Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Encours et Toujours VII

I have a lot more to post, but no time right now. Iwill explain later:

1) Juan Cole has a thought-provoking set ofcomparisons between New Orleans and Baghdad today (howcompelling for some...):

2) Here's one perspective on Katrina, from an activistwho weathered the storm in Mid-City (I have posted andwill continue to post viewpoints that are quitedifferent than Jordan's as well):

Don’t Let New Orleans Die
by Jordan Flaherty
August 27 - September 3, 2005

Its been a day since I evacuated from New Orleans, myhome, the city I love. Today I saw Governor Blancoproudly speak of troops coming in with orders to shootto kill. Is she trying to help New Orleans, or hasshe declared war?I feel like the world isn’t seeing the truth about thecity I love. People outside know about Jazz Fest and Bourbon Street and beads, and now they know aboutlooters and armed gangs and helicopter rescue.What's missing is the story of a city and people whohave created a culture of liberation and resistance. A city where people have stood up against centuries ofracism and white supremacy. This is the city where in1892 Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee planned the direct action that brought the first(unsuccessful) legal challenge to the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” This is the city where in1970 the New Orleans Black Panthers held off the police from the desire housing projects, and alsoformed one of the nations’ first Black Panther chapters in prison. Where in 2005 teens at FrederickDouglas High School, one of the most impoverished schools in the US, formed a student activist groupcalled Teens With Attitude to fight for educationaljustice, and canvassed their community to develop truecommunity ownership of their school.I didn’t really understand community until I moved toNew Orleans.

Secondlines, the new orleans traditionof roving street parties with a brass band, began as aform of community insurance, and are still used tobenefit those needing aid. New Orleans is a placewhere someone always wants to feed you. Instead of demonizing this community, instead ofmistreating them and shooting them and stranding them in refugee camps and displacing them across thesouthern US, we need to give our love and support tothis community in their hour of crisis, and then weneed to let them lead the redevelopment of NewOrleans. As Naomi Klein has already pointed out, therebuilding money that will come in doesn’t belong tothe Red Cross or FEMA or Homeland Security, the money belongs to the people of New Orleans.
Hurricane Diary

Many people have asked for more information about myexperience in the past week. I was one of thefortunate ones. I had food and water and a solidhome. Below are notes from my week in the disasterthat was constructed out of greed, corruption andneglect.

Saturday, August 27
I’m in New Orleans, and there’s word of a hurricaneapproaching. I don’t consider leaving. Why? BecauseI don’t have a car, and all the airlines and carrental companies are sold out. Because the last twohurricanes were false alarms, despite the shrill andvacuous media alarms. Because I have a sturdy, secondfloor apartment, food, water, flashlights, and supplies. Because there is not much of an evacuationplan. Friends of mine who evacuated last time sat in their cars, moving 50 miles in 12 hours.

Sunday, August 28
As the storm approaches and grows larger, everyone Iknow is calling. “Are you staying or going? where areyou staying? Are you bringing your pets? What shouldI do?” Governor Blanco urges us to “pray thehurricane down” to a level 2.I relent to pressure somewhat and relocate to a moresturdy location, an apartment complex built out of anold can factory in the midcity neighborhood. Thebuilding is five stories high, built of concrete and brick. There are seven of us in the apartment,with four cats.

Monday, August 29
Its morning, the storm is over, and we survey thestreets outside. There has been some flooding. A few of us explore the neighborhood in boats, and wesee extensive damage, but overall we feel as if NewOrleans has once again escaped fate.Later in the day, we hear some reports of much greaterflooding in destruction in the ninth ward and lower ninth ward neighborhoods, New Orleans’ mostoverexploited communities.Tomorrow, we decide, the water will lower and we’llwalk home. We expect power will start coming on in aweek or so.There are many relaxed and friendly conversations,especially on the roof. With all of the lights in thecity out, the night sky is beautiful. We lie on ourbacks and watch shooting stars.Tuesday, August 30We wake up to discover that the water level has risenseveral feet. Panic begins to set in among some. Weinventory our food and find that, if we ration ittightly, we have enough for five days. As we discuss it, we repeatedly say, “not that we’ll be herethat long, but if we had to...”We continue to explore the area by boat, helpingpeople when possible. The atmosphere outside is a sort of post-apocalyptic, threatening world ofobscure danger, where the streets are empty and the future seems cloudy. The water is a repellent mix ofsewage, gas, oil, trash and worse.We meet some of our neighbors. Most of the buildingis empty. Of at least 250 apartments, there are maybe 200 people in the building, about half white andhalf Black. Many people, like us, are crowded 7 or 10to an apartment. Like us, many people came here forsafety from the storm. Some have no food and water. A few folks break open the building candy machine and distribute the contents. We talk aboutbreaking into the cafe attached to the building anddistributing the food. We turn on a battery-powered tv and radio, and thenturn it off in disgust. No solid information, just rumor and conjecture and fear. Throughout this time,there is no reliable source of information,compounding and multiplying the crisis.The reporters and politicians talk 80% about lootingand 20% about flooding. I can’t understand how anyone could blame someone for “looting” when theyjust had their home destroyed by the neglect andcorruption of a country that doesn’t care about themand never did. Tomorrow, the news announces, the water level willcontinue to rise, perhaps 12-15 feet. Governor Blancocalls for a day of prayer.

