Jackson Water Statement

For decades, America’s water infrastructure has rusted under the negligent eye of politicians who have put politics and dollar signs above their constituents. The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi reminds us of how racism and capitalist greed can threaten the supply of even the most basic human necessity.

Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America calls upon the Biden administration, the state of Mississippi, and state and local governments both in NJ and nationwide to put their money where their mouth is by funding safe and robust water infrastructure as a public utility. Access to water, necessary to sustain human life, should not depend on the profit margins available to private companies for delivering it, nor on emergency funding that is only available once a crisis point is reached. Given the vast wealth of our nation we can easily provide safe and reliable water to everyone as a public utility. This should not be in question, either in Mississippi nor in New Jersey.

The crisis of Jackson Mississippi’s water system is not merely a crisis of underfunding but is also a direct result of the profound ecological crisis wrought on humanity by climate change. Although decades of underfunding from both the federal government and the state government of Mississippi precipitated the failure of the Jackson Water System, notably the need for an additional $4.8 billion to maintain safe drinking water, two events in particular caused the system to fail as catastrophically as it did this september. While the media was largely focused on the failure of the Texas power grid that resulted from the February 2021 cold snap, the lower than usual temperatures also froze the pipes that supplied the water to Jackson Mississippi and damaged them irreparably. The situation was made worse this summer as the system endured damage from the massive floods that swept through Mississippi this summer.

At this point in the climate crisis there can be no debate between adapting to climate change or preventing it; we need to do both. An eco-socialist transition away from carbon intensive production and extraction needs to occur simultaneously with a reworking of our infrastructure to withstand the stress that will be put on it as a result of climate catastrophe or else we will see more cities struggle with the issues that Jackson Mississippi is currently facing.

In addition, the recent water main break in the Belleville area shows alarming parallels to what has happened in Jackson. In August of 2022, more than 100,000 households were affected with reduced water access after a 142-year-old water main ruptured. Like in Jackson, neglected infrastructure was the immediate cause. Contrary to what many would like to believe, New Jersey isn’t immune to images of bottled water packages and closed schools. New Jersey as of this year still has 186,830 discovered lead lines, and potentially up to 350000 from some estimates. Even outside of more momentous events like ruptures, many are forced to choose between risking unsafe water or paying for bottled water. Organizations like Newark Water Coalition still organize to bring to light continued concerns of poor infrastructure and insufficient fixes, especially in Newark where two years ago there was still estimated 24% lead piping.

Further, water privatization is rampant in New Jersey, increasing the cost of water as well as the risk of disasters like what happened in Jackson. For-profit water companies make no sense in a rational world- When a water system is given over to a for-profit company, as is currently planned to happen next year in Somerville here in Central Jersey, that company can make money (its sole objective) from that water system compared to a cost-neutral government-run system in one of two ways: Increasing the price of water for residents, or decreasing the amount spent maintaining the system (risking a Jackson-like disaster). Yet sadly some see it as the only way to fund necessary expansions to supply new houses and rising populations due to the lack of funding available to local governments for water projects.

The defunding of municipal water projects has not only occurred on the state level but was precipitated by cuts in funding on the federal level that occurred during the Reagan Administration as a result of the 1987 Water Quality Act. Republican lead efforts to “shrink government” and “lower the deficit” are not merely philosophical statements on the role of the state in private life or simple adjustments to the accounting on the federal ledger. The “Reagan Revolution” and the ideological justifications for austerity that came with it have had an immensely negative impact on the lives of the most vulnerable members of the working class who often have to shoulder the cost of republican tax cuts for the rich and the decimation of public services that result from them.

We must work within our communities and then expand outwards to recognize how much more needs to be done to repair the situation we are dealing with. Addressing poor piping in general, lead piping especially, fighting back against privatization and the usage of these crises to further increase exploitation are all incredibly necessary. As with many concerns, the solution is to build the power and organization of the working class, so we can address our social interests and concerns in ways capitalists will not. Groups like Newark Water Coalition, Food and Water Watch, and ecosocialist caucuses within DSA are working to build a movement for a more sustainable and environmentally sound world and organizing for water justice is an essential part of making the urban areas where most working class people live safer and healthier.

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