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President Obama Visits Flint, Drinks the Water and Tells Residents ‘I’ve Got Your Back’, But Is That Enough?

President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered water from Flint, a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, during a meeting will local and federal authorities in Michigan, May 4, 2016. CARLOS BARRIA / Reuters

President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered water from Flint, a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, during a meeting with local and federal authorities in Michigan, May 4, 2016. CARLOS BARRIA / Reuters

President Barack Obama went to Flint — and he drank the water. As promised, on Wednesday the president arrived in the depressed Michigan city, whose residents have been poisoned by lead-tainted drinking water. The crisis has placed the spotlight on an issue impacting poor communities and communities of color who are the victims of environmental racism and government neglect.

In his statements to the people of Flint, Obama provided his support, along with condemnation of the political mindset of less government and under-investment that created the crisis in the first place. And while he provided caring words, at least one of his prominent supporters said this was not nearly enough, and nothing was accomplished.

The president’s visit was sparked by a letter from Mari Copeny, 8, who said of the Flint water that “it smells like bleach and old fish,” as NBC News reported.

“Filtered water is safe, and it works,” the president said at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, also acknowledging the great deal of suspicion over whether the water was drinkable. “Working with the state and the city, filters are now available for everyone in the city,” he added, according to NBC News.

Obama spoke to Flint residents at Northwestern High School on Wednesday, the first time since the city’s water crisis erupted.

Speaking of Mari, Obama told the crowd, “I thought her President should come to Flint to meet with her. (Applause.) And that’s why I’m here — to tell you directly that I see you and I hear you, and I want to hear directly from you about how this public health crisis has disrupted your lives, how it’s made you angry, how it’s made you worried.”

“I also wanted to come here, though, to tell you that I’ve got your back, that we’re paying attention,” the president told the audience. “So I met and heard directly from those who are leading the federal response and who are working hard to make sure that Flint is whole again, to make sure that this proud city bounces back not just to where it was, but stronger than ever. And I want all of you to know I am confident that Flint will come back,” he added. “I will not rest, and I’m going to make sure that the leaders, at every level of government, don’t rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink and safe to cook with, and safe to bathe in — because that’s part of the basic responsibilities of a government in the United States of America.”

The president said that he has “sent Flint the best resources our federal government has to support our state and local partners.”

“Everybody is on duty. The National Guard is on duty. This is a hands-on-deck situation — all hands on deck. Because if there’s a child who feels neglected on the north side of Flint, or a family on the east side of this city who wonders whether they should give up on their hometown and move away, or an immigrant who wonders whether America means what we say about being a place where we take care of our own,” the president added, noting that Flint’s recovery is the responsibility of everyone, and he will make sure that responsibility is fulfilled.

Obama also said that the filtered water is safe to use for anyone who is over the age of 6 and who is not pregnant.

“So I’m telling what I know, because I guarantee you that the scientists who work for me, if they tell me something — which I’m saying in front of all those cameras — turns out to be wrong, that person will not have a job,” Obama insisted.

While he said he did not think anyone consciously wanted to hurt the people of Flint, the president attributed Flint’s woes to a “corrosive attitude that exists in our politics and exists in too many levels of our government,” one which “is as corrosive to our democracy as the stuff that resulted in lead in your water,” he said. “Because what happens is it leads to systematic neglect. It leads to carelessness and callousness.”

Obama spoke of a mindset that says less government is better, no matter what: “It’s a mindset that says environmental rules designed to keep your water clean or your air clean are optional, or not that important, or unnecessarily burden businesses or taxpayers. It’s an ideology that undervalues the common good, says we’re all on our own and what’s in it for me, and how do I do well, but I’m not going to invest in what we need as a community,” he said.

As a consequence, the president insisted, there is “an under-investment in the things that we all share that make us safe, that make us whole” such as water pipes, bridges, roads and schools. “We especially under-invest when the communities that are put at risk are poor, or don’t have a lot of political clout — and so are not as often heard in the corridors of power,” Obama added.

The president also told Flint residents they should be angry, but to channel their anger.

“You should be hurt, but don’t sink into despair,” he urged, telling them, “do not somehow communicate to our children here in this city that they’re going to be saddled with problems for the rest of their lives. Because they will not. They’ll do just fine, just like I did fine with a single mom, and a lot of you did fine growing up in a tough neighborhood.”

“Don’t lose hope,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, filmmaker, activist and Flint native Michael Moore did not mince words in his disapproval of the president’s actions and statements in Flint. Moore — who prior to the visit said it was too little too late, and urged the president not to come unless he was bringing the U.S. Army with him — was disappointed.

He told CNN that while he loves Obama and voted for him twice, “I’m very disappointed … He is just trying to reassure people that everything is OK. To drink from a glass of Flint water, when a number of experts say this water is not safe. It’s still going through the same corroded lead pipes,” Moore told CNN. “It was such a disappointing thing to see.”

Moore added that Obama, who doesn’t want to play the blame game, should arrest Gov. Snyder for poisoning the children of Flint.

“Flint is a city that has really been destroyed — first by General Motors, then by Wall Street, now by this Republican governor who, in order to give a billion-dollar tax cut to the rich in Michigan, had to cut back on services. And one of the services he decided to cut back on is drinking water to a poor city like Flint,” Moore said.

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