A national figure came to Jackson on Monday to hold the first rally of what he hopes will be a growing movement that pushes elected officials to address the various water problems that have plagued residents of Jackson for generations.
William Barber, a pastor and co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, spoke on a stage set up on the street outside the governor's mansion, voicing his support for Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and his opposition to privatizing the city's water system, which the Gov. Tate Reeves has said is a possibility.
The rally, which at its largest size reached over 100 people, was modeled on a "Moral Monday" blueprint that Barber was instrumental in creating. In 2013, Barber called on people in North Carolina, where he was then-president of the state's NAACP chapter, to protest a number of state government policies that he saw as immoral based on how they impacted low-income people, including voting rights and healthcare policies. Barber said that on the first Moral Monday in April of 2013, 17 people showed up and all of them were arrested. By the end of the summer, more than 15,000 were marching alongside him, Barber said. He foresees similar growth in the Moral Mondays to be held in Jackson, the next of which will be in two weeks on Oct. 10.
"It happened in North Carolina, it can happen right here in Jackson, Mississippi," Barber said. "Right here in Jackson there will probably be a time when there's crowds as far as the eye can see, people from all over, because somebody's been poisoning the water."
While the mayor was in attendance, he did not address the crowd. Barber explained why.
"Why we say no to politicians? Because we want politicians to come here and listen to what the people have to say and then go and do what the people want them to do," Barber said.
That said, Barber was clear in his support for Lumumba, calling him "a great mayor," and telling the crowd "you can trust him."
"Mayor, who is here, Mayor Lumumba, we thank God for him," Barber said.
Barber also addressed a critique that the city, and the mayor, have repeatedly received from Reeves and other elected officials that the city has never presented an actionable and comprehensive plan to fix its water system.
"Jackson has had a plan, you just haven't had the damn consciousness to make that plan happen," Barber said, as the mayor clapped.
A number of the Jackson residents who spoke addressed Reeves directly, many of them referencing comments he made 10 days earlier at an event in Hattiesburg, where he said it was a great day to not be in Jackson, "as always."
"It is a great day, as it is every day, in Jackson, Mississippi," said Brooke Floyd, who later spoke live from the stage on MSNBC, standing beside Barber.
Chris Ellis said he and his wife moved to Jackson about five years ago, and live in the Fondren area. Friends from other places have asked why they still live there.
"I get a lot of folks asking me, 'Chris, there's a lot going on in the city of Jackson, why don't y'all leave?' Because it's my community. Because these are my neighbors. Because I look at this house over here, and this dude ain't home today," Ellis said while gesturing towards the mansion. "He'd rather be anywhere else, he said it himself."
Reeves did not appear at the event.
Rukia Lumumba, one of the organizers of the event and sister of the mayor, often addressed the crowd between speakers. At one point she gestured towards the governor's mansions as well.
"Who built that mansion? We built that mansion," Lumumba led the crowd in call-and-response.
One of the key criticisms voiced by speakers against Reeves was over his comments that he would be open to privatization of the plant. Signs at the event read, "FREE THE LAND! CLEAN THE WATER! KEEP IT PUBLIC!" Barber and residents who spoke painted privatization as sinful and a theft of the city's resources and ability to bring in revenue.
"Right now there are closed-door conversations that are going on with the guy that lives in this house right here, with a bunch of people with a vested interest outside of the city, who are looking to privatize our system, to take over our system, to deprive our city of the revenues of the future of the water system of Jackson, Mississippi," Ellis said. "Now I don't know about you, I don't think Jackson can afford to lose those revenues. I don't want Jackson to lose those revenues, and it's not right for somebody to come in and steal those revenues."
Barber said the movement he hopes will lead Jackson to a safe drinking water system will not be driven by him, or by other national activists, but by Jackson residents.
"We're not coming here to help y'all do nothing, we're here to stand with y'all," Barber said, then speaking about the upcoming MSNBC interview. "When they said we'd like to do an interview with you I said nope, we're going to do an interview with somebody that is from here."
At the end of the rally, Barber gave Mayor Lumumba his stole, which featured the words "Jesus Was A Poor Man," before the crowd sang a special version of "We Shall Overcome," which changed "shall" to "can" and then "have" in the second and third verses.
"Some things we shall overcome. Some things we can overcome. And some things we have overcome," Barber said.
Then Barber instructed the DJ to play a song he said should be a "mantra" and "the anthem" of Jackson: "Give the People What They Want," by The O'Jays.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Prominent pastor leads Jackson water rally outside of governor's mansion