How do you define a crisis? What are the ingredients, and how would you measure them? Is a crisis a singular event, or a series of events? Better yet, what do you think of when you think of a crisis? Is a crisis an event like Hurricane Katrina which rocked the the Gulf Coast in 2005? Or the Soviet-era Chernobyl incident in 1986? Does crisis result primarily from an action, or an inaction; or is it perhaps an interplay of actions and inactions? Can a crisis be more confined, intimate to you as an individual–like the loss of a loved one? Or does a genuine crisis require that the human magnitude and the practical stakes be objectively higher? Is crisis then a warped version of Mills’ utilitarianism principle: the worst possible outcome, for the greatest number of people?
A key theme emerging from the Flint Community Engagement Project is the extent to which the idea of crisis is fluid–perhaps even fungible–in the context of people’s recurring spectrum of lived experiences.
Unraveling and teasing-out the peculiarities of the Flint Water Crisis requires, in part, reconciliation of these knotted conceptual layers. That process begins with a mediation on how the Flint Water Crisis even came to be called such, and ends with reflection on who gets to decide when a crisis has or hasn’t occurred. The cramped rabbit hole, from here, that one travels down is filled with considerations of what lends these decision-makers their palpable authenticity, and determining what their motives are. To be sure, the Flint Water Crisis is a complex example of crisis, both because of its novel, albeit seemingly unassailable, origins, and its stridently unclear and byzantine scope. However, what are the consequences when these meanings are unsettled, both in considering our discourse around crisis and in observing the adverse outgrowths of crisis and the level of reprieve and restitution that impacted populations like those in Flint actually receive?