On Monday, Oct. 10, Rev. William Barber led a rally in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Mississippi. This rally is the second in a series, the first of which was held in the same spot two weeks earlier. There will be a third rally on October 24. The purpose of the rallies is to focus attention on the failure of the state government which led to the water crisis in Jackson.
These Moral Monday rallies are supported by, among others, the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, Black Lives Matter, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Southern Poverty Law Center, and local teachers and labor unions. Displayed prominently at each rally has been the slogan. “Free the Land, Clean the Water & Keep It Public!” These are the things that help unite the supportive groups.
At each rally, Barber has been the major speaker and attraction. Other speakers have included representatives from the various groups and a large number of ordinary citizens who have been directly affected by the water crisis. There have also been people representing different faith traditions – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others – to offer prayers and scripture readings. The audience has been made up of diverse residents and visiting supporters.
It was particularly significant last Monday that members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Native Americans appeared on the program. Rev. Barber acknowledged that while much of America was celebrating Columbus Day, it was quite fitting for these supporters to recognize and acknowledge the day as Indigenous Peoples Day. It was made clear that the current struggle around water in Jackson was merely part of an ongoing struggle that has existed since the days of the colonialization of America. The land and the water belong to the people and need to be freed.
The rallies, including the one two weeks away and for however long there are Moral Monday rallies, are designed to dramatize the plight of people when the land is not free and the water is not safe. They both impact the poor most deeply. They both are public matters and should be dealt with from the standpoint of their belonging to the public – not private entities.
Organizers and speakers at the rally consistently pointed out that Jackson’s water crisis did not begin last month or last year. It has been decades in the making. It resulted from years of neglect or deferred maintenance and upkeep. They pointed out that neighboring white suburbs did not experience the same problem. Those areas have received needed state funds for such upkeep. The rallying speakers pointed out that, even at this point, the state has over $2 billion in federal funds that could be and should have been provided for such infrastructure projects as Jackson’s water system.
There was heavy emphasis on the fact that the water crisis stems from the racist and class biases of state leaders over the years. The crisis did not have to have occurred and could be resolved with the proper attention from the state. As more people come to this conclusion, the nature of the problem and the options for solution will change.
As the rallies occur, however, several issues raised at other town hall meetings will still remain. These issues include:
• Why are many Jackson water bills unreasonably high?
• Why is there such a delay in responses to water and sewage problems in certain neighborhoods?
• How can biased responses from the state legislature be more effectively addressed?
• How can Jackson deal with the increased pressure to privatize the water and sewage system or have it taken over by the state?