At the southwest entrance to Metrocenter Mall on Saturday, Sept. 3 — the sixth day of Jackson’s current water crisis — shards of glass cluttered the sidewalk where the doors were. Inside, a city worker drove a green forklift that left streaks on the marble floor and beige carpet as he rearranged hundreds of donated water pallets one by one.
This abandoned mall, where the main tenants are the police and the water utility, has in recent weeks become the nexus of a city-wide water delivery effort called the Rapid Response Coalition, a city of Jackson-volunteer partnership with more than 30 advocacy organizations.
Donated water from around the country is brought here in 18-wheelers and then distributed early each morning to six coalition-run sites in Jackson’s predominantly black south and west neighborhoods and the most the city’s poor most affected by the water crisis.
Danyelle Holmes, a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, has spent most days outside the mall, helping manage the massive distribution effort which the coalition says has put more than 1.2 million bottles of water in the hands of Jacksonians for free.
She said the goal was to help the city with its distribution efforts and fill gaps in the state’s response.
“We saw a lack of response from our government – the leadership of our state government, and so we decided two years ago when the pandemic hit that we weren’t going to wait for anyone to come. save us,” Holmes said. “So it’s our goal and it’s our mission to save us.”
READ MORE: Mississippi Today’s full coverage of Jackson’s water crisis
Two and a half weeks into the current water crisis, the coalition has scaled back operations as the city and state restore water pressure at the OB Curtis water plant and focused on the boil water advisory. This week, only two coalition sites – Westland Plaza and Oak Forest Community Center – are still open daily, with the others operating just two days a week. Volunteers are prioritizing home delivery, Holmes said.
Now the coalition is focused on crafting demands – tentatively scheduled to be released this week – for a long-term solution to the water crisis. They hope to pressure heads of state to adopt solutions they see as fairer.
There are currently a handful of proposals on the table to fix Jackson’s water system, but each option would involve Jackson handing over some control of its water system to an outside party, whether an entity or a state commission, a regional authority or a private company. .
For many activists, the state and, to some extent, the federal government are responsible for the water crisis, not the city. Any movement that infringes on Jackson’s control over its water system seems to suggest the city is responsible for the crisis – a notion they attribute to racism. They point out that the water crisis would not have happened without white lawmakers withholding state funding.
“We’ve only had black leaders for the last two or three terms, so how can you blame that divestment on the fact that we have black leaders?” asked Lorena Quiroz, executive director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity.
One proposal in particular – privatization – has been widely condemned by activists. State leaders have suggested the city could lease its water system to a private company to manage operations. In the second week of the crisis, Lumumba said the city had been in talks to outsource operations and management.
When some Jacksonians hear the word “privatization,” they imagine a for-profit corporation buying the water system outright.
Private water systems cost customers more, although research has shown they are less likely to violate federal drinking water laws than public utilities.
Private water systems can also be less accountable to the public, which some campaigners say could be problematic at a time when trust needs to be restored in the system.
“The problem with privatization is that they control what they think is best for us,” said Cooperation Jackson member Imani Olugbala. “If it’s run by the government, we have some oversight. If it’s exclusively for profit, we have to pay the water price, and that’s all they’ll say, because that’s capitalist construction. And after, the air?
Many also noted that it’s ironic that state leaders who ignored Jackson’s water crisis are deciding the response.
“I would have liked to see faster movement at the state level, because it seemed like it was weeks before we heard anything from Governor Reeves,” said Blaise Adams, a pre-school student. -Right to Tougaloo College which distributed water at IAJE collection site. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been worked on proactively.”
Quiroz wondered if Jackson’s water system could ever be truly fixed in a stratified capitalist economy.
“Water should be free. We shouldn’t have to pay for water,” she said. “It should be something that is provided by the fucking state.”
The work of distributing free water may not seem radical during a crisis, but for Holmes and other members of the Rapid Response Coalition, it is a model of how another, better society could operate.
Since the water emergency began, coalition members have held an 8 a.m. Zoom call to discuss plans for the day. They collectively decide how to allocate their resources — how much water should be allocated to each of the six collection sites based on how much was distributed the day before, and who should respond to emergency calls the city’s 311 line receives from Jacksonians. who need water.
The approach to activism is known as ‘mutual aid’, in which members of a community to bring resources that the government has omitted in a way that seeks not to recreate systematic disparities. A term invented by A famous anarchist, Mutual Aid also aims to create social change by mobilizing collective work to achieve a political end.
“We are creating our own system while pushing to change current systems that are failing people,” said Lea Campbell, founding president of the climate justice organization Mississippi Rising Coalition at the IAJE site at the corner of Fortification and N West Street. .
That Saturday morning — the same day Holmes was at the Metrocenter Mall — about 17 volunteers stood between cases of bottled water on the sidewalk. An occasional snag like the backdoor of a slow-closing Honda minivan held up the line.
Some members donned red to show they were members of the local Democratic Socialists of America; others, students from Tougaloo and Oxford, wore shirts that read “DO GOOD” and “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
“We have everyone at home,” Quiroz said. She surveyed the line with the attitude of a schoolteacher (she was one) watching the pick-up of cars, inviting passers-by who stopped for water to park their cars and volunteer.
It’s important that organizations like the IAJE respond to disasters, Quiroz said, because many people cannot afford expensive, personal solutions like buying their own water or installing filtration systems.
“It’s like the Roe v. Wade decision,” she said. “People who have money can access abortion as health care, they just have to get in their car and drive.”
It can be messy work. At Metrocenter Mall, the coalition’s base of operations was right next to a distribution site operated by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Filled with undrinkable water, porta-potties, military-style forklifts and dozens of uniformed National Guardsmen, MEMA’s site was very different from the Coalition’s.
“The National Guard has a lot more money than us, the state has a lot more resources, so we can’t start being competitive,” Holmes said. “It’s comparing apples to oranges.”
As Holmes spoke with Mississippi Today, a dozen volunteers sat on empty wooden pallets, waiting for workers inside the mall to finish unloading an 18-wheeler of water. At one point, an employee of the city’s water department tried to drive a forklift despite having no experience.
Kadin Love, an organizer with the Black Youth Project 100, said he believes the solution to the crisis is better state and local representation of black Mississippians that will only be achieved if activists across the country invest time and effort. money in the state at a level not seen since Freedom Summer.
“Money doesn’t flow here, people don’t come here to help organize us,” he said. “We had to systematically solve our own problems since 1964.”
His experience last year of watching the ignored national news as it unfolded in Jackson didn’t exactly make him optimistic.
“Mississippi was the epicenter of the fight for abortion, but we didn’t see millions of people here organizing,” he said. “In Jackson, at some of our biggest protests, we reach maybe 200, 300 people.”
“Why didn’t we have support before? ” He continued. “Why are we the last line of defense? »
Are you concerned about Jackson’s water crisis?
Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts.