( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Crossposted from Fire on the Mountain, where there are some cool grafix I had trouble crossposting…
Wednesday evening, October 21, hundreds of concerned citizens gathered to picket outside the Newark, NJ City Hall and moved the protest into the Council Chambers when the weekly City Council meeting began. Residents were indignant about illegal water terminations that had been going on for months in the city. The massive protest had been organized by a coalition of the People’s Organization for Progress, the Newark United Tenants Association, the Newark Water Group, the New Black Panther Party, as well as other concerned community organizations and residents.
These water shut-offs were most surprising to tenants who rely on their landlords to pay the water bill. In a substantial number of cases, residents were up to date in rent (which, according to their lease agreements, includes heat and water) and didn’t event know that the landlord hadn’t paid the water bill. Likewise, many residents receiving Section-8 housing subsidies have no way of even knowing if their payments are up-to-date. Their caseworkers send paperwork that result in vouchers to landlords who then get money that the welfare recipient never sees. These transactions take place without any “client” involvement, supposedly protecting the money from being misspent. When these tenants have their water turned off, they are clearly blameless.
Like many People’s Organization for Progress sponsored demonstrations, this picket and rally began with 30 or so POP & NBPP members and supporters, but these numbers quickly grew to hundreds and hundreds of angry tenants before moving inside to the council chambers. In reaction to this undeniable mass of angry citizens, the Newark City Council was compelled to reverse the draconian water policy. This was truly a people’s victory of major magnitude. But a more complicated, deeper and truer analysis must examine the background that allowed this policy to have been enacted in the first place. In many ways, this was (and still is) a government-imposed crisis, and the paper trail leads directly to Mayor Corey Booker’s office, but we’ll return to this later.
Months ago, a dedicated, young idealistic nurse, whom we’ll call Aisha, went on a home visit to an indigent mother with five children and found a nursing nightmare; an apartment with no running water. As Aisha recently explained, the rules community healthcare workers operate under require that she report children living under these circumstances. Had these rules been followed, the next step would have involved the County taking these youngsters away from their mother’s care. Aisha is a Newark resident and an active member of the People’s Organization for Progress, and this is how POP initially found out about this aspect of Newark’s water crisis.
The general issue of the city selling the water supply to outside investors was something with which POP had already become involved. Newark was historically the east coast’s Milwaukee because, contrary to popular wisdom, it has some of the best water in the entire country. This is why the breweries for the New York metropolitan area, and much of the east coast were historically located within city limits. Any corporate purchase of Newark’s water supply is not simply an attempt to make money from a staple of life that should be guaranteed to all residents, it is an attempt to control the food production industries as well.
The People’s Organization for Progress united against prior schemes to sell Newark’s water. The current double-billing and shut-offs by by Mayor Corey Booker (Newark’s celebrity mayor) to balance the city budget involves attempting to charge residents twice for their water. If the mayor’s business administrator doesn’t understand that these tenants being penalized don’t pay their water bills directly, she certainly doesn’t have the business experience her office demands. More likely, Director Thomas is “firing a shot across the bow” of businesses that are delinquent in water payments without hurting those key businesses directly. If so, this is precisely the sort of attack on residents that Corey Booker claimed to be running against when he was first elected mayor.
The battle lines were probably best explained by the protest’s organizer, Andrea Hughie chairwoman of POP’s Youth Committee. “We discovered many families that receive Section 8 housing vouchers that have been living in homes without water for weeks. These families are already financially compromised and it is disappointed the city of Newark refused to protect the rights of these tenants against the absentee landlords. We rely on city officials to help us, not hurt us.” Because sister Hughie reached out to her friends first, “this movement to protect community water was led by young people.” Faced with potential charges of money-laundering, Newark’s Hollywood Mayor “would agree to anything to avert bad publicity.
But this issue if far from settled. The people’s victory at the City Council merely gives tenants a temporary reprieve through the end of the year. “In January,” Ms. Hughie informs us, “the water cut-offs may begin again.”