Have you heard about Flint, Michigan's, contaminated water, poisoning thousands of residents?
Children are sick, their future health is compromised from irreversible lead poisoning and there’s been a spike in cases, some fatal, of Legionnaires’ disease.
The water pipes of the entire city have been destroyed by corrosion such that they must be replaced.
How can this happen, you may ask?
The answer is destruction of the deliberative processes of democracy at the local level. Too many of Michigan's citizens stayed home on election day and there came into power an extremely conservative legislature who sealed their power in place by gerrymandered districts.
While cutting taxes for corporations, that legislature enacted a provision allowing the state to take over cities in financial distress, install a financial manager accountable only to the autocratic governor and leave elected city officials completely powerless.
Well, Michiganders rightfully hated that law so much that they passed a citizen's initiative to repeal it. However, due to gerrymandered districts, they re-elected the same state legislators who immediately passed the financial manager law again, now with a provision that citizens couldn’t repeal it.
Flint lost its auto manufacturing tax base and fell into bankruptcy. Almost half its population is gone. The governor appointed a financial manager who, in April 2014, thinking only of cutting costs, changed the source of Flint's drinking water from the clean waters of Lake Huron to the notoriously contaminated (with automotive waste) Flint River.
As the contamination became evident, state agencies of environmental quality and public health, also under the control of the governor, failed to act. And the governor ignored the reports of illness and death for many months.
Elected city officials held office in name only and couldn't do a thing to save their own people though they tried. It took out-of-state researchers and a courageous doctor who treats the children to force the issue.
It gets worse for Flint! Residents now have their contaminated water shut off for not paying the high bills for water they can't drink. State lawyers cite state sovereignty to block accountability lawsuits.
Your tax dollars are paying for bottled water to be delivered to Flint residents by that “intrusive” federal government so many love to hate because that “over reaching” President Obama sent the National Guard to directly help the people.
The Michigan governor asked the president to use funds for natural disasters to rebuild Flint's infrastructure (the president had to refuse). The same old awful federal government is investigating the failure of Michigan state government to meet drinking water standards.
Meanwhile, our U.S. senators and representatives (also from gerrymandered districts) are passing bills to roll back surface water quality standards implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency.
If you can hardly stand the tediously slow and often contentious battles your local elected officials go through on issues like streets, water, schools and sewage, such that you can't stand to vote in local elections …
If you only vote in years of presidential elections (if you vote at all) and don't know about or don't care enough to vote for your state and federal representatives and senators: Think of Flint, Michigan!
Similar things are happening now in Texas, a direct result of historically low voter turnout in 2014 and gerrymandered districts. Laws to further suppress the vote have been implemented.
Texas has no provision for citizens’ initiative to override an off-the-rails state legislature. Legislation was passed blocking cities from limiting fracking within their boundaries.
We lead the nation in polluting discharges. Our state government has refused to properly fund public education, its single highest responsibility. They refuse to expand Medicaid to provide millions with health care.
Our governor brags about suing the federal government, promoted scare propaganda that the president would use military exercises to take over the state, and is now pushing a scheme (fortunately going nowhere) whereby states would override federal laws.
Austerity is being imposed with the blessings of corporate wealth all too content with their low taxes and our low-service economy.
Elections have consequences. We can only survive as families, communities, a state and a nation if we become informed on the issues and use that information to vote in local, state and national elections.
Millions have died and millions more are struggling now to achieve what so many of us take for granted and ignore, our citizenship right to vote.
Your vote is your voice (su vota es su voz), use it or lose it!
Mary Bell Lockhart is the chairwoman of the Brewster County Democratic party. Agree? Disagree? Let us publish your opinion. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.