For nearly two years, the city of Flint, Michigan has been living in crisis. Huge quantities of lead have infiltrated the local water system. For perspective, anywhere from five to 15 parts per billion in water is considered cause for concern by the EPA. The worst water sample in Flint had 158 parts per billion. Lead in your water doesn’t just make you sick—poisoning can cause irreversible developmental problems and learning disabilities. The city has now declared a state of emergency.
Jonathan Diener, musician and AP contributor, knows that incredible things happen when musicians align themselves with charitable causes. But beyond that, there’s a personal thread—Flint is Diener’s hometown. Now, he’s using his passion to affect change.
“I've been very active on social media lately about #FlintWaterCrisis awareness and getting people to donate to causes other than donating water bottles, which definitely is a huge help,” says Diener. “Getting water is the short-term fix, but helping the residents of Flint with irreversible damage is something I find important…We want to use our music scene to raise awareness and, most importantly, money.”
Flint has been struggling for years, but their biggest problems began when Michigan governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to help the city recover from its failing automotive industry. That manager switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to Flint river water, saving $12 million but creating a problem that was much worse. The local government neglected to invest in anti-corrosives for the lead pipes, sending extremely corrosive and lead-tainted water into households and schools.
The city of Flint is Diener’s backyard. He detailed the extent of the crisis to us, and it’s even worse than you might imagine. “Officials told the town to ’relax,’ so despite some strange smells, discoloration and overall complaints, people were then informed to boil the water before use. Keep in mind, not everyone's water was brown and crazy looking like the pictures you see on the internet,” says Diener. “First they found E.coli, then the lead levels began to rise. The reaction time was so slow and the city was ignored as usual so things continued to get worse.”
Diener’s newest concept to help Flint is a charity compilation entitled Not Safe To Drink: Music For Flint Water Crisis Relief. He’s currently in the process of finding bands to contribute. “We have my bands Baggage and BRAIDEDVEINS, Craig Owens, Grey Gordon, J. Navarro & The Traitors (Suicide Machines), Pentimento, It Lies Within and some more big names in the works who are currently talking to their labels to get permission to do this. We're encouraging as many people as possible to donate unreleased material and even record new tracks if possible.”
Already have nine songs sent to us for the comp. About 30 bands showed interested already. More on the way plus some surprises!
— NotSafeToDrink (@NotSafeToDrink) January 23, 2016
The compilation also invokes influence and participation from the city itself. “I’ve been working on videos, shirts and other things to raise money with my band Baggage whose album is very closely tied to Flint, but getting something huge like this together with so many friends around the world could help so much,” says Diener. “We're already landed a lot of great local Michigan and Flint-specific bands to the mix to make sure they have representation on something close to them, but we are also aiming big and hopefully getting some big deal bands to further the cause.”
All proceeds and donations will go directly to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF). “My friend introduced me to CFGF's Flint Child Health & Development Fund, which helps all of the children exposed to lead from their water. So far Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson and comedian Patton Oswalt have donated and posted the link to the CFGF.org,” said Diener.
Celebrities like Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore and Cher have aligned themselves in support of Flint, but Diener knows even that is not enough.
“Right now the absurdity and insanity of the neglectful Governor and the poisoned city are punchlines on late night television shows, but we want to make sure this isn't an issue forgotten in a week,” says Diener. “I'm not letting my friends and the people around the city be forgotten again after they've been waiting for decades to get help.”
For more information, follow Not Safe To Drink on Twitter and Facebook.
Donate to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint here.
If you’re a band that wants to contribute your work, email [email protected].