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Helping New Orleans
H aving recently returned from New Orleans, I can report that everyone I talked to there said the same thing: “Please come down and help us rebuild.” There is virtually no help coming from local or federal governments. Much of the $62 billion that Bush and Congress approved is going to Halliburton subsidiaries and a handful of other large corporations through politically-connected contracts. Most of these sweetheart deals have nothing to do with rebuilding homes and everything to do with privatizing public services and turning the city into an exclusive gated community.
For most New Orleanians, there’s little evidence that federal aid has made it to the area; equipment is sitting idle, most of the city is still without power, and no one can get any answers from the government. Though many people are now getting trailers from FEMA so they can return and start rebuilding their homes, many more are still not getting trailers, primarily because of FEMA incompetence. For renters in New Orleans, hope for getting them home is fading. Rents have skyrocketed (thanks, in part, to the exorbitant rents that our federal government is willing to spend for their contractors) and the number of available rentals is miniscule. But even for those who have returned, who are living in trailers or tents or squatting in parks, the task of cleaning out and rebuilding their homes is indescribably overwhelming.
FEMA : The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided very little financial aid beyond the initial $2,000 (and many didn’t even get that). In any case, the maximum that anyone can get to rebuild their home is $26,000, which will barely cover roof repairs. Many people are also being turned down for financial assistance to demolish homes that are structurally unsound and will be forced to pay around $15,000 to have it done by private companies. Most people who are being turned down by FEMA are being referred to the Small Business Administration to get loans. After all these months, SBA has yet to process most of the applications and, of those that have been processed, the majority have been turned down because the applicants are “too poor.”
Insurance : Most homeowners are receiving nothing from insurance companies who, in many cases, refuse to pay because they claim the damage was from the flood (and those who also had flood insurance have been told that they’re not eligible for compensation because the majority of the damage was from the hurricane). In other cases, insurance compensation is shockingly small because (1) insurance companies are relying on FEMA estimates of damage which are wildly inaccurate and (2) repair estimates are based on pre-Katrina labor and material costs; everything is two to three times more expensive now.
Evictions : Evictions have reached catastrophic levels. An estimated 10,000 people were evicted in the month of November alone. Many of these evictions are completely illegal, but the criminal justice system is still in complete disarray and the political will to rein in venal landlords is simply not there. These same landlords are now charging rents that are two to three times pre-Katrina levels. Though New Orleanians cannot afford these rents, private contractors—who are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other federal agencies—can. Meanwhile, FEMA continues to threaten evacuees with eviction from hotel rooms across the country.
Basic services: The city of New Orleans is going broke. Unlike the city of New York, which received virtually unlimited funds to rebuild after 9/11, New Orleans has received next to nothing from the federal government to rebuild an entire city. As a result, thousands of city workers have been laid off and various agencies are in danger of shutting down while others have shut down already. Most of the city’s schools are unable to open; the few that will reopen have been “charterized.”
Temporary trailers : A massive effort is underway to set up trailers in various locations throughout the city to allow residents to have someplace to live while cleaning out and rebuilding. However, small numbers of residents in these neighborhood are holding hundreds of thousands of evacuees hostage to their prejudice—they do not want the trailers or the residents of neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward in their neighborhood. The situation is currently deadlocked and neither Mayor Ray Nagin nor the City Council members have been able to negotiate with these self-appointed neighborhood vigilantes. Of course, the obvious thing to do is for the land in question to be federalized and just bring in the trailers.
Restore the wetlands : By far, the most critical issue for the survival of New Orleans is the restoration of the wetlands that have historically protected the city by reducing the impact of hurricanes. However, the Bush administration has consistently refused to fund the $14 billion wetlands restoration initiative. Had this project gone ahead, rather than being vetoed by Bush, the resulting restoration would have reduced Katrina’s storm surge by five to ten feet, and the levees most likely would not have been overtopped in the first place.
Fully fund the levee protection system: The $3.1 billion that Bush has approved only addresses the levee system for New Orleans and only provides funding for rebuilding to a Category 3 hurricane protection. The rest of South Louisiana’s levee system—which was long-neglected by the federal government—needs rebuilding as well and the entire levee system needs to be rebuilt to withstand a Category 5, which is what Louisiana has been begging for all along. The cost to strengthen south Louisiana’s entire levee system against a Category 5 hurricane is estimated to be as high as $32 billion.
Halt the evictions: The federal government has the authority to place a moratorium on all evictions, as well as on all foreclosures in New Orleans. This is a public emergency and continued evictions or foreclosures constitute an imminent threat to the lives and the safety of the residents of New Orleans.
This moratorium must also protect those who live in public housing projects, all of whom are being evicted because the Housing Authority is attempting to sell off the land.
Federalize land s: The government should federalize land where trailers are to go and get the trailers there now. FEMA should provide trailers to all who need them.
Authorize emergency aid to individuals: Money should be made immediately available to help those affected by Katrina to clean out and/or rebuild their homes. This aid must be adequate to cover current costs of labor and materials and must include living expenses until homes are fully habitable. There’s no moral or economic reason why our government can’t subsidize that additional cost.
Authorize emergency aid to the city: An aid package should be given to the city of New Orleans so they can rehire all workers laid off by the disaster, rebuild all municipal facilities and reinstate all municipal services. No strings attached, no loans: this aid package should be no less than what was given to New York City after 9/11 and proportionate to the size of the population affected and the number of structures damaged.
Pass legislation to reform insurance companies: It should be a federal crime for insurance companies to delay compensation to policyholders more than 60 days or if they fail to pay the full amount to the policyholder within that 60-day period. Penalties for these delays should include jail time for executives of insurance companies and multi-million-dollar fines. Policyholders should have the right to sue insurance companies.
What You Can Do
S ome of you may remember the construction and solidarity brigades that went to Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s. I call on all of us to create and join new solidarity construction brigades to go to New Orleans and help rebuild. Many in the progressive movement have valuable skills that are desperately needed in New Orleans. Many are also involved in the alternative energy movement. Solar energy activists could go to New Orleans and set up a solar power grid that can serve as a model.
We can no longer wait for “someone else”—for Congress, for FEMA, for Bush—to take the lead and do the work. It is up to us. Enough is enough.
Photos in this article by Todd Sanchioni. Mimi Yahn is a long-time activist.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.