After weeks of citywide water shutdowns, the water in Jackson, Mississippi, has been restored, but most of the city is still being pre-emptively notified with boiling water – until the water is tested and found to be safe for consumption. The residents are rightly still skeptical about using the water for cooking, washing and bathing. There are still areas in the city with low water pressure – a problem due to the distance to water treatment plants.
The boiling water reference and low water pressure point to longstanding infrastructure problems in the blackest city in the blackest state in the country.
Jackson’s acute water crisis began with the blizzard the week of February 15th. During the storm, almost all of Jackson was without water. Freezing temperatures burst many of the city’s aging pipes and the main water treatment plant became inoperable. Parts of the city’s water system are over 100 years old. Thousands of people came to a standstill with no access to any basic necessity for survival.
Mississippians have been dealing with unsafe water for years. Even before the storm, Jackson had some of the highest levels of lead, well above the EPA recommended levels. The Department of Health reported that 208 Mississippians are diagnosed with lead poisoning annually. The number could be higher since only Medicaid-eligible children were screened. In 2016, the state also refused to give the city the $ 400,000 it needs to conduct a corrosion protection study of the city’s water pipes. This study would be necessary to find lead in drinking water samples.
Regarding the water crisis, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann said, “During Kane Ditto’s tenure he was doing repairs to water and sewerage. So what has happened since then? “Kane Ditto was Jackson’s last white mayor before the white flight from desegregation and the resulting demographic change. Hosemann’s remark assumes that blacks cannot rule themselves and must be monitored by white overseers, and makes it clear that white supremacy is the order of the day is good and alive in the Mississippi political apparatus.
To answer Hosemann’s question succinctly: What happened during, before, and after Ditto’s administration is the continued neglect of Jackson’s black-majority population and the working class by and large by capitalist state institutions.
Hosemann denied Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s $ 1 billion request to repair Jackson’s water system. Even the $ 1 billion request was less than necessary, as some official estimates say it would take $ 2 billion to fully repair the system. Hosemann not only refused the necessary funds, but also wanted the state government to take control of Jackson’s Medgar-Evers Airport, which is one of the few sources of income for the city of Jackson.
Kwame Shakur, a volunteer with the Mississippi Winter Storm Rapid Response Fund, told Liberation News: “[the politicians] to use [the water system] than political football. “
On March 9, Governor Hosemann and Mayor Lumumba met at the Capitol to discuss short-term solutions to Jackson’s water system. They negotiated $ 47 million for immediate water distribution and treatment and a 1% sales tax for ongoing improvements. It took the state government almost a month from the start of the ice storm on February 15 to March 9 to raise these grossly inadequate funds. For most of the time, many residents were left without running or treated water.
At the state level, the political leadership blames the black people of Jackson for the crisis. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said, “I think it’s really important that the City of Jackson start collecting their water bills before they go out and tell everyone else to raise more money.”
In other words, Governor Reeves says if Jackson’s black residents just paid their water bills, the city would not be in this crisis; that the city has to rely on the outrageously expensive water bills it is burdening its residents with in order to modernize its entire water system. Reeves ignores the reality of the infrastructure breakdown, poverty and racial inequalities in Mississippi for which the capitalist political leadership is responsible, and waives his own responsibility.
The government – at the national, state, and city levels – is responsible for Jackson’s water crisis and is also responsible for repairing the entire water system. A crisis of this magnitude, caused by decades of chronic underfunding, warrants the federal government and Congress to create a statewide emergency and immediately move the necessary funding and resources to Mississippi. Neither the state government of Mississippi nor the federal government has a will to do so.
Speaking of the Mississippi political system, Shakur said, “It’s always been like this in Mississippi. If you look at the historical context, blacks never really got a fair shock in this state. I don’t expect anything to change without violence. “
Only $ 2 billion is being denied for safe, potable water for Jackson’s mostly black working class. But capitalist politicians from both parties in Congress are trying to add tens of billions of dollars to the country’s war budget. The US defense budget is higher than the next 10 countries combined. In the United States now, over 60 million people are exposed to unsafe tap water each year, and 2 million have no running water.
In the absence of government coordinated relief efforts, rapid relief efforts from many grassroots organizations have helped Jacksonians and people across the state. Local nonprofits, churches and mosques have tried to fill the void left by the state government.
Speaking to Liberation News, Caliph Wilkes, shipping coordinator for the Mississippi Winter Storm Rapid Response Fund, said, “We are out here providing water and supplies to residents affected by the winter storm, or we may still be in the aftermath of the winter storm. like people who do not have electricity yet or people who have low water pressure or maybe even financially affected by the winter storm. “The fund has helped nearly 1,000 Mississippians dispense and door-to-door water.
The lesson the working class can learn from this water crisis is that the Mississippi capitalist leadership is committed to promoting racism and poverty. It will take an organized struggle – a popular movement – to get what the Mississippi working class needs. And ultimately, it takes nothing less than a new system and government with working class leadership dedicated to eradicating racism.