Bad Water, Dirty Politics: Contrasting Governmental Responses to Two U.S. Water Crises
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Two of the United States's most destructive water crises, separated by nearly twenty years, occurred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993 and Flint, Michigan in 2014. This thesis compares and contrasts the two crises, focusing specifically on the differences in local governmental response to each crisis. Further, this thesis argues that the willful negligence of Flint's city officials can, in part, be explained by their disregard for residents who possess very little political power. In contrast, it is argued that the responsiveness of city officials to the Milwaukee water crisis is explained by the amount of political power and perceived value Milwaukeeans had in 1993 as a predominantly white, affluent city.
This thesis supports both arguments by comparing and contrasting: 1) the demographic makeup of the residents impacted by each water crisis; 2) the agent responsible for causing the crises; and 3) the nature of and promptness with which local governments responded to each crisis. Reports from reliable media outlets, peer-reviewed articles from medical and research journals, and public records are the primary sources of this research.
This project concludes that the Flint Water Crisis is an example of environmental racism because the willful negligence of Flint city officials amounted to the official sanctioning of lead -- a detrimental neurotoxin -- in the city's water. In this era of a new civil rights movement under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, racial tensions are once again at the forefront of the national discourse. As an integral part of that discourse, the Flint case demonstrates how racist attitudes and actions create differing realities for individuals of different racial backgrounds -- especially in times of crisis.