This is Catherine Flowers. Veteran, teacher, water warrior. We meet Catherine at Standing Rock protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in November of 2016.
My father always taught us that the reason he was so active was because he was a Korean [war] veteran for other people to have the right to democracy, and he wasn't going to come back home and not have that access as well. I think our democracy is on life support and if we don't do something about it we won't have it.
To have them put these pipelines across the United States, and put these communities at risk, is so unfair and inhumane, because water is life. Water is life in Alabama, it’s life in North Dakota. There is a connection between the struggle and fight for water throughout the United States.
In Lowndes County we're having a problem with raw sewage being on the ground. There's no wastewater infrastructure. We're seeing raw sewage outside, near playgrounds, front yards, backyards. And for those people that have purchased on-site wastewater systems, it's coming back into their homes. We see the convergence of that condition and climate change has yielded tropical illnesses that we've found evidence of in the study. Those tropical illnesses include illnesses such as hookworm, that should have been wiped out in the first half of the last century.
So what does this say about the United States? It's saying that we have failed large pockets of rural, poor communities by not making an investment in infrastructure in those areas. The difference between Lowndes County and other rural communities throughout the United States and Flint is that Flint had failed infrastructure. In those rural communities, there is no infrastructure.
The raw sewage problem in Alabama is the result of the lack of investment in rural infrastructure, especially where poor people live. It's seen to be even more common in places where African-Americans live, because that area was once made up of plantations.
Race has been used to divide people for years and years and years and is still being used to divide people. And the only way we're going to overcome some of these other social issues that we have is we're going to have to get beyond race.
People of different races- we share the same values. Everyone wants to be able to take care of their family. Everyone wants access to health care. Everyone wants their children to have a great education. Everyone is hoping that their children will do better than they did. Those are basic values for any society, not just American society. So those are things that we share in common. The other thing that we share in common is that we're fighting the same demons, and I think that that's the part that gets lost. That young man in the Rust Belt and that young woman in Montgomery, Alabama have to know that they both want the same thing, and that if they work together, we can achieve it a whole lot quicker than if we are pitted against each other.
If we are pitted against each other, then the person or thing or institution that's behind the problems that we're all having will continue to prosper and do well and benefit from our misery.
Right now we're not a United States, because we've allowed the corruption of some of these institutions that are part of our society to permeate just about everything that we do, including how we feel about each other, instead of looking at those institutions and realizing that those institutions are the villains and the institution itself needs to change.
Once we get to that point collectively, I think that we will see a different type of United States, and a stronger country. And we'll also be able to eradicate some of the ills of these institutions, like poverty.
Catherine Flowers, 2016.