The afternoon of Saturday, February 27, NBPC partnered with Blackout for Human Rights to host a live online chat about the water crisis affecting the city of Flint, Michigan. The chat served as a preamble to that Sunday’s #JusticeForFlint rally — a grassroots, though equally star-studded, alternative to the Academy Awards at the height of the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, featuring Janelle Monáe, Stevie Wonder and this year’s host of AfroPoP, Jussie Smollett.
Moderated by political activist, author and commentator Van Jones, the NBPC and Blackout live chat featured a panel discussion with filmmakers Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay, actor Mark Ruffalo, pediatrician Rhea Boyd, Carmen Perez of Justice League NYC, Pastor Michael McBride of PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing), Rashid Shabazz of Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson, Vien Truong of Green for All, Flint residents Dollene and Diamond Turner and Rick Carter of Michigan Faith in Action. Each participant had something meaningful to share in the spirit of #JusticeForFlint, and we caught it all on our YouTube channel! If you’re looking for the cliff notes version — or just want to re-live the highlights of what turned out to be an unforgettable dialogue — then here are 12 of our favorite moments and quotations from the #JusticeForFlint panel discussion:
- “I’m not a moderate, but I’m happy to moderATE.” –– Van Jones
NBPC and Blackout were thrilled to welcome political contributor (and wordsmith) Van Jones as our live chat moderator — and you can see why. Not even 15 seconds into the program and his pun game was already on point.
- Ava DuVernay drops in.
A surprise visit from pioneering director Ava DuVernay was enough to make our afternoon! Of course, as she reminded everyone the upcoming #JusticeForFlint rally: “The people of Flint are centerstage.” That message became a central theme of the afternoon’s discussion.
- “[Our panelist,] actor Mark Ruffalo, is a Green hero — not just when he’s the Incredible Hulk on The Avengers, but in real life.” — Van Jones
Yet another example of the Van Jonesian wordplay that kept an enormous panel (twelve speakers!) fresh and lively.
- “I know that a lot of actors, entertainers, are afraid to step out into the world because there are some forces out there that want to see us really fail. They want to hurt us; they want to quiet our voices, because they know that we can reach the world. The way you do that is by taking the spotlight off of yourself and giving it to the people who are fighting for their lives.” — Mark Ruffalo
Mark Ruffalo’s statements are even more compelling when you realize that, as a Hollywood star, he lives by this philosophy. Shortly after this panel, for example, he joined Van Jones and Vien Truong for the Support for Flint’s Future Bus Tour, a road trip around Flint where they met with community members directly affected by the water crisis to discuss solutions and the city’s future.
For more on Mark’s activism, check out his contributions to the Huffington Post on clean energy, water crises, childhood poverty and more.
- “It’s not just about water. It’s also about a community that is in dire need.” — Carmen Perez
Activist Carmen Perez, along with Green For All’s Vien Truong, lent a great deal of power to this live chat through discussion of their personal connections to human rights issues as well as their firsthand accounts of what’s happening on the ground in Flint. Carmen’s comment in particular captured the spirit of the conversation that followed: we’re talking about real people, not just natural resources, when we talk about Flint. And, as Vien remarked: “No decision about the future of Flint should be made without the people of Flint.” Amen to that.
- “Obviously, the heart and the soul of this is not people like us who care, it’s the people like you who are living there, and fighting for your lives.” — Van Jones, to Flint residents Diamond and Dollene Turner
Discussion leaders Van Jones and Rashid Shabazz did a stellar job of keeping the Turner family and their testimony front and center.
- “Those pipes that need to be fixed, need to be fixed IMMEDIATELY. Not two years from now, three years from now, but immediately. We’re being given water [bottles]; I appreciate that. It’s a great resource. But it’s only temporary. We really need something that’s permanent.” — Dollene Turner
It was a privilege to hear from Flint residents Dollene Turner and her daughter Diamond Turner. Dollene brought the discussion to another level with her urgent question “What’s next?” followed by the speech above. Another matter she shed light on was Flint’s economic development. “We have great capacity here,” she explained. “But . . . they’ve been outsourcing a lot of things, and the community has not had a say in it.”
- “We don’t just want charity for Flint; we want JUSTICE for Flint.” — Michael McBride
You might recognize Pastor Mike McBride from the activist panel of Blackout For Human Rights’s #MLKNOW event, live-streamed this Martin Luther King Day. A community leader, holistic minister and representative of the PICO National Network, he made a point of reminding the audience that the Flint Water Crisis is not just an unfortunate natural disaster, but a human rights violation targeting a specific demographic, for which we as a country should hold people accountable.
- “What you’re seeing in Flint is happening all over the country right now. We’re seeing sacrifice zones. We’re seeing entire communities being sacrificed for the almighty dollar.” — Mark Ruffalo
No way we could leave out this comment from Mark Ruffalo, which was right on target. It was an indirect reference to hydrofracking in New York State, which — before the fracking ban Mark championed in 2015 — caused devastation for poor communities in Pennsylvania. But his statement also rang too true for Newark just a week after this conversation, when news leaked that dangerous levels of lead had been found in the drinking water of its public schools.
- Rhea Boyd, M.D., gives medical advice.
In terms of practical information, pediatrician Rhea Boyd’s segments were probably the most useful of the hour-long discussion. The biggest takeaways?
- If you think your child has been exposed to lead-contaminated water, make an appointment with a pediatrician immediately.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables can protect little ones against the effects of lead exposure.
- Not all children who’ve come in contact with contaminated water will be drastically affected. Even so — and even if tests for lead exposure are negative — caretakers should keep an eye out for whether kids are missing milestones or experiencing behavior changes, because these can be warning signs.
You can also find out more information on Rhea Boyd’s website.
- “This is the kind of generation-defining tragedy — like Katrina, Rodney King — [where] who you are as a people is defined by how you respond. Who you are as a country is defined by how you respond.” — Van Jones
The central question of the chat: why is our response to Flint important? Van Jones answered so eloquently here that even our panelists were quoting him later on social media.
- “We’re here on the ground with folks in Flint because we love them. . . . We need to start with love. We need to start coming with a sense that we’re committed to this because we love our communities, we love ourselves and we love all people.” — Rashid Shabazz
Rashid Shabazz, who carried on the moderation after Van Jones left, delivered this powerful remark at the perfect instant. And if you don’t believe us, just look at the bottom panel of the Google Hangout and check out the reactions of the other speakers.
a) Rashad Robinson’s resonant point about the difference between being “present” (sharing articles, writing tweets) and being “powerful” (fighting institutional injustice at local and state levels). What does effective activism look like, and how much of it can take place online?
Side note: Bonus points if you, too, noticed that poster of what looked like Eartha Kitt and Harry Belafonte on the wall behind Rashad. A fitting backdrop for a panel of moviemakers and social justice organizers.
b) Filmmaker Ryan Coogler opening up about his upbringing in Richmond, California — a community where toxins from a nearby Chevron plant were poisoning the population. Hearing him describe this personal reason for empathizing with the folks in Flint was a moving moment.
Want the entire #JusticeForFlint experience? Watch the full-length discussion at blackpublicmedia.org/justice-for-flint!