Wednesday, August 31
White people in the building start whispering abouttheir fears of “them.” One woman complains of people in the building “from the projects and hoardingfood.” There is talk of gangs in the streets,shooting, robbing, and lawless anarchy. I feel likethere is a struggle in people’s minds betweencompassion and panic, between empathy and fear. However, we witness many folks traveling around inboats, bringing food or giving lifts or sharing information. But the overwhelming atmosphere is one offear. People fear they wont be able to leave, theyfear disease, hunger, and crime. There is talk of asoldier shot in the head by looters, of bodiesfloating in the ninth ward, flooding in CharityHospital, and huge masses (including police) emptyingWalMart and the electronic stores on Canal street. There are fires visible in the distance. Aparticularly large fire seems to be nearby - we thinkits at the projects at Orleans and Claiborne.Helicopters drop army MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) andwater, and people rush forward to grab as many as theycan. After the third air drop, people in the buildingstart organizing a distribution system. Across the street is a spot of land, and helicoptersbegin landing there and loading people aboard. Hundreds of people from the nearby hospital make theirway there, many wearing only flimsy gowns, waiting in the sun. As more helicopters come, peoplestart arriving from every direction, straggling in, swimming or coming by boat.A helicopter hovers over our roof, and a soldier comesdown and announces that tomorrow everyone in the building will be evacuated.Across the street, at least two hundred people spendthe night huddled on a tiny patch of land, waiting forevacuation.

Thursday, September 1
People in the building want out. They are lining upon the roof to be picked up by helicopters - three copters come early in the morning and take a total ofnine people. Seventy-five people spend the nextseveral hours waiting on the roof, but no more come.Down in the parking garage, flooded with sewage, asteady stream of boats takes people to various locations, mostly to a nearby helicopter pickup point.We hear stories of hundreds of people waiting forevacuation nearby at Xavier University, a historically Black college, and at other locations.Our group fractures, people leaving at various times.Two of us take a boat to a helicopter to a refugeecamp. If you ever wondered if the US government would treat US refugees the same way they treatHaitian refugees or Somali refugees, the answer is, yes, if those refugees are poor, black, and from theSouth.The individual soldiers and police are friendly andpolite - at least to me - but nobody seems to know what's going on. As wave after wave of refugeesarrives, they are ushered behind the barricades onto mud and dirt and sewage, while heavily armedsoldiers look on. Many people sit on the side, not even trying to get ona bus. Children, people in wheelchairs, and everyone else sit in the sun by the side of thehighway.Everyone has a story to tell, of a home destroyed, ofswimming across town, of bodies and fights and gunshots and looting and fear. The worst stories comefrom the Superdome. I speak to one young man who describes having to escape and swim up tomidcity. I‘m reminded of a moment I read about in the book“Rising Tide,” about the Mississippi river flood of1927. After the 1927 evacuation, a boatload of poorblack refugees is refused permission to get on land “until they sing negro spirituals.” As a busarrives and a mass swarms forward and state police and national guard do nothing to help, I feel like I’mwitnessing the modern equivalent of this dehumanizing spectacle. More refugees are arriving than are leaving. Three ofus walk out of the camp, considering trying to hitchhike a ride from relief workers or press. We geta ride from an Australian tv team who drive us to Baton Rouge where we sit on the street and wait untila relative arrives and gives us a ride to Houston.While we sit on the street, everyone we meet is arefugee from somewhere - Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Slidell, Covington. Its after midnight, but the roadsare crowded. Everyone is going somewhere.

