This story was originally published by Scalawag, a journalism and storytelling organization that illuminates dissent, unsettles dominant narratives, pursues justice and liberation, and stands in solidarity with marginalized people and communities in the South. Scalawag and WURD are part of the URL Media Network.
By Tim Majors and Scalawag Editors
Photos Credit: Tim Majors
The water in Jackson, Mississippi, is still not safe to drink. The same winter storm that rocked Texas and much of the Gulf coast last month has caused catastrophic infrastructure failures and forced the city under a water boil notice first issued on February 16.
“This is the first time that we’ve ever had record-breaking, five to six straight days of below-freezing temperatures,” Ronnie Crudup Jr., Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and Executive Director of New Horizon Ministries told WURD radio in an interview on Wednesday. “Our infrastructure just could not handle that.”
The ice on the ground didn’t help the speed of government aid either once Jackson’s water treatment plant went down. “The local guys are doing the best they can,” Crudup said. State leaders have done little to help with on-the-ground needs or longer-term efforts to replace the sewer and water treatment system, estimated to cost $2 billion—six times the city’s annual budget. “We haven’t seen the federal government at all.”
“Just that ‘landmass’ in between, right? It’s just like that. We’re always last. We have to learn to make noise,” said Lorena Quiroz, Executive Director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity (IAJE). She’s lived in Mississippi for 22 years. “We just got to work.”
IAJE, Crudup and his church, and other mutual aid and faith organizations have been giving out bottled water and other essentials since the roads were safe to travel. South and West Jackson—both predominantly Black areas in the 85 percent Black city—have been the most widely affected. But the impact on Jackson and the surrounding communities that depend on the city’s water system won’t be resolved as Wal-Mart restocks bottled water. The problems that led to this crisis are decades old, and no one in Jackson knows when the water will be safe again.
Scalawag spoke with members of IAJE yesterday in Jackson while they gave bottled water out to community members, 20 days into the water crisis.
Lorena Quiroz, Executive Director of IAJE
On what she wants people outside Jackson to know about the conditions on the ground:
The weather’s beautiful. You know, if you walk around in the northern part of Jackson, it looks like everything’s fine. People are going to work. But there’s areas where mostly Black and brown folks [live] in South and West Jackson that still continue to feel the effects of this ice storm. There are people that don’t have water. And there’s people that are barely making it because they were off [work] seven to 12 days.
On the mutual aid they’re providing:
We’ve provided food. We’ve provided some funds. We’ve provided gas so that they can cook because their power went out. So, we continue to work. And we are going to continue until we can try to see what happens because there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. There’s a lot of pipes that are broken that people can’t afford to fix. So we’re going to be trying to organize around how we can support them directly—but then we also need to think about sustainability.
We’re always responding to emergencies. So now we’ve got to think long-term: How do we educate the community to be prepared for events like this?
Henry Fuller, Development Director for IAJE, political scientist, and urban regional planner
On the history of Jackson’s failing infrastructure:
This has been an ongoing fight on behalf of the City Jackson with the state of Mississippi for over 30 years.
I [worked] as the city planner for the Office of Housing and Community Development for the city of Jackson for over five years. At that time, our former mayor, Harvey Johnson, went before the Mississippi legislature and asked for commuter tax fees and toll road fees so that we could adequately address the failing infrastructure. The state rejected that proposal.
On the metro Jackson owning water right with failing infrastructure:
We provide water to certain residents in Madison County and Rankin County, in all of Hinds County—except for the separate water systems. So [Jackson is] the provider of water to all of these areas, but we’re not benefiting from that directly. They are benefiting from newer infrastructure systems that have been developed as they left the city and developed these suburbs.
On the relationship between Jackson, the majority Black capital city, and the surrounding majority-white suburbs:
The surrounding areas don’t contribute. It’s not a fair share and balance. Their ad valorem taxes go to their school districts, and all those taxes go back to where they live. So they come into the inner city area like any other major city [to work], but other cities have used tools such as commuter taxes and toll fees for those people who commute into the city, and have a significant burden and impact on infrastructure.
This is something that’s echoed in Chicago, Dallas, any major metropolitan city due to the disinvestment [in urban areas] or the suburbanization of the outside areas—resources being made in the city but taken out. [There’s] not an adequate equity when it comes to resources.
J. Efren Nunez, Community Director for IAJE
On people outside of Jackson who need help:
We serve rural areas, too—anywhere up to an hour away. They [were] very bad with the storm, too. It was bad because their water and sewer pipes broke down, the trees [fell] down on houses, and they don’t have electricity, power, gas, or water.
We provide food for them because now for days, weeks, [they’re] with no food or cannot get food or water.
Plus, it was freezing. Some people we put in hotels. Some others we provide gas stoves, blankets. For the babies, Pampers, milk. And we continue doing that. Right now it is starting to get better in the small towns.
We work to house to house, and we take it town to town.
Where to give and get help:
- Visit the city of Jackson’s government website for daily updates on water distribution efforts and locations.
- Crudup’s organization, New Horizon Ministries, and the Immigrant Alliance For Justice And Equity have both been distributing water around the city.
- The Mississippi Food Network is the state’s only food bank, in collaboration with Feeding America. Donate money or find food locally.
- The Mississippi Winter Storm Rapid Response Fund: Right now, 100 percent of their donations will go to The People’s Advocacy Institute, who are working with 30+ rural and state partners to meet emergency needs.
- The Yellow Hammer Fund and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund are two reproductive justice organizations that have been giving out water, diapers, period supplies and other items.
- Mississippi Votes is a voter rights advocacy organization that is working to end systemic infrastructure disinvestment. Right now, they are sending resources to other organizations to add to the supply of goods to distribute
- Shower Power Mississippi is a mobile shower service and nonprofit organization working to improve conditions for homeless people in the state.
- The Mississippi Rising Coalition is working with the Southern Movement Assembly to fund the Mississippi Gulf Coast Mutual Aid Group.
- The Alternate Roots Solidarity Fund provides financial assistance to people experiencing financial need, including loss related to COVID-19, theft, natural disaster, health emergency, or an inability to pay an outstanding bill.
- Cooperation Jackson is putting donations towards future training and mutual aid efforts that will provide residents of West Jackson with autonomous solutions to infrastructure problems.