On this Wednesday night New Jersey Revolution Radio livestream, Heather and Brain are joined by 4 Camden residents to talk about New Jersey American Water. Mangaliso Davis, Kevin Barfield, Keith Benson, and Vida Neil all live and work in Camden NJ and are deeply committed to the health, education, and well being of their city.
History with American Water
Heather starts off the panel by discussing her most recent podcast which dealt with clean money politics and specifically American Water.
American Water is a national company, its local chapter is known as New Jersey American Water. They are in the business of privatizing water, which should be the most basic part of the public commons. When public water is privatized by a for profit entity, prices rise on average by 40% and quality drops. They make massive profits and then donate heavily to political campaigns, both democrat and republican. Locally politicians such as Donald Norcross and Frank LoBiondo have received donations from American Water.
Educators for Water Rights
Keith Benson is with the Camden Education Association. On the part of that association he recently drafted a letter titled “Shame on American Water”. American Water received 16.4 million dollars of tax credits to move their facility 8 miles from Vorhees to Camden. Now, they have the audacity to shut off the water utility of citizens of Camden. This never happened under the public utility. These educators decided to weigh in on this issue because it directly impacts their students. If students don’t have the most basic life sustaining requirements like water, that deeply impacts their capacity for learning.
Not Good for Residents but Great for Corporate Profits
Mr. Benson learned about American Water while studying the corporations moving into Camden. These businesses were given millions of dollar of tax breaks. Politicians told the residents this would be good for them and their city. Sadly, this turned out to be the opposite of the truth. The companies move in and residents are excluded from important decisions. The residents are exploited and preyed upon. The companies see them as nothing but dollar signs with legs.
A History of Neglect
Vida Neil is a former water utility employee. She saw firsthand the neglect of local infrastructure in Camden. Some of the water pipes date back over 100 years. When Camden first privatized the water 25 years ago, they put approximately 75 employees out of work. Vida explains what “walk on” ordinances are. Local ordinances and decisions are introduced days to hours before vote, so no one has time to review them. More than a few members of this panel find that behavior troubling.
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Are Bills Accurate?
Mr. Barfield relates a story about his grandmother’s water bill. After New Jersey American Water moved in, her bills dramatically increased. After investigation, it turns out they had been billing her inaccurately for a long time, and she had over a year worth of overpayment. This sheds reasonable suspicion about the accuracy of the bills of this new round of water shut offs. Residents are being left in the dark.
A Community United
Mangaliso Davis had been fighting for environmental justice for a long time and was part of a lawsuit about water quality in Camden. The residents of Camden don’t have infinite resources. Mobilizing people and groups is a struggle if you can barely make ends meet. Victories are possible though. Atlantic City was able to fight back against privatization of their water resource. Camden residents are mobilizing to take back control of what rightfully belongs to them.
To add insult to injury, the water quality is Camden is extremely bad under American Water. The local politicians all have water coolers in their offices. They know not to drink the water. Residents don’t have that option. Residents could end up being pushed out of the city due to water quality.
The Goal of Gentrification
Vida then speaks about gentrification and its effect on Camden. When you raise costs off all public services, then residents can no longer afford to live there. Families that have lived there for years are pushed out of their own communities. The end goal is to drastically alter the community and in essence “white-wash” it. Gentrification shows no concern for those people being forced out. Residents are not allowed to use section 8 inside the city. They are being forced way out into the rural suburbs where there are not adequate services or transportation.
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