Features from New Orleans
* denotes most recent updates
Streets of New Orleans
Finding a bathroom is difficult, getting a shower is even harder. Today, desperate, I peed in a cup on Nelson (the bus) and poured it out the window! We heard that there were free showers at the "FEMA tent" and that they would also do our laundry. So last night we went to the huge tent city - the "disaster relief center" - and inquired of the armed guards at the gate the direction of the showers and the laundry.
After dropping off my small bag of VERY dirty clothes at the "open 24 hours" mobile laundromat, we walked past rows upon rows of air conditioned tents to the shower trailer. They had the only hot showers in the city! Bicycling back to the gate this morning at 6:30, the pink sun was just rising.
The inhabitants of the tent city were beginning to walk out of the gates in twos and threes. I had the feeling of ants or foreign invaders emerging from the nest there was such a uniformity to them. They were mostly men with tee shirts and picture IDs with the name of their agency - Red Cross, Salvation Army, EPA, Entergy, FEMA, National Guard, Rocky Mountain Rescue Squad..."
The Common Ground Community Center and Food Not Bombs kitchen in the 9th Ward of New Orleans
New Orleans is dead. I have heard the voices speaking about human spirit and hope and determination and how the city will come back.
Yesterday we went to the 7th ward to work with Mama D. Her neighborhood is in the middle of the city on the east side of the Mississippi and was flooded. The lucky ones ended up with their second floors dry. She is the most resilient woman I could possibly conjure in my imaginative catalogue of remarkable women. She did not leave her home of 5 generations when Katrina was moving toward the city. Where would she go, and how? She had no car, no where to go. She weathered Katrina and then Rita by climbing up into the upper floors of her house, then floating in a small dinghy that had washed up on her street. And when the water began to recede after several days, she was there to take care of it. Houses do not do well when left alone. She was able to clean and air out her house before the mold began to grow on the walls. Her work now is to bring her neighbors home. Her deep, deep fear is that they will not return.
What do you think? 63% of the residents are renters. The walls of their homes are covered in black mold. They don't know anyone who can help clean it, who is not in the exact same predicament, and they have no money to hire anyone. Their porches and the streets are strewn with trees. Their jobs no longer exist. There are no schools for their children, no place to buy food, none of their neighbors are around. 80% of the New Orleans police force is homeless. They are being housed in huge cruise ships...
The city will be rebuilt, but it will not be the same city. If those houses are bulldozed (as the residents are being told they will be) then, yes, housing will be rebuilt. But it will not be the same city. New people will come live there. A few will return, particularly in the Algiers area which did not flood. Though that is also empty now, waiting There are no hospitals, not court system, no postal delivery, no union halls, no community organizations, no clean water, no electricity in most parts of the city.
Mama D told me that she can see the lights of the casinos from her dark porch at night. The decisions about priorities reflect the values of those in power. Bringing money back into the city takes precedence over getting residents back into their homes.
Relaxing at the Common Ground Community Center and Food Not Bombs kitchen
Where are all those "disaster relief" workers? What are they doing? I have been all over the city and not seen anyone working except the contracted garbage haulers and volunteers and activists like us. The Red Cross does not allow their people to go into certain wards because of "liability" issues. Thirty four thousand medical people volunteered for service with them and they accepted 150 because they couldn't handle any more than it.
Today some of us have returned to the bayou to work among the Houma people. The distribution center here is the most effective in the state. It is organized by Brenda Robichaux, the president of the Houma Tribal Council. Food, clothing, cleaning supplies, household goods, tents, shovels, toiletries, diapers flow through that old barn like a river.
Every day trucks deliver the stuff of a life and every day people come to pick it up. Today 97 people came and picked up what they needed for a few days. She has welcomed us with open arms. We will stay here for a week, I think. There are roofs to fix, mud to be cleared away, elders to be visited
I do not want to minimize the nature of what has happened here. The intricate matrix of relationships that is the soul of any city, is destroyed, and can't be recreated. Families are separated, neighborhoods torn apart. The elegant, fragile networks that have evolved over generations are no longer functioning.
This is appalling to me. I don't want it to be ignored, glossed over or forgotten in the effort to highlight the depth of the human spirit. We have swallowed the numbers of species going extinct per minute, but we have not truly witnessed it. The destruction of indigenous people has passed somehow under the radar of main line America. Cultures everywhere have been destroyed by the greed.
The destruction of New Orleans is the result of the same forces that are destroying so much of what is alive. Those forces are very much at work here in the structures of power.
In love and struggle,
How You Can Help
Donations are urgently needed for all aspects of the rebuilding effort. You can donate directly to Reclaiming folks working in New Orleans via PayPal by clicking this link:
Donate to the Pagan Cluster's New Orleans work.
If you want to support a local New Orleans grassroots group with whom Reclaiming is working, you can donate to Common Ground at their website: www.commongroundrelief.org
For more information
There is also useful and updated information at the following web-sites:
Photos by Arizona Indy Media, arizona.indymedia.org. Please do not copy, reproduce, fold, spindle, mutilate, or otherwise use them without contacting them. Thanks!