The Personal is Political for This Flint-Based Young Feminist

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

Tiara Darisaw knew something was wrong with the water in her grandmother’s home, when it tasted sweet. “Like big brown chocolate milk,” the 15-year old said.

Darisaw later discovered that this “candy water” had high levels of lead that caused brain damage in children of the Flint community. The city switched her area’s primary water source to the Flint River in the spring of 2014—sparking a water crisis that left people unable to drink from the tap, caused physical and mental development issues in children and sparked an outbreak of legionnaires disease.

Darisaw fought back through bottled water drives and speaking at public events. She also motivates her peers to get politically involved through her organization, Children for Flint. But her most significant moment was speaking alongside 23-year-old Carly Hammond, who is currently running for Michigan state representative, at a city council meeting in 2017.

There, the two advocated for the council to say no to the Great Lakes Water Authority contract because of the future negative impacts on “my life, my bills, my kids and their bills,” as Darisaw put it. The agreement sought to increase water prices due to a decrease in resources; in the end, it was revised to exclude some of the more controversial legislation due to Darisaw and Hammond’s research and testimonies.

The fight started off as personal for Darisaw: Initially, the state delivered clean water directly to residents’ homes, but the program’s cancellation made it significantly more challenging for Darisaw’s grand, great- and great-great-grandmothers to get safe water for drinking, bathing and cleaning.  

Local activists, including LeeAnne Walters and Melissa Mays, now join Darisaw in organizing protests, advocating for increased water testing and educating the community. But of all the political activists in Flint, Darisaw says her mom inspires her the most—by staying up “countless nights, ready and willing to help the community.” Her mother, LaShaya, ran unsuccessfully in the primary election for the Michigan House of Representatives in 2018. “She stood up for Flint,” Darisaw said, “when no one else would.”

LaShaya’s campaign revealed a big part of the political problem: Most of Flint’s representatives don’t live there. That’s why Darisaw plans on running for precinct delegate and city council when she turns 16, so that the city’s leadership will finally have an insider perspective about “issues that we deal with daily.” Her work knocking doors and phone banking during her mother’s political run prepared her to campaign, and to get ready for her upcoming challenge, Darisaw attends city council and town hall meetings and participated in a workshop on running for office as a progressive candidate.

Her goal? To give Flint an elected official who lives likes its residents and speaks “from the heart.”

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Elena Eisenstadt is the photography manager for jGirls Magazine and the web editor for her school's newspaper. She was a reporter on The Trace's "Since Parkland" project and will be interning at The Philadelphia Citizen in 2020.