Friday, September 2
In Houston, I can’t sleep, although we drove throughthe night. Governor Blanco announces that she’ssending in more national guard troops, “These troopsare fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order inthe streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and killand they are more than willing to do so if necessaryand I expect they will.”Many people have called and written to ask what theycan do. I don’t really have answers. I’m still tired and angry and I don’t know if my home survived.

But, here's some thoughts:
1) Hold the politicians accountable. Hold the mediaaccountable. Defend Kanye West.

2) Support grassroots aid. A friend has compiled alist at

3) Volunteer. The following is a call for volunteersfrom Families and friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, an excellent grassroots group:“Come and help us walk through the shelters, find people, help folks apply for FEMA assistance,figure out what needs they have, match folks up with other members willing to take people in. Weespecially need Black folks to help us as the racial divide between relief workers and evacuees is stark. Email us ASAP if you would like to help with this work.,,,"

4) Organize in your own community.

5) Add your apartment to the housing board

6) Support grassroots, community control ofredevelopment. Don’t let New Orleans die.

3) This was Jordan's previous posting, which I didn'thave time to post before, and which I placed thirdtoday because it had less of an eyewitness account:

Notes From Inside New Orleans
by Jordan Flaherty
Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. Itraveled from the apartment I was staying in by boatto a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants toexamine the attitude of federal and state officialstowards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise youto visit one of the refugee camps.In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freewaynear Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trashbehind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard overthem. When a bus would come through, it would stop ata random spot, state police would open a gap in one ofthe barricades, and people would rush for the bus,with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees wouldbe told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people withfamily and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as itpassed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had peoplewilling to come to New Orleans to pick you up, theycould not come within 17 miles of the camp.I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Crossworkers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they werefriendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to,or any other information. I spoke to the severalteams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of themhad been able to get any information from any federalor state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local Fox affiliatescomplained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me “as someone who’s been here inthis camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. Youdon’t want to be here at night.”There was also no visible attempt by any of thoserunning the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get onbuses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for childrenand infirm, phone services, treatment for possibledisease exposure, nor even a single trash can.To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, itsimportant to look at New Orleans itself.For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you havemissed a incredible, glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere elsein the world. A 70% African-American city whereresistance to white supremacy has supported agenerous, subversive and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, tosecondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, NewOrleans is a place of art and music and dance andsexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in theworld.It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where acommunity pulls together when someone is in need. Itis a city of extended families and social networksfilling the gaps left by city, state and federal governments that have abdicated their responsibilityfor the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not only asks how you are,they wait for an answer.It is also a city of exploitation and segregation andfear. The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders thisyear, most of them centered on just a few,overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have beenquoted as saying that they don’t need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a fewdays after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge. There is an atmosphere of intense hostility anddistrust between much of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officershave been accused of everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In separateincidents, two New Orleans police officers wererecently charged with rape (while in uniform), andthere have been several high profile police killingsof unarmed youth, including the murder of JenardThomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several months.The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% ofblack ninth graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’seducation and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than twoclassrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absentfrom school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslavedin Angola Prison, a former slave plantation whereinmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a citywhere industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in theservice economy.Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisianapolitics. This disaster is one that was constructedout of racism, neglect and incompetence. HurricaneKatrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasolineof cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment ofthe refugees to the the media portrayal of thevictims, this disaster is shaped by race.Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with thetragedies of this week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricaneKatrina approached, our Governor urged us to “Pray thehurricane down” to a level two. Trapped in a buildingtwo days after the hurricane, we tuned ourbattery-operated radio into local radio and tvstations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a day of prayer. Asrumors and panic began to rule, they was no source ofsolid dependable information. Tuesday night,politicians and reporters said the water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse.While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhereto go and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local andnational media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleansand the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts medeeply.No sane person should classify someone who takes foodfrom indefinitely closed stores in a desperate,starving city as a “looter,” but that's just what themedia did over and over again. Sheriffs andpoliticians talked of having troops protect storesinstead of perform rescue operations. Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged populationwere transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store thatwill clearly be insured against loss is a greatercrime than the governmental neglect and incompetencethat did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed acity. This media focus is a tactic, just as theeighties focus on “welfare queens” and“super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and muchlarger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and masslayoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans arebeing used as a scapegoat to cover up much largercrimes.City, state and national politicians are the realcriminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, itsbeen widely known the danger faced by flooding to NewOrleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week’sevents, was more about politics and racism than anykind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly thedanger faced. Yet government officials haveconsistently refused to spend the money to protectthis poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA andothers warned of the urgent impending danger to NewOrleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bushadministration, in every year since 2001, has cut orrefused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increasedhurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as thedangers rose with the floodlines, the lack ofcoordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape theelections of both a US President and a Governor, andushered in the southern populist politics of HueyLong.In the coming months, billions of dollars will likelyflood into New Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, withpublic investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, orthe city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, morecasinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centersand corner jazz clubs.Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by ahurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damagefrom this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyesare focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity tofight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

