The man-made tragedies of the Gulf Coast and its
mother city New Orleans are never far from our thoughts these
days. The eyes of black America, though half blinded by
the lack of mainstream news coverage, remain fixed on the unfolding
spectacles of profiteering, privatization and ethnic cleansing.
The wholesale displacement of black New Orleans
seems to have been in the cards from the first hours following
mass evacuation. The week after the hurricane this reporter
made it down to Baton Rouge. I interviewed dozens of evacuees
from New Orleans, Jefferson and Metarie in the big Red Cross
shelters at Southern University, the convention center and elsewhere.
I talked to local pastors, volunteers and business people who
shared their churches, homes and resources with evacuees, and
spent hours with Red Cross staffers running the big evacuee
centers. It was immediately clear that the Red Cross was
spending the generous donations of thousands of business people
and millions of individual Americans on relocating as many New
Orleans residents outside the Gulf Coast region as quickly as
The busiest person at every Red Cross shelter
of any size, I learned, was a staffer called the transportation
coordinator. For one of the luckiest evacuees with
checkable references and marketable skills I saw a transportation
coordinator help arrange job interviews over the phone and hand
out airline tickets for the whole family to Los Angeles.
But for most, whether their homes and apartments were still
under water or not, whether their entire families had been accounted
for or not, the transportation coordinators had one solution.
Get on the bus. Transportation coordinators did whatever
they could to fill lines of daily buses. Buses for Texas,
for Kansas City or Chicago, or parts unknown. We now know
that many evacuees were lied to or never informed of their ultimate
Hence in BC's September 8, 2005
BC commentary broadcast on a number of stations
around the country, BC co-publisher Glen Ford
was among the first to note that the way the evacuation of black
New Orleans was being carried out was creating facts on the
ground which might inhibit their ability to ever return.
By the following week, the pattern of unfolding ethnic cleansing
was unmistakable, and the September
15 Radio BC declared that all of us, especially
our representatives in the Congressional Black Caucus ought
to be upholding the rights of Gulf Coast residents to Return,
to Rebuild and to Remain. As Mr. Ford wrote:
”Iraqis in Des Moines and Detroit were allowed
to vote for the new government in Baghdad. The people who have
been displaced from New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama should
certainly have the same right, to direct the Reconstruction
of their region. They have the Right to Return, the Right to
Rebuild, and the Right to Remain. We demand that the Congressional
Black Caucus treat these as inalienable rights.”
From the first, the radical right has seized the
opportunity to make the Gulf Coast a laboratory for its favorite
schemes, most famously closing 120 of the city's 125 public
schools, firing all the city's teachers and staff, voiding their
pension and health care agreements and going to an all-charter
system in which working class residents must scramble for the
small number of available slots in schools that are still underfunded,
and run by teachers and administrators with fewer professional
qualifications and less effective oversight than before.
But obstacle after obstacle is being thrown in the path of residents
who want to return and rebuild their lives in the city of their
birth, as powerful forces seek to ensure that displaced city
residents including small property owners but most especially
those who lived in rental property, are never compensated for
any loss or allowed to return.
On one level, black and progressive America, including
the African American churches have risen to the
challenge. There are dozens of civic organizations
with substantial followings of local residents and outsiders
who are distributing relief supplies, rebuilding homes, businesses
and community centers and advocates for individuals and for
entire communities. All of them don't work together and
all of them don't agree with each other on every little thing.
But BC loves and salutes them all. The
tragedy again, is that corporate journalism does not care to
cover them or their stories.
By now, tens of thousands of students from across
the country and around the world have given up a week, a Christmas
vacation, a semester break or a whole semester to come to the
Gulf Coast. These students are distributing supplies and
assisting in grassroots rebuilding efforts. These enthusiastic
and generous young people who hunger and thirst for justice
are animated by the same spirit as students who made up the
Freedom Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Forty years ago
they would have been sitting in at lunch counters, or registering
voters in rural Alabama. BC salutes them
too. We are left to wonder how much might have been rebuilt
already if our government diverted to these grassroots efforts
a fraction of the resources it gives to criminal conspiracies
This week, another of the grassroots relief and
advocacy efforts stepped off on a 70 mile march from Mobile,
Alabama through Pascagoula, Mississippi to New Orleans.
Along with the contingent of students who lend their youthful
energies to every such worthwhile undertaking, the Veterans
Gulf March significantly includes representatives of active
duty military families and vets of both Gulf Wars. Paul
Robinson was a principal actor in the grassroots Katrina relief
efforts BC highlighted back in September 15,
2005. The recent founder of Mobile's all-black chapter
For Peace, he is a leading participant in this effort, along
with author, activist and former US Army Special Forces Sgt.
“Every bomb dropped over Iraq explodes over the
Gulf Coast,” declares Robinson.
“Survivors and veterans, more than anybody else
are entitled to point out the easy and simple connection between
the evil our government does in the Middle East and the good
it fails to do at home. If a fraction, just a fraction
of the resources we spend on the killing machine in Iraq could
be harnessed here in the Gulf Coast we'd be well on the way
to making people's lives better than they were before.
”Just like our government says it doesn't count
Iraqi dead, there are still missing, uncounted and un-accounted
for US citizens here at home. People have to be healed
and made whole. I am a vet and a Gulf Coast survivor.
It's time for survivors and for vets to imagine a better way,
to tell the truth and to make it happen. That's why
we are walking to New Orleans.”
The march will reach New Orleans this weekend.
Along the way, and at their destination vets, survivors and
volunteers will participate in the building of homes and community
centers. There's a lot of building to be done. We
encourage BC readers to keep up with the progress
of the Vets Gulf March through this weekend via the regular
bulletins on their web site, and to donate to defray its costs.
And again, we mean no disrespect to all the other
valiant and worthy efforts to minister to, to heal, to empower
Gulf Coast and New Orleans residents. On April 1 other
formations will gather at New Orleans to demand the right to
return, to remain and to rebuild. BC
enthusiastically supports these forces too. There are
so many in motion, and the implications of the dispersal and
dispossession of a mostly black city are so vast as to be overwhelming
for an outfit of BC's limited resources.
We want to embrace all the organizations and all the volunteers
active in the Gulf region. The fate of New Orleans is
the most important question before black America today, and
will be for some time. This week and every week, whether
we can be there in person or not, we are all walking to New
Next week we will return to our usual stimulating
fare of reader email. Till then…
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