For the first time, thousands of people plan to gather in Washington, D.C. and 400 other cities across six continents for the March for Science on Saturday. Organizers say the event, intentionally held on Earth Day, will be a call for "political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest."
Among the neuroscientists, astronauts, and professors who were invited to speak, there will be a very familiar face: Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, better known as Little Miss Flint. The 9-year-old girl from Flint, MI, became the symbol of the fight for clean water in the city last year, when she convinced President Obama to visit her hometown.
Unfortunately, not a lot has changed in Flint since then. Mari and her mother, Loui “Lulu” Brezzell, will be in D.C. this weekend bringing attention to the crisis. And on Saturday, Mari will address the thousands of people expected to participate in the march.
"The water is still bad. They haven't fixed the water pipes," Mari told Refinery29. "We need to use bottles of water for everything. Everything."
In the spring of 2014, the water source in Flint was swapped to the nearby Flint River in order to save the city some money. Unknown to the residents, the water in the river was highly corrosive and wasn't treated properly by city officials. As it passed through the old lead and iron pipes, lead leached into the water supply. Even though the crisis started in 2014, it didn't make national news until December 2015.
A year later, in December 2016, President Obama finally convinced Congress to let the Environmental Protection Agency award a $100 million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to upgrade Flint's water system.
"Next week it makes three years [since the crisis started.] Three years too long," Mari said. "It's not better. And there are other places around the country with bad water too."
Mari is right: Three years is too long for a place to be without clean water. And according to Brezzell, the water crisis has taken a toll in the community.
"People are losing hope and [have stopped] wanting to fight for clean water anymore," she said. "They're starting to accept whatever they tell them again."
She added, "Once Flint is no longer in the headlines, people tend to forget. It's not until I notice how Mari will hijack the conversation on Twitter, that we can sometimes get chatter again and get people to pay attention. But it's nothing like the media presence we had when [the news] broke."
As a mother, Brezzell worries constantly about the situation in Flint and what impact it will have on the lives of her children. (High levels of lead can impact children's neurodevelopment and lead is considered a potential human carcinogen.)
"[I'm] scared because I don't know what the long-term effects are going to be. I know my kids are covered in rashes every time they touch the water," Brezzell said. "At the same time, I couldn't be more proud of my child, who refuses to stand down when people tell her that she can't do something or people won't listen to her. Because she has a way of making people listen."
She added, "Mari just wants clean water. She just wants to take a bubble bath!"
Mari sent her letter to President Obama in the spring of 2016 because she planned to go to D.C. to attend the congressional hearings about the water crisis. In it, she introduced herself as "Little Miss Flint" and said she was writing on behalf of kids in the city, who also wanted clean water.
"My mom said chances are you will be to [sic] busy with more important things but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift peoples [sic] spirits," she wrote. "Thank you for all that do for our country."
Instead of just replying, Obama actually went to Flint to meet her in person. The encounter was captured in an iconic photo.
She described the meeting in just one word: "Amazing!" And in classic Obama-fashion, the former president did have some words of advice for the Little Miss Flint.
"Do. Your. Homework," Mari said, imitating the former president in her deepest voice.
Over the last year, Mari gained national recognition. But Brezzell believes that, like every other little kid, she's not really aware of the footprint she's leaving in the world.
"I don't think she realizes the implications of how much history she's writing right here, right now," she said.
However, beyond her incidental role as an advocate, Mari is still just a spunky 9-year-old girl. Her favorite movies right now are Boss Baby and Trolls. (She couldn't choose just one, she insisted to her mom.) Of course, her favorite class in school is science. Or to be more exact, "SCIENCE!"
And her heroes? "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama," she replied solemnly.
It's not surprising, then, that when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Mari's answer made it clear her sights are set on the White House. "I want to be president," she said. "I'm going to run for president in 2044."
In the meantime, she'll continue to be an advocate for kids like her who still don't have access to clean water in her city. But there's one thing Mari would really, really like people to remember about Flint.
"We're an amazing community," she said wistfully, "regardless of the bad water."