It took 90 minutes for a candidate in the first night of the Democratic debates in Michigan to talk about one of the state’s—and the country’s— worst environmental crises in history.
Amy Klobuchar was the first candidate on Tuesday to point out that people in Flint are still drinking bottled water, five years after the city’s contaminated drinking water left tens of thousands exposed to elevated lead levels—and 12 people dead from an illness thought linked to the contamination.
Then, it was Marianne Williamson’s turn.
Although she was given little time to speak during the debate, Williamson used that moment to make her mark by underlining the government’s treatment of individuals living in cities that are comprised of predominantly African Americans and other minorities. Williamson described the situation in Flint, and other cities in the U.S., as “environmental injustice.”
“My response is Flint is the tip of the iceberg. I was in Denmark, South Carolina, where it is a lot of talk about it being the next Flint,” Williamson said. “We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country who are suffering from environmental injustice. I assure you I lived in Gross Point. What happened in Flint would not have happened in Gross Point, this is part of the dark underbelly of American society.”
Williamson went on to warn that the “dark psychic force” of “collectivized hatred” being created by the president is contributing to the environmental injustice.
“We need to say it like it is, it's bigger than Flint,” Williamson said. “It's all over this country. It's particularly people of color. It's particularly people who do not have the money to fight back, and if the Democrats don't start saying it, people feel they're there for us, and if those people don't feel it, they won't vote for us and Donald Trump will win.”
The crowd in Detroit erupted in applause—one of the loudest ovations of the night.
But Williamson didn’t stop there. The candidate continued to underscore the racial injustices writ large in the U.S., calling for $500 billion in financial assistance for reparations for slavery. Asked how she came up with the number, Williamson did the math on stage.
“It's not 500 billion dollars in financial assistance. It's 500 billion dollars, 200 to 500 billion dollars payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is,” Williamson said. “We need to recognize when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with. If you did the math of 40 acres and a mule, given there was 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War, and they were probably 40 acres and a mule for a family of four, if you did the math today it would be trillions of dollars, and anything less than a hundred billion dollars is an insult, and 200 to 500 billion is politically feasible.”
On the issue of student loan debt, Williamson managed to carve herself out another distinctive moment, taking her 2020 rivals to task on stage.
“I look at some of you and I almost wonder why you’re Democrats,” Marianne Williamson said. “You almost think something is wrong with using the instruments of government to help people.”