint lip service, merely criticizing the government’s response.
Emily Sioma, Miss Michigan, recently came out in criticism of the state, saying that Michigan has the majority of the freshwater in the United States but none for its residents. Her statement immediately went viral, gaining her fame. She received an interview from Cosmopolitan magazine and was featured in many other articles. What, however, has Sioma done to help?
She has not visited Flint or helped to distribute water. It appears that she simply used the city’s crisis to project herself onto a national platform. Clearly the state government mishandled the crisis, but they are currently in the process of resolving it, while Sioma seems to be using the issue to promote her own self-interest. This is a symptom of a much larger problem — speaking without acting on behalf of what one is speaking for. Too many people take advantage of horrible situations for their own goals.
Elon Musk is guilty of the same failing. Earlier this year, he tweeted that he would pay to end the crisis. Again, the lead levels are safe according to several studies and the pipes are in the process of being repaired or replaced. Although Musk is not in need of national fame, his tweet made headlines, and that undoubtedly pleased him. Since the tweet, he has taken no meaningful action. This is another example of using a crisis to further personal goals and gain more public recognition without actually solving the problem.
This kind of rhetoric needs to end. The people of Flint have suffered immensely. It is time to stop using their misery for self-fulfillment and political gain. If action or more action needs to be taken, stop talking about what a terrible tragedy it is and go help to fix it. If you find an issue worth speaking about and criticizing the government or someone else over, then get out and volunteer as well, or run for office, or talk to your elected representative. Do not merely speak. Action is what is needed to solve a problem. Words are not enough.