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Update, August 31, 2022: This story was originally published March 9, 2021, and the interviews below reflect the crisis of that time. On August 29, 2022, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced the current water system emergency in Jackson, following a new water boil advisory that began July 29, 2022. Scalawag is working on updating the list of resources below to reflect current mutual aid efforts.
Click here to jump to the list of mutual aid groups in Jackson, Mississippi who are providing water and other resources to residents.
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:
Margins: Working to strengthen the ability for Black women to parent with support including bill assistance, avenues for self care, childcare, activities for children and parents, and monetary help. Currently providing diapers and other parenting resources. They're accepting financial donations via PayPal by way of reparations or program support.
Cooperation Jackson: Building a solidarity economy anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned and democratically self-managed enterprises. They are a grassroots organization that is working to ensure their West Jackson neighbors are safe and cared for during the water crisis. You can financially support Cooperation Jackson here.
Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity: The grassroots and mutual aid-centered nonprofit is distributing water from their headquarters at 406 W. Fortification Street in Jackson. IAJE has been a rapid response organization for water crises in the past, and the new space has allowed for a greater capacity to deliver water. They are currently seeking volunteers, trucks to help with transportation of water, and financial donations.
Jackson Free Clinic: Across the street from IAJE is the Jackson Free Clinic. This student-led organization offers medical, dental, and psychiatric services to uninsured residents of the greater Jackson metro, but will instead be serving as a water pick-up location along with waterless hygiene products. You can donate to their cause here.
Mississippi Food Network: The Mississippi Food Network feeds more than 150,000 people in Mississippi each month by utilizing a network of 430 member agencies. They are now using their network and resources to help with the current water crisis in Mississippi, and can use financial support.
Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund: The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund has continued to support oppressed communities in the state with the opening of its distribution site at the Fundshack at 2210 Hill Avenue. The site will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. and water can be found in their community pantry. They can be financially supported via PayPal here.
MS Rapid Response Coalition: Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition is a state-wide effort to address emergencies that impact residents. The coalition includes dozens of organizations, and this effort is led by the Jackson-based People's Advocacy Institute. The group is currently in need of in-person volunteers to help distribute water and canvas Jackson to prioritize needs. The coalition is distributing water daily from multiple locations and has a $2 million goal that can be contributed to here.
Working Together Jackson: A local coalition calling for water donations to distribute in South Jackson. Donors can bring potable and non-potable water to the New Horizon Church International located at 1770 Ellis Ave. in Jackson, or donate in cash.
Greater Allen Temple AME Church: The church is accepting water drop-off donations at 1650 Topp Ave in Jackson. You can also send money labeled "water donation" to help purchase water for distribution via CashApp: $GATAMEC.
This list is by no means comprehensive; If you know about projects that should be included, email us at email@example.com. We'll be updating as we hear more. A note: some of the resources we've shared here contain individual's personal information. Please respect peoples' privacy, and if the document we've linked to has specific instructions, do follow them.