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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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.