Press Conference Reflection: Out of Work Actress Decides to Become Environmental Engineer

I was excited about the idea of the press conference assignment, as I love drama and had thought it was going to be primarily an acting assignment. What I envisioned when first given the assignment via email was a mix between improv theatre, based on a character sketch, and a play in that we somewhat had a plot to follow. Some of this plot stemmed from the assignment and the fact that we were given the opportunity to plan as a team how we would act in the press conference. But the other way a “plot” materialized for me was that we had more knowledge than our characters actually had, we knew their future and already thought of them as villains.

I was actually kinda disappointed when I was assigned Lynette Stokes, since I had wanted to play “the really bad guy”. From my press packet it seemed like this Lynette Stokes from the DOH was fairly innocent. She had helped to send WASA pamphlet information meant for the public, but in that very pamphlet lead levels were reported as complying with the EPA and LCR’s LAL limits. There was a phone call that she knew about happening which triggered the DOH to help WASA make the pamphlet, but she was not part of the phone call nor did she have a transcript. So from these two facts it was a possibility that- to her knowledge- WASA and WAD were meeting all LCR requirements and that there was not a lead in water problem in 2002/2003. Stokes knew there had been questions raised about lead service lines, and that the DOH’s Jerusalem Bekele had reached out and gotten a response from WASA basically describing the current lead service line replacement program and being told it was not likely to change. The only somewhat damming fact Stokes knew (from the press packet) was that she was copied on an email, encouraging but also inquiring about the validity of only counting homes with lead pipes and discarding homes with no lead pipes, but lead solder, as at risk. From my background of engineering and following the Flint MI crisis, I knew that the homes with lead solder should be included in the “at risk” category, but from my press packet I was not sure if Lynette Stokes’s character would have known. I decided to do some sleuth work to find out what kind of background, intelligence, and characteristics, such as initiative or integrity, my interpretation of Lynette Stokes in 2004 should have. By this time I had been informed that I was not actually playing Lynette Stokes herself as she might have acted, but that I was deciding how I wanted the character of someone with Lynette Stokes knowledge (press packet) position (DOH) and background (doctor and ?) to react at the press conference. While I realized I was not obligated to be playing her character I was interested enough by this confusing character sketch I’d been given: told all the press conference players were unethical, ruthless, incompetent villains who purposefully put the public at risk from Dr. Edwards’ background speech, but also handed a packet specifically about this person Lynette Stokes, who, from my interpretation seemed, if not entirely innocent, certainly not guilty of purposefully covering up a lead in city water problem.

As it turned out from my internet sleuthing, she wasn’t guilty, at least not yet…At the time of the press conference it seemed (from what Dr. Edwards could later prove) that she may not have known about, or acted to cover up, the lead crisis until after the press conference happened. But, I learned, she would go on to lie about the blood tests of children with high lead levels. (Yes a Doctor, PhD, and MPH, falsified real people’s blood tests and STILL IN 2018, is Chief at the DC Department of Health Environmental Health Administration!!) See http://flintwaterstudy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Appendix-A.pdf . So I was blown, why was I given all this information that set me up to seem innocent, if not willfully ignorant? And how should I act now at the press conference knowing that in the future this person would join the Dark side?

I decided that just because I knew Lynette Stokes would become a bad guy didn’t actually effect how I was planning to portray her: as the most out of the know of the agencies, mostly innocent-perhaps not even knowing of the problem until the Post article came out, and concerned about reminding people of lead in dust and soil and keeping CDC funding. It didn’t occur to me that she could be the hero of the group claiming the DOH tried to question WASA to be tough on the lead service line replacement program and being thwarted. Instead I just said the DOH asked about it and was told WASA was doing its job. My team had decided previously that we would all evade responsibility, blame each other and essentially not work with the public to help them find out what happened. When we decided this (and before I researched Stokes) it had seemed like a good plan for the assignment to tie Stokes and the DOH to the sinking ship of bad people, by not having her actively work against them.

I think we chose this for a number of reasons:

  1. It was by far the easiest option, to prepare for, to enact and feel good about. No one specifically flat out lied (at least on purpose), but no one went out of their way to inform the public about every detail they or their organization knew.
  2. We didn’t have to think about how to lie to the public. We just had to think about how not to say anything of substance and play the childish blame game, “Well maybe my agency did X, but we’re under Y and get our orders from them.”
  3. We didn’t have to think about a plan for public recovery (though from the assignment I was confused as to if we had the power to give free filters and bottled water to all of DC or call FEMA or do anything.
  4. Mostly, we did not need to be creative.

And there you have it folks, my first big gig and I blew it, acting in the least creative way, exactly as I thought I was supposed to. After I thought that maybe the point was that we all were supposed to go into the press conference thinking of ourselves as mostly innocent, or at least not entirely responsible. And I think that was some of it, but now I really think it was an exercise in “organized thoughtlessness,” of telling ourselves that our character’s or agency’s actions didn’t really matter, or more so, that our character/ agency couldn’t have made a difference in the situation. That we had to fall into the future we knew was written, of angry residents feeling betrayed by bureaucrats who didn’t step up and didn’t seem to get it and didn’t take initiative or responsibility at the press conference. Why else, besides pure laziness, and lack of creativity, would I choose to play the part as I thought it had likely been played, not maliciously, but thoughtlessly? As a DOH employee not concerned by an email saying we should discard people with lead solder as at risk, not thoughtful enough to question why WASA would call the DOH and want such a quick turn-around for a seemingly pointless pamphlet. Maybe Lynette Stokes wasn’t to blame for not adding corrosion control or lying about water samples, but she was to blame for not paying attention. It’s as if she tuned in, turned on and dropped out. Stokes decided, consciously or not, to not think about, or question, her work and I think that’s where things started going wrong for her – and my acting career.

You know you love me. xoxo Ethics Girl

 

2 Responses to “Press Conference Reflection: Out of Work Actress Decides to Become Environmental Engineer”

  • Qishen Huang:

    When I did the press conference, I started to plan in a way that can really improve the situation. I thought on behalf of the civilians but also tried to let myself get out of the most responsible position. However, I find this turns out as another way of playing a “good person”, but still excusing myself from the responsibility. My strongest feeling is that how hard it could be when losing trust from the public.

  • Qishen:

    When I did the press conference, I started to plan in a way that can really improve the situation. I thought on behalf of the civilians but also tried to let myself get out of the most responsible position. However, I find this turns out as another way of playing a “good person”, but still excusing myself from the responsibility. My strongest feeling is that how hard it could be when losing trust of the public.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.