Water Publics and Black Spatial Politics in Newark, NJ

Authors: Kessie Alexandre*, University of Washington
Topics: Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: black geographies, environmental justice, water politics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper offers an account of the struggle against the privatization of Newark’s Water and Sewer Department between 2009 and 2012 under the administration of Cory Booker, framed here within Newark’s history of Black politics since the late 1960s and 70s. In 2006, Booker became Newark’s third African American mayor, continuing a streak of Black political leadership in the city which began with the election of Kenneth Gibson. Since Gibson’s 1969 campaign, every elected mayor of Newark — Gibson, Sharpe James, Cory Booker, and now Ras Baraka — has actively participated in debates about Newark’s water infrastructure and the prospect of its privatization. Drawn from two years of ethnographic and archival research, this paper examines the way in which water governance has been debated by the city’s Black male leaders and considers the role of urban water management in the making and remaking of Newark as a city with Black political representation. Focused primarily on anti-privatization protests from 2009 to 2012, it examines Newarkers’ boundary-work around public works and privatization and reflects on where residents have historically located and vied for their own participation in water management. In doing so, it calls for a look to urban water management as a meaningful site of Black spatial politics post-Civil Rights onward.

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