This week readers discuss lead-poisoned water in Newark and the the imperialist attack on Syria. We share your letters for “Newark’s Lead-Poisoned Water and the Contradictions of a ‘Radical’ Mayor: How Do We Fight” and “Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism.”
“Newark’s Lead-Poisoned Water and the Contradictions of a ‘Radical’ Mayor: How Do We Fight” by Jay Arena argues that Mayor Ras Baraka has abused his radical reputation and links with community activists to prevent opposition to Newark’s public health crisis. He examines the dynamic between city and state government over control of public services. He also looks at the broad opposition to the mayor’s response to the crisis from a lawsuit brought by an environmental nonprofit, the National Resource Defense Council, on behalf of the local teachers union reform caucus, to a socialist led electoral campaign.
Lisa Davis writes:
“After reading Jay Arena’s article, I feel that a rebuttal is in order and am asking that you consider such, as his article is filled with glaring inconsistencies and deceptions. While this article goes into several issues of which I am not knowledgeable enough about to discuss, I am very prepared to dissect this ill informed commentary about the lead issue in Newark.
“For one thing, Jay Arena just ran with the narrative put out by the NRDC (the National Resource Defense Council), without doing any due diligence and without linking to any original posts of the city's actual statements. Moreover, he paints various organizations as being in collusion with the mayor to deceive the people about lead. One such organization is the People's Organization for Progress, of which I am a member. I can assure you nothing could be further from the truth. Although Jay is very familiar with the organization and comes to POP meetings whenever he needs to get numbers to support something he is doing, he never came to the organization to ask about or to discuss the lead crisis in Newark or the spurious lawsuit brought forward by the NRDC. If he would have done that he would have heard members expressing concerns about needing to address the issue of lead on a state level, as it is a statewide problem and has been documented as such for at least 20 years. In fact in 2019 alone at least 35 other municipalities in New Jersey were reported to have lead water exceedances. He would have heard concerns expressed for other Black and Brown communities, some of them bordering Newark, such as East Orange, that are burdened with lead exposure as well, but that are being ignored by the mainstream media. He would have heard members expressing concerns about the need to understand the state and federal regulatory processes to 1) establish whether or not Newark was following those guidelines and to 2). determine whether or not those guidelines are sufficient and need to be challenged. He would have heard concerns about the state's negligence in enforcing the Lead Hazard Assistance Act, which was developed in 2004 and which requires all multi unit dwellings to maintain a lead free environment and which is also supposed to have established a registry of the lead status of all residential homes. He would have also heard members questioning what happened to the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund, in which over 50 - 100 million dollars have been diverted for other uses since its establishment.
“He would have heard rigorous discussion about how the lawsuit brought on by the NRDC only focuses on Newark, while obfuscating the criminal negligence that has been happening on the state level. For example:
- “In 2012 the CDC issued a report calling upon states to lower the actionable blood level in children from 10 micrograms per blood deciliter to 5 micrograms, stating that to wait until a child's blood lead level reaches 10 micograms is too late and seriously imperils a child's health. As of 2016 the NJ Department of Health had not lowered the action level, and in spite of POP, with several other organizations writing a letter demanding that it be lowered, the state did not do so until 2017.
- “In 2012 the NJDEP and the EPA cleared a site in Newark that once had a lead smoldering factory on it that shut down in 1982 and but upon which a public housing complex and playground was residing. However, further investigation showed that the site was cleared without testing it. The EPA was forced to test the site and learned in December of 2012 that it was contaminated with lead! However Black and Brown children were allowed to continue to play on the playground as it was not shut down until February of 2013 and housing residences were also not notified until then.
- “In 2016 the NJ Board of Education refused to give the Newark School system any money from a fund allocated for repairing schools to replace the lead pipes and water fixtures in its schools. Ironically at that time the Newark schools were under state control. And although the NRDC did write a memo to the NJ Dept of Education calling upon them to release funds for Newark schools, they are not mentioned at all in the their lawsuit against Newark.
“Yet the lawsuit brought by the NRDC is not raising any of these issues mentioned thus far! In fact, the only one on the state level that the lawsuit is going after is the current commissioner of the NJ DEP, Catherine McCabe. But it is not going after the NJDEP itself. Yet, Catherine McCabe assumed the position in 2018 after Newark's water tested for lead in 2017!
