Months after news of the lead crisis broke and years after the water poisoning began, U.S. President Barack Obama visited the embattled city of Flint, Michigan on Wednesday.
After meeting with state and local officials, hearing from residents, and sipping the (filtered) water, Obama blasted the austerity government that brought about the “man-made disaster” and promised to city residents that he “will not rest until every drop of water that flows to your home is safe to drink.”
“I came here to tell you directly that I see you. I hear you,” the president told community members in a speech Wednesday afternoon. “I also wanted to come here to tell you that I’ve got your back.”
“I will not rest—and I will make sure that the leaders at every level of government—will not rest until every drop of water that flows to your home is safe to drink and safe to bathe in,” he promised, adding that it’s one of the “basic responsibilities of a government of the United States of America.”
The outgoing president then pivoted to lambasting the political forces that created this “man-made disaster.”
Saying he does not believe that anyone “consciously” wanted to harm the people of Flint, Obama said the real culprit behind the water crisis was a “corrosive” mindset that argues “less government” and lax regulations are the best solution. He also cast blame on Republican-backed ideologies that undermine “the common good” because they refuse to invest in communities and infrastructure.
One of the major demands of Flint residents has been the replacement of the city’s entire water pipe system. On Wednesday, Obama said that he would “do everything” he can to accelerate getting new pipes installed, but told residents that this would “not happen overnight.” In the meantime, he assured residents that filtered water is safe to consume for people who are over the age of six and not pregnant.
The president also tried to dispel the fear that children in Flint would be forever scourged by the lead poisoning and encouraged parents to have children get checked, saying with proper care they would ultimately be “fine.”
“You should be angry, but channel that anger. You should be hurt, but don’t sink into despair. And most of all,” Obama added, “do not somehow communicate to our children here in this city that they are going to be saddled with problems for the rest of their lives. Because they will not. They will do just fine…as long as we do right by them.”
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