Congress, administration must protect water in Flint, Standing Rock
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Political obstruction is literally poisoning us.

This week, Congress is poised to leave Washington, D.C. until the new year and has not yet approved funding to address the water crisis in Flint, Mich. - despite their promise to do so. Meanwhile, one thousand miles from Flint, water protectors at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota are celebrating the temporary halting of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. As the president-elect supports completion of the pipeline, the threat to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s access to clean water remains.

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Congress’ failure to send aid to Flint and President-elect Trump’s threat to overturn hard-won protections has led to the poisoning of the most basic of human needs - water. Ironically, but not surprisingly, those obstructing access to clean water will never have to experience a life without potable water as communities in Flint are now, for the second holiday season in a row. They do not have to fight for their land. Instead, they approve lucrative business deals to build through sacred ground.

Those of us who fight for social justice know that it is no coincidence that the communities bearing the burden in Flint and Standing Rock are low-wage communities of color. In both Flint and Standing Rock, majority of residents are people of color, with poverty rates three times higher than the national average. We also know too well the disproportionate impacts of these injustices on women. Poisoned water not only compromises women’s health but also our bodily autonomy, economic security, and ability to live, work, love, and parent with dignity.

As a North Dakotan with indigenous American roots, the protection and the plight of native people and lands has always been important to me. As a black woman, I know all too well the direct result of silencing the voices of the voiceless. As a feminist and the president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, it is my life’s mission to ensure that the voices of the most marginalized are amplified and that everyone has the same social, political, and economic opportunities.

That is why, throughout my career, I have chosen to speak often of our responsibility to not simply drink from the wells dug by the fierce women activists who have come before us but to maintain them; indeed, to build new wells while protecting the one’s that we have struggled to build.

These actions and failures to act are nothing less than direct assaults on the lives of women of color. In the case of Standing Rock, those assaults have moved from creating hazardous and deadly conditions to actual physical acts and state-sanctioned dehumanization of peaceful protesters. Communities are being destroyed right now. Voices are being silenced and bodies criminalized over access to water and rights of the sovereign nation to protect their lands. These actions and failures to act by Congress speak volumes about our country’s legacy of appropriation and systemic discrimination. Discrimination that these communities have fought long and hard against.

In effect, the failure to appropriate necessary dollars to Flint and the direct actions resulting in violence against protesters in Standing Rock, is political obstruction, poisoning communities. But understanding this allows us to see clearly what the antidote is - dismantling the oppression of marginalized communities.

Congress and the incoming administration must take action. Before Congress adjourns to celebrate the holidays, they should pass a budget that includes funding for Flint. The incoming administration should uphold the current decision to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through native lands.

And you can do something too. These actions rest on us holding Congress and the incoming administration’s feet to the fire.

Now is not the time to sit idly by, watching as our sisters and brothers fight for the most basic of resources. We must stand with Flint and Standing Rock. We must be diligent. We must guard their wells as we would our own. If we fail to do so, we dishonor the work of our foremothers and ensure that a system that has, since its founding, been geared to benefit the few to the detriment of the many.

Teresa C. Younger is president and CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.