Flint activists say ‘no pipes, no peace’ amid crisis

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — Chants from a crowd of hundreds shook the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle on Friday, with supporters stomping their feet to the rhythm of “no justice, no peace,” drowning out gospel music playing overhead from the church’s speakers.

The Rebuild Flint March and Rally, which drew beyond the church’s capacity of more than 400, was a call to action in response to the city’s ongoing lead-tainted water crisis that has placed Flint into a state of emergency. The Detroit Light Brigade and the Social Bustice arrived to the aide of the Concerned Pastors for Social Action group, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other activist leaders to demand more help for the community still reeling from effects of corroded lead service lines.

The Rebuild Flint March and Rally, which drew more than 400 Friday, was a call to action in response to the city’s ongoing lead-tainted water crisis.

“The march is about keeping the pressure on those people who have the power to do the things that need to be done,” the Rev. Dr. Herbert Miller II, 49, said.

Urging people in the sanctuary to be seated, Miller, originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, proclaimed: “Even if we can get the chemical balance back to where it’s suppose to be, the public has no faith in these pipes because they know these pipes have lead. So the public knows that at some point, this could happen all over again.”

The Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in north Flint sits just across the street from the large empty grounds of Buick City, once a national hub of automobile manufacturing for General Motors. Organizers said the rally there marked the first march with “a plan of actions planned throughout the spring that will take us to Lansing.”

“They won’t take the chance to drink lead-contaminated water ever again,” Miller said.

Preliminary work is underway to replace high-risk lead service lines in Flint in an effort to improve the city’s water quality and remedy widespread lead contamination, state officials announced earlier this week. There are an estimated 35,000 homes and businesses in Flint with lead service lines, according to the Gov. Rick Snyder’s Office. The state said it made an agreement Tuesday with Rowe Professional Services, a Flint-based engineering firm, to update a recent analysis of the city’s water pipes.

Mayor Karen Weaver, meanwhile, has called to replace residential lead service pipes with a $55 million “fast-start plan” that would use 32 crews to replace about 15,000 service lines.

The national branch of the NAACP also has promised an “intense” campaign of “direct action” against the state of Michigan if it doesn’t replace Flint’s lead pipes.

“Make a statement today in a peaceful Flintstone fashion, we aren’t waiting anymore,” said pastor Allan Overton, 49, of Concerned Pastors for Social Action. “We want change and we want it now: Fired up? No pipes, no peace!”

The crowd marched by a supply site for the new pipeline for the Karegnondi Water Authority, or KWA, a regional water authority based in Genesee County, on its way to the Flint Water Treatment Plant. KWA is expected to take over servicing Flint water customers later this year. Flint switched its water source in 2014 from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s system to the Flint River as the new pipeline was being constructed. Flint went back to the Detroit system in October after the lead presence became obvious to state officials.

Hundreds attended the Rebuild Flint March and Rally on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.

Friday’s march and rally also featured television personality Judge Greg Mathis, a Detroit native.

“People ask me: ‘You live all the way out in California, why are you coming all the way out here?’ Well, I tell them, I grew up 45 minutes down the street, and I haven’t forgotten where I come from,” Mathis said. “I’m here because I’m needed. I’m here to let you all know that we need to fight back. I’m here to let you all know to call the U.S. Senate, call Mitch McConnell at the U.S. Senate that we want the $600 million dollars that they are debating, that there is no debate.”

Churchgoer and lifetime Flint resident Yolanda Figueroa, 63, said Friday’s rally “is letting the world know that we are still strong, and we are still standing for what we believe.”

“We’re not fools,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa, like many of others who came to march, say they want to send Snyder a message.

“This is a failure of certain processes,” she said. “We’re going to stand strong and fight for our rights.”

Flint activist Herbert Roberts, 60, wore chains and cleaning mask as he marched Friday: “The chains that this community has been up under for nearly 80 years,” he said. “It’s the struggle that many people in this community has suffered from, from when General Motors left, that many people feel left behind, not just from the water but from opportunity.”