It’s not just about the water. It’s about the food, it’s about the health, it’s about the children, it’s about the disabled, it’s about the racism. It’s about human lives.
Five years later, the Flint Water Crisis is still very much ongoing. However, in reality, the Flint crisis has been ongoing long before the news media caught wind of the lead pipes. In José Casas’s newest play FLINT, he chronicles the tales of anger, fear, and betrayal that the people of Flint have endured, and continue to endure. With poignant and powerful vignettes of all types of people who have a connection to Flint, this play honors the community that’s been holding onto their strength and fighting against the system, even when the system is stacked against them.
The play starts with the story of the Father and ends with the Mother, the love of parents and the sense of community permeating every corner of the city. They feel the brunt of the Water Crisis as they watch their children drink contaminated water and watch them leave the city, where the Auntie cares for her nieces who, at such a young age, have developed an alarming distrust of the water and of life. There’s the stories of University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor who come from Flint, reflecting on the reasons why they left and how they felt when they did, and how the city never really leaves them. There’s the old Man and Woman who find love, despite the stigma associated with interracial marriages. There’s the Prom King, keeping the legacy of his high school alive while appreciating the moments of everyday joy that the media glances over while glorifying the crisis. There’s the Catholic who organizes unified relief efforts with people of all skin color, genders, and religions, only to be turned away. There’s the Boxer who fights, both physically and mentally, in his community.
There’s the optimistic Photographer, la aspiring Poeta, and the dreamer Actress, who find solace and hope in their art forms. There’s the Cashier, the Demolition Worker, the Autoworker, the Barber, and the Delivery Guy, who reflect on what makes a place a place, who see the different sides of failure, who wonder what can be made of destruction. There’s the Professor, the Commissioner, the Attorney, the Nurse, the Pediatrician, and the Sociologist, who understand how systematic and intentional the racism is, who see how the government systems in place work to oppress the ones who are already oppressed.
Flint is the home of children, parents, and old couples. It’s the home of the Black and Latinx and Deaf communities. But the government has turned that home into a place of fear and distrust. Governor Snyder failed his constituents. So did President Obama. General Motors never actually considered the city and its workers, while Nestle exploited the city to turn a profit on clean water. There are people and corporations and structures to blame, but the ones answering for these problems and shouldering the weight of it all is the community.
However, Flint and its people is not the water crisis. They are not helpless and they are not weak. They are not defined by this crisis because there is more to this place than the selfish act of the government and corporations. FLINT is the powerful compilation of the tales that have not been told, and Casas and the SMTD cast did a phenomenal job telling these real stories and giving them all a voice. As the ensemble switched between different characters, they weaved together these seemingly-separate narratives into one empowering story about one powerful community. The arch made from empty plastic water bottles was a stunning visual representation, along with the rusted lead pipes that hung from the ceiling and the graphics in the background that played clips of the Flint River, rippling waters, and much more. From the interviewing process all the way to the production, the resilient community has been at the heart of this play, not to exploit or glorify it, but to honor it and to make sure change happens.
Water is a human right. There is nothing more essential to our health and growth. The story of Flint is not an isolated one, as many cities and communities around the world are fighting for clean water, something we — the privileged — often take for granted, and as a result, often forget. Now, it is our job to never forget and always keep fighting for what is right so that our neighbors don’t have to fight alone.