Above photo: Newark Water Coalition organizes a meeting with allied groups and Rep. Donald Payne Jr.
Over the past few months, the Newark Water Coalition has tirelessly been advocating for residents of Newark and taking action to spread awareness of the Lead Water Crisis. What started as a small group of activists working to simply spread information about this crisis to residents has since ballooned into a larger movement with education, social media, and canvassing campaigns as well as a place for Newark residents to come for access to free, clean drinking water with no questions asked. The Water Coalition has always been about educating our neighbors and making sure that they are not inadvertently harming themselves or their families.
Our Coalition has been immensely successful in advocating for clean water for Newark. We have hosted demonstrations at Mayor Baraka’s State of the City address and the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). The latter captured national and international headlines, bringing more awareness to the gravity of this issue. As a direct result of the pressure the Coalition and our allied organizations are putting on the city, we have begun to see drastic measures put in place. The city has begun distributing water filters and water bottles, secured a loan to replace the lead pipes and expedited the installation of the new pipes. This is evidence of the fact that when people come together and speak out, action will follow.
Since our VMA protest, we have reached out to Congressman Payne Jr., Mayor Ras Baraka, and Senator Cory Booker. Congressman Payne Jr agreed to meet with us personally. During our conversation with the Congressman, he explained to us the actions that he was taking to address the water crisis. Our coalition made it clear that we believe he needed to take more action. We presented him with the WATER Act of 2019, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Lawrence and Rep. Ro Khanna. We urged the Congressman to read the bill and consider co-Sponsoring that piece of legislation, as it would secure funding for the replacement of lead infrastructure across the country. Hours after our meeting with Congressman Payne Jr, his office sent us an email signifying that the Congressman would co-Sponsor that piece of legislation. This is a huge step forward for the Newark Water Coalition and we are grateful for the support of the Congressman on that bill. Aside from presenting this bill to the Congressman, we also invited Congressman Payne Jr. to attend a Water Distribution event hosted by the Water Coalition on a weekly basis and we asked him to consider donating water for distribution. He responded stating that he would work to make that happen. We see this commitment to donate and attend our event as a sign of his commitment to clean water for his constituents. It would give him an opportunity to directly address the hundreds of people that come to the Water Coalition for free water every week.
Mayor Baraka’s office has not responded to our request for a meeting. Senator Booker’s office invited us to speak with a staffer, Zach McCue. Zach spoke with us regarding a piece of legislation that Senator Booker was working to pass that would allow the State to use up to $100 million of its Clean Water Revolving fund to pay for the replacement of lead pipe infrastructure. While this is not a solution to the lead water crisis; the city of Newark alone is costing over $100 million dollars to replace their lead infrastructure, this is a step towards taking the liability of replacing these pipes off the taxpayers of Newark. We, as the Newark Water Coalition, are immensely supportive of any progress towards resolving this issue. As a result, we are working towards launching a statewide campaign to have this bill brought up in the House and supported by every Congressman and Congresswoman across our State.
Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling a plan to work with progressive organizations across the state that have a track record of standing up for the rights of working people. We will stage either meetings or actions at the offices of each member of New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation in order to secure the passage of this bill and move us towards Clean Water in Newark and across our State.