A group of Michigan residents from across the state gathered in Ann Arbor Monday to call for the arrest of Gov. Rick Snyder, one of a wave of protests held in past weeks statewide over the Flint water crisis.
In April 2014, the state of Michigan decided to temporarily switch the supply of Flint's water from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a way to save money. However, lead from the service lines in Flint began to leak into the water supply as a result of the switch. Researchers warned city and state officials of the toxic lead in the water only when the city changed the water source in October 2015 — 18 months later — and Snyder declared a state of emergency on Jan. 5.
President Barack Obama also issued a federal emergency declaration in response to the Flint water crisis Saturday, allocating $5 million in federal aid to immediately assist the city. Several democratic canidates for president highlighted Flint during Sunday night's debate, calling the situation deplorable.
Novi resident Colleen Crossey, alum of the University School of Social Work and co-organizer of the protest, said she chose to hold the march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to coincide with the University’s annual symposium aimed at highlighting modern-day social justice.
“Many of the speakers on this day will encourage their audience members to organize and fight back against the unethical activities that oppress others,” Crossey said. “This rally and march will give them the opportunity to do just that.”
Protesters marched from Rackham to Snyder’s Ann Arbor condo at 211 S. Main St. where they formed a moving circle and cheered loudly.
Chants from the protest included “Justice for Flint, arrest Rick Snyder” and “Democracy, democracy, that’s our right; Snyder stole it, that’s our fight.” Buttons were also passed out that said “Arrest Rick Snyder” and featured an image of Snyder, handcuffed, wearing a black and white striped prisoner’s uniform.
Jan BenDor, Ypsilanti resident and another organizer of the event, helped organize another attempt to fire Snyder in 2011. Her complaint at the time was that Snyder was promoting privatizing all public services.
Some Michigan residents have filed petitions to recall Snyder to the Board of Canvassors. Though most of the petitions were denied, two are currently pending approval.
BenDor said Snyder should be taken out of office and charged with federal crimes for his responsibility in the water crisis. She said she saw Snyder’s neglect of the water conditions in Flint as akin to an act of terrorism.
“Snyder managed to do what ISIS could never do,” BenDor said.
The organizers of the protest also created a GoFundMe account to raise money to buy bottled water and filters for the people of Flint. They said other, more permanent fundraising efforts are in the works.
Several University students in attendance declined interviews.
Katie Oppenheim, a registered nurse and president of the University Nurse’s Union, agreed that Snyder should be held responsible for his dishonesty about the severe levels of lead in Flint water leading up to the city’s state of emergency.
Oppenheim recently visited Flint and said the tap water was the color of mustard and essentially toxic, barring citizens from access to clean water to live.
John Armelagos, a registered nurse from Ypsilanti and an officer of the Michigan Nurse’s Association, said at the event Flint residents who drank the public water are susceptible to lifelong illnesses. Armelagos noted that children and infants are prone to developmental issues affecting all parts of their bodies, including their brains, and risk being unable to reach their full intellectual potential. Adults may also suffer various kinds of illnesses, including those impacting reproductive health.
Armelagos said citizens should be provided services to mitigate the damages to their health that arose from the lead poisoning.
“The people of Flint and Michigan need full accountability of what happened,” Armelagos said.