Originally posted: September 16, 2017
Updated: January 8, 2020
“… We need to hold the Lead industry accountable
for what has happened in Flint….”
If you don’t want to read my story about how this moment came about – but just want to get right to the video, please scroll down [and make sure to turn the volume up on your computer) to see a video clip – a one-minute snippet – edited from news footage from television coverage of my presentation with Bernie Sanders in Flint, Michigan in February of 2016 (just before the presidential primaries]. This clip is in the opening to my documentary feature film on childhood Lead poisoning in America today, MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic.
… otherwise… read on…
The story of how this event happened is kind of a funny story…
I had been to Flint twice before, that winter (January / February 2016).
Visit #1 to Flint – January 2016:
During my first visit to Flint that winter I hosted a free, open-to-the-public preview screening of my film at the Flint Institute for Arts, which is where I first met several of the mama bear activists on the forefront of the advocacy in Flint. For me this was a poetic opportunity – as decades earlier my mother had had her artwork on display at the Flint Institute in 1969, around the time I was born [I was born in Saginaw, Michigan].
Visit #2 to Flint in 2016 – February 5-6-7, 2016
My second visit to Flint was a few weeks later (early February, 2016) — this time with a cameraman and funding for a few days of filming. We spent time interviewing families and testing water for people (and filming the water tests too!)
- February 8, 2016 I made an unexpected stop in Durham, New Hampshire on the way home from Flint…
Visit #3 to Flint – Thursday, February 25, 2016:
And then I planned a third visit to Flint for February 25th. I had worked with Heidi (my editor on the film), and we had cut in the first cut of the Flint footage and wanted to hold another preview screening of the film with the Flint footage IN Flint to get the reaction of the people of Flint – to help make sure they felt accurately- and respectfully-represented by the section of the film that was about what was happening in Flint. We also coordinated free Blood Lead Level testing in conjunction with this event, and distributed more than 1,000 free Lead paint test kits.
The picture below was taken at the blood Lead testing part of the event,
after the presentation with Bernie.
How did Bernie get involved with this event?
Because of the timing of this event (right before the 2016 primaries), I had called all of the presidential candidates, and invited/urged them to participate in this town meeting if they were available on the date of the event [which I had organized for the purpose of providing straight answers to the many traumatized and concerned parents and others in the community about what they could expect, and what they could do for their children after chronic Lead exposure/Lead-poisoning — and educate them about the issue and the resources that were available to them]. I invited everyone — including Trump and Hilary!) to make sure the event was bi-partisan, and inclusive [Lead-poisoning does to discriminate; it is not a partisan issue]. Not a single political candidate stepped up to accept my invitation.
Just about a week before the planned day of the event, [but after I had already secured two possible available locations for the event – The Flint Institute of Art and Woodside Church] we were starting to panic — we still hadn’t found a sponsor (primarily needed to cover the projection costs for the preview of the film – just about $1,500 – that was going to be a key part of the event) and I reluctantly realized I had to put the event on hold – essentially concluding I would have to cancel the event – just a few days before it was to happen [but I had not yet announced that it was going to be cancelled]…
…and then — literally moments before I was about to officially announce that, due to a lack of sponsorship (and political interest/courage), the event was going to be cancelled — on the afternoon of Friday, February 19, 2016, Bernie Sanders’ Michigan Campaign manager (Ryan Hughes, a dashing young man from Boston!) called me and asked “Hey Tamara, are you still going to hold that event in Flint? Does Thursday, February 25th still work?”(!)
Bernie wanted to accept our invitation and come speak at the event…the event I was about to cancel — the invitation to which no other presidential candidate had even bothered to respond!
And – of course (given the opportunity presented an unparalleled chance to get the issue of childhood Lead poisoning prominently front and center on the political stage and in national news), I responded, “Yes — it’s on; everything is a “go”; we’d love to have him there!”
…And then spent the next few days pulling a rabbit out of my a#@ – making an un-sponsored event happen that had been all-but-cancelled (coordinating the speakers, the projection, the refreshments, the flights, and other resources for the event – like free blood Lead testing and free Lead paint test kits for everyone there)…with almost no time left to “restart” the “stopped game clock” — and only “seconds left” on that “clock”!!
Luckily, prior to my new life as a Lead-poisoning prevention advocate/environmental activist/filmmaker, I had been a professional event coordinator for more than a decade (including a stint in 1997 holding a formal position with the fairly important title of “Event Coordinator for the County of Marin”!), so making this happen last minute was not quite as “impossible” as it might have been for someone else… except this time The Secret Service was involved!…
Part of my text thread with Ryan from Saturday, February 20th…
Part of my text thread with Ryan from Monday, February 22nd…
Let’s title this one “last minute changes”!!!
And then The Secret Service got involved…
Once The Secret Service got involved, they all-but 100% took over the event! They had to background check and approve all of my speakers and participants (other mothers of Lead-poisoned children who I flew in from all over the country to speak at the event). They also had to rearrange and approve the order of things for the day of the event.
Text message from Ryan – Wednesday, Feb 24, 2016
More last minute changes!
The event was originally going to be a preview screening of the film, followed by a post-screening discussion with Bernie Sanders and a panel of mothers of Lead poisoned children from around the country (offering advice and guidance to the parents of Flint – based on our experience treating and parenting Lead-poisoned kiddos.)
Instead, it unexpectedly truly became a “Bernie event”! [I bet Bernie may not even realize/remember it was originally my event — if he even remembers who I am, let alone the impact this event likely had on my advocacy!]
The newly-reorganized event opened with a community forum and panel discussion – with a handful of Michigan residents (and myself & Bernie), followed by a preview screening of my documentary film and post-screening discussion with mothers of Lead-poisoned children (from Texas, Massachusetts, Oregon and Minnesota)… with the film being more of an afterthought than central to the event — but at least Bernie’s team covered the cost of the top-quality projection equipment, so I no longer needed to worry that we didn’t have a sponsor to cover that! 😉
…And that’s how I ended up on stage, with Bernie Sanders by my side, in the middle of the winter, during a giant snow storm (it was such a bad snow storm that school had been cancelled!) in a church in Flint, Michigan, speaking to 500 people who braved a huge snow storm to come hear a discussion about childhood Lead-poisoning.
Bernie said later (in a T.V. interview done after the election), that it was “his favorite event of the campaign trail” that year (one of his two stated favorites, as I understand it!)
That’s me – always up for a last-minute challenge! Oy!
Here’s some links to news coverage and photos of the event:
A note to my detractors…
So I’ve been vetted by the Secret Service – have you? [and this was not even the first time in my life that I was vetted by the Secret Service! ;-)] Who’s legit now, Snopes? Lol!
As always, thank you for being here and for reading and sharing my posts.
As noted above, this scene (the one minute from that presentation below) is also the introduction to my documentary feature film on childhood Lead poisoning. If you have not yet seen the full preview screener of the film it is up on YouTube temporarily [extended to January 21st!]. The full film is 92 minutes long. Here’s the direct YouTube link to watch it: https://youtu.be/eRKlaC2EjL0 [Please leave a comment, and a “Thumbs up” if you are so inclined, and please also subscribe to my YouTube channel!]. The preview of the film has had nearly 15,000 views on YouTube as of 1/8/20 at about 1:00 a.m. (when I am updating this post!)