4) This cartoon puts in animation Jordan's point aboutcorruption and city policies vs. those left behindlooting:

Priceless editorial cartoon in Boston Globe on Katrina

What's it they say about pictures and words again?

5) This from the NYT, and Chris:

We're not more civilized than the rest of the word. We've just got more stuff (which means more cr** toclean up now):

"It really makes us look very much like Bangladesh orBaghdad," said David Herbert Donald, the retiredHarvard historian of the Civil War and a nativeMississippian, who said that Gen. William TecumsehSherman's destructive march from Atlanta to the seapaled by comparison. "I'm 84 years old. I've beenaround a long time, but I've never seen anything like this."

"I am absolutely disgusted," said Sajeewa Chinthaka,36, watching a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka,according to the Reuters news agency. "After thetsunami, our people, even the ones who losteverything, wanted to help the others who weresuffering. Not a single tourist caught in the tsunamiwas mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S.,we can easily see where the civilized part of theworld's population is."

6) Michael Moore:

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Dear Mr. Bush:

Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 ofHurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in NewOrleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth couldyou have misplaced all our military choppers? Do youneed help finding them? I once lost my car in a Searsparking lot. Man, was that a drag. Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiersare? We could really use them right now for the typeof thing they signed up to do like helping withnational disasters. How come they weren't there tobegin with? Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outsidewhile the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over myhead. It was only a Category 1 then but it was prettynasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there werestill homes without power. That night the weathermansaid this storm was on its way to New Orleans. Thatwas Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn'twant to interrupt your vacation and I know how youdon't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisersto go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore andsmear. You sure showed her! I especially like how, the day after the hurricane,instead of flying to Louisiana, you flew to San Diegoto party with your business peeps. Don't let peoplecriticize you for this -- after all, the hurricane wasover and what the heck could you do, put your fingerin the dike? And don't listen to those who, in the coming days,will reveal how you specifically reduced the ArmyCorps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summerfor the third year in a row. You just tell them thateven if you hadn't cut the money to fix those levees,there weren't going to be any Army engineers to fixthem anyway because you had a much more importantconstruction job for them -- BUILDING DEMOCRACY INIRAQ! On Day 3, when you finally left your vacation home, Ihave to say I was moved by how you had your Air ForceOne pilot descend from the clouds as you flew over NewOrleans so you could catch a quick look of thedisaster. Hey, I know you couldn't stop and grab abullhorn and stand on some rubble and act like acommander in chief. Been there done that. There will be those who will try to politicize thistragedy and try to use it against you. Just have yourpeople keep pointing that out. Respond to nothing.Even those pesky scientists who predicted this wouldhappen because the water in the Gulf of Mexico isgetting hotter and hotter making a storm like thisinevitable. Ignore them and all their global warmingChicken Littles. There is nothing unusual about ahurricane that was so wide it would be like having oneF-4 tornado that stretched from New York to Cleveland.No, Mr. Bush, you just stay the course. It's not yourfault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in povertyor that tens of thousands had no transportation to getout of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's notlike this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagineleaving white people on their roofs for five days?Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- todo with this! You hang in there, Mr. Bush. Just try to find a few ofour Army helicopters and send them there. Pretend thepeople of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are nearTikrit. Yours, Michael P.S. That annoying mother, Cindy Sheehan, is no longerat your ranch. She and dozens of other relatives ofthe Iraqi War dead are now driving across the country,stopping in many cities along the way. Maybe you cancatch up with them before they get to DC on September21st.

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