“Moreover, the mainstream media is not reporting things accurately at all! Most, like Jay Arena, are just parroting the NRDC narrative, that the mayor said that the water was safe. But examination of what was actually put on the website and sent out to people (not because the ones making these accusations provided links to what was actually written) shows that he said much more than that. I won't get into listing all of the the links showing what was said, although that is available, but I will post the most egregious example of outright distortion and lies. Jay parroted the NRDC lawsuit where it states that the Newark 2017 Water quality report states that the water was safe to drink and that Newark had the best water (pg 18, paragraph 76). That is it. That is all that is said about the report. But the report is 12 pages and gives details about the water quality of Newark that includes information about lead on the front page and has a section on lead in subsequent pages of the report as well! Now whether or not people think this report sufficiently states the issue or adequately explains the situation with lead is one thing. But to completely lie and distort what was in the report is utter manipulation and shows a complete disrespect for the people of Newark. Also, the NJDEP issued a statement saying that Newark has been in compliance with federal regulations since exceeding the lead action levels (pg 4 of the report). I am not at all saying that these requirements are sufficient, or that the NJDEP can be trusted. But it is imperative that we know what these guidelines are and it is nonsensical to attack the mayor for following them, but to leave the guidelines in place.
“And lastly, but certainly NOT least -- Jay Arena completely covers for the NRDC by making it appear that it is an organization with good intentions but that is stymied with what it can do because of its connections to big money interests. It is much more than that! Big money corporations and billionaire developers RUN THE NRDC as they sit on their Board of DIrectors. People such as Laurance Rockefeller, billionaire developer Dan Tishman, of Tishman Construction, the president of Disney and others sit on the their Board of Trustees. Perhaps the poorest person on their board is Leonardo DiCaprio. And while Jay references Nicolas Breggruen and the RBH Group, he somehow neglects to mention that Tishman Construction is in partnership with Breggruen to redevelop 15,000,000 square feet of downtown Newark to develop the SoMA Master Plan! Also, it should be noted that AECOM bought out Tishman Construction. This is important because the NRDC promotes itself as helping out in Flint, and yet AECOM was able to get a $6 million dollar contract to oversee the lead line replacement project. However, people in the community who are not happy with the way that is going accused AECOM of engaging in disaster capitalism, and the city voted against renewing its contract.
“So it is clear from some of the research I presented to you that the issue is a complex, multi layered one. And while the People's Organization for Progress has not yet issued an official position on this situation, many members do not support the "only Newark" approach for the many reasons cited above. I strongly oppose that approach and have always advocated that it is the state that should be investigated. Investigating the state would not absolve any city of wrongdoing, but would enable the citizens to delve deep into what is going on, to hold all agencies accountable and to mount challenges to federal regulations that do not serve our people. However, focusing on Newark only doesn't change any regulations, and does nothing to hold the state accountable! And supporting the NRDC narrative, whether people are aware of it or not, is enabling a disaster capitalism paradigm whereby corporate predators and gentrifiers, disguised in 501(c)(3) clothing, are able to continue to exploit serious problems in our community for their own profit. Surely we are capable of holding our elected officials accountable and solving the needs of our communities without any ‘help’ from gentrifiers.”
In “Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism” Ajamu Baraka exposes much of the Western left’s obedience to the imperialist narrative on Syria and calls for a renewed ideological struggle against this trend.
Wallace Nixon writes:
“Western radicals almost don’t exist and those that do have not formed any organized resistance, especially in the United States!That lack of real resistance makes it easy for any smooth talker to claim that he or she is an activist and make opportunistic and empty claims. In Palestine and Haiti we see organized resistance. We also see it currently in Ecuador. In america we have a simulation of protest but no defiance of any authority. Our intellectuals are playing a head game with themselves and hardly anybody pays them any attention. Theory without praxis like faith without acts is dead! Living risk free lives isn’t radical it is a farce and those in power are quite comfortable!”
Challenging pro-imperialist tendencies among the ranks of radicals must continue to be at the forefront of our work. Your comments play an important role in this ideological struggle.
Jahan Choudhry is Comments Editor for Black Agenda Report. He is an organizer with the Saturday Free School based in Philadelphia, PA.
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]