The water supply of 60 percent of Rhode Island residents was under threat. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was proposing that the water supply system serving Providence and surrounding municipalities be privatized. And water giants Veolia and Suez—each with a string of failures and abuses—were among the corporations vying for the deal.
Such a deal could have locked the city into a decades-long privatization scheme, generating millions of dollars for a corporation while threatening hundreds of thousands of people’s access to clean drinking water at affordable rates.
When the news of the mayor’s proposal broke, Providence residents jumped into action. They formed a Black, Indigenous, people of color-led committee — The Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign — in charge of strategy, research, and community engagement. Their goal: ban water privatizers from Rhode Island.
And early on, members of the coalition reached out to Corporate Accountability to join them in their campaign to keep the water system public. We were excited to bring our global perspective and experience to support this struggle. We provided strategic research on Veolia and Suez, shared advice on running site fights, and translated canvassing documents into Spanish to ensure that more Providence residents were informed and engaged about the threat to their water.
Through sustained and vigorous campaigning, The Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign made it clear that Rhode Island residents did not want to hand over control of their water system to corporations.
And it paid off. In early April, 2019 Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza ended his push to privatize Providence’s water supply system. In his statement Elorza admitted: “Politically, financially, logistically, from an environmental standpoint there were really significant concerns” with his proposal.
This victory shows that the power and influence of corporations can be effectively countered by the power of the people. When people collectively express their concerns and desires, public officials are forced to listen and take action. Grassroots organizing and powerful coalitions are key to holding public officials accountable and ensuring they act in the interest of the people — not the profits of corporations.
Moving forward, we will continue to strategize with The Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign to prevent the privatization of the system in the future. But for now, we’re celebrating yet another victory for public water!