Fall 1904. One of the first Buicks ever produced rolls up Church street in Flint, Michigan. The driver, Buick engine manager Walter Marr, makes a left onto W. 2nd, turns left onto Traverse Street, another left onto W. 3rd, and then back up Church. David Buick, the owner of a fledgling automobile company, is seated as passenger. They’ve been driving in this pattern all day, as Bill Durant peers through the window of his childhood home and sips a glass of water while eyeing the men. Ever since Bill returned to his hometown, the two tirelessly attempted to convince him of the potential for this new method of transportation. The future of Buick seems bleak and unpredictable, as both men had no idea of the demand or interest that their ‘horseless carriage’ would be met with. Regardless, Bill would meet any challenge the rollout might face, regardless of how grim. Their persistence was met with the skepticism you would expect from one of Michigan’s most renowned business minds.
As David and Walter made what undoubtedly felt like the thousandth left onto Church street, both men perked up. Pulling up to the corner of Church and W. 2nd, Walter cranks his window down and smiles up at Bill, who stands silently in front of him. Without a word, Bill enters the Buick and the men drive off together. On that fall day in 1904, a Buick carried within it the genesis of the middle class in what would soon become the wealthiest empire the world has seen.
Fall 1908. William Durant incorporates his holding company, General Motors . The day after incorporating, Durant purchases Buick. GM acquires Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and many others in a vast expansion that led them to become one of the largest multinational corporations in America. Today, they remain an industry giant, with over $150 billion dollars in revenue, 11 percent of the global market share, and 216,000 employees.
What happened between that car ride and the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate inexorably bound to the fate of the US economy is a story deeply rooted in Michigan’s history. America’s road to prosperity is a winding journey encompassing countless innovators and laborers. Underneath the streets of Flint, MI you will find many of the roots of American innovation and prosperity. As Flint is now left plunging into the depths of poverty, the relevance of this story only grows. And it will continue to grow until it encompasses every facet of American existence.
At the turn of the century, the American middle class was born in Flint; today, once again starting in Flint, the American middle class may die. But we don’t have to let it. The system failed the residents of Flint, but we don’t need to succumb to the system’s failings. Flint needs their countrymen to stand by their side, not relegate them to the passing trends of a vicious 24-hour news cycle and the sort of social media that revels in self-gratification rather than progress.
On October 13, 2014 General Motors stopped using Flint water because it was causing corrosion in their equipment. The Governor then pulled some strings to get GM hooked up to the clean water coming from Lake Huron, where the Detroit Water Plant sources their water. This cautionary measure follows a pattern of behavior within several organizations in Michigan that reveals foreknowledge of the crisis. It is a testament to the time we are living in when the residents of an iconic American city are knowingly poisoned by their own government, while the corporation that transformed our economy solely off the labor of this very city is spared in the destruction. The commonalities between GM and the government are quite simple: They both have zero interest in the health and safety of the citizens of Flint, or the citizens of America for that matter. It is time we come to terms with that, acknowledge the growing irrelevance of systems that do not serve us, and begin large-scale grassroots organizing to gather as many resources as we can for Flint. The blood is on the government’s hands, but the future is in ours. Any failure to resolve this situation is now on the conscience of the people, and inaction will undoubtedly lead to the complete breakdown of American society.
2016 will either be the moment we collectively realize the possibility to fix the exacerbating issues that plague our country, or the year when we collectively fail our once robust middle class, abandon our own, and watch the American Promise mutate into nothing more than a mass delusion we cling onto in order to distract from the very real possibility that for the right price, your own government will poison your children. 2016 will be the beginning of the end, or the next chapter in the development of American revolution. Choose wisely.