The Climate Crisis’s Impact Is Worse in Black Cities Facing Disinvestment

We talk with Jackson resident Kali Akuno, who is currently without running water for three days. We meet Kali Akuno (long-standing Jackson activist and co-founder of Cooperation Jackson), who is also joining us from New Orleans. He was there when floods inundated the predominantly-Black city and shut down its main water plant. He attributes the water crisis, which he says is a result of decades of white migration and subsequent disinvestment in majority Black and Brown cities. “What we are experiencing now is literally just the crumbling of the empire’s infrastructure,” notes Akuno, who also says he fears the state government will push to privatize or regionalize Jackson’s water system instead of giving the city adequate resources to stabilize it.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we look at this crisis of climate, class and race coming together, one of the poorest states in this country, a city that’s over 80% African American, Jackson, Mississippi. More than 180,000 people are without water for the third day. We’re talking about water to drink. We’re talking about water to flush the toilet. We’re talking water to bathe in. Officials believe the crisis could continue for years.

For more, we’re joined by Kali Akuno, longtime activist, co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, an organization that works to democratize the economy, empower the Black community.

Welcome back Democracy Now!, Kali. If you can elaborate on what the mayor has just shared with us, the description of what’s happening on the ground, and how people are coming together on the ground? We had a resident that we played just before we spoke with the mayor. He said that the state is defunding majority Black cities and mayors.

KALI AKUNO: Well, first, it’s a pleasure to be back, Amy.

Let me tell you about my current location. I’m currently in New Orleans. We took Saturday’s mayor’s warning seriously and organized regionally our allies in order to begin delivering water to Jackson. The mayor said, “You know, this is not a new situation. So we could anticipate that we were going to need some resources, independent of what the state was going to be able to offer and deliver, and in our case, not being — at least in our immediate community, not being reliant on the timeline, particularly of the state government, to deliver vital resources to our community. Too often they’ve declared emergencies and then not delivered, or not delivered in a substantial amount of time to actually help people on the ground. Our organization and several of our Gulf Coast allies mobilized over the weekend to begin gathering resources to help the Jackson people in their time of greatest need.

It is a lot worse than we expected. We’ve been under these boil-water notices, I think, as the mayor noted, for months. We’ve been under many of these on a constant level for years. So there’s been a level of awareness and preparation that many people in Jackson have been attuned to for some time. But now that we’ve kind of reached this acute phase of system failure, we are going to be a bit overwhelmed. I believe the commentator you mentioned about the situation being unsustainable, and that is what it will be for many people in our city for the next few weeks.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kali, I wanted to ask you — this infrastructure issue and the racial inequities it reveals across the country. Flint was the case several years back. Subsequent to that, there was the crisis in Newark’s public schools with infrastructure, again lead pipes in the water. And now we’re looking at Jackson. All of these cities are majority Black cities. Could you speak about the inequities in our system regarding infrastructure?

KALI AKUNO: Well, number one, it’s not by happenstance or coincidence. What we are experiencing now is literally just the crumbling of the empire’s infrastructure. As the mayor and other commentators noted, I believe everyone needs to be clear about this. If you really want to trace a lot of this back, it goes back to — I would argue, to the 1950s and ’60s with the so-called urban renewal programs and the massive subsidization of the suburbs, which facilitated white flight out of many of these major cities, Jackson being one of them. Major capital flight followed. And that has continued with very chronic programs of divestment and deindustrialization, in many cases, in most of the cities, like Jackson, which has just left crumbling infrastructure in every city that you mentioned — Newark, Flint, Detroit, we can go on. This is the story of how we got to this crisis dimension.

We must also talk about being honest and linking this to the deeper issue climate change and the threats it is posing around the world. I mean, just listening to your introduction, we’re talking about droughts in East Africa. We’re talking about record flooding in Pakistan. There is severe drought in Western Europe and the western part of the United States right now. We have to look at this — I would encourage the audience to look at all of these dynamics as a whole, and Jackson is just one of these kind of acute areas with a systemic policy around just totally subsidizing the petrochemical industry for decades now, almost a century, but particularly the United States for 50 years, is the other part of what has been driving this particular crisis, creating all of this systemic change.

And if we look at what’s being proposed on the broader level, on the one hand, you have the federal government pushing for more drilling, pushing for more kind of false solutions, as we would say in the climate justice movement, but have this aggravated infrastructure crisis everywhere, which is not adequately being addressed, in part because of the politics and where the Republicans are at on being insistent on denying climate change and being insistent on more privatized solutions, but, on the other hand, what a lot of the Democrats and the liberals are proposing are also a set of false solutions, which are based upon kind of these market dynamics which really don’t work and just continue to aggravate the inequities and the inequalities that we are facing in a city like Jackson.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kali, there are only 30 seconds left. But, there have been previous attempts to privatize Jackson’s water supply. Could you speak about that?

KALI AKUNO: Well, my fear — you know, the mayor talked about this coalition, and I also applaud that finally the governor has kind of come to his senses and is offering some support, but we need to be mindful of what they’re offering, I would argue, from the social movement perspective, in this effort to kind of pay for half of the costs of one facility — Jackson has two — of one of the facilities. While it will help, it’s kind of just putting a Band-Aid on the situation. I fear that the aid offer is just a prelude for a larger discussion about how to fix the situation. This is something I share with many others in our community. And their offering is going to be to either privatize it, because they’re going to make an argument that Jackson does not have the capacity or capability to manage its own affairs, which is totally false, or they’re going to try to regionalize it, which is the other option of kind of a threat of divesting Jackson of its critical resources and autonomies, that has been on the table for many a year.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank Kali Akuno for being co-founder and codirector of Cooperation Jackson. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this climate, class and race catastrophe that has converged in Jackson, Mississippi, where the population no longer has access to clean drinking water, to water to flush the toilet, to bathe, to use at all.

Next up, we go to Iraq, where dozens were killed in fighting after powerful Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced he’s resigning. Armed supporters are now withdrawing. We’ll go to Baghdad. Stay with us.