The Second Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina finds the Gulf Coast still in a devastated state with tens of thousands or Katrina survivors unable to return to any sense of normalcy. The response to the horrendous damage done by the winds of Katrina and the subsequent floods, have been described as a “boil on the body politic” of the US by some. Others have likened it to an “ethnic cleansing.”
Two hundred thousand residents of New Orleans still in exile; 118,000 jobs gone; 1,500 out of 5,100 public housing units occupied; 81,000 households still living in FEMA trailers; 1 out of 7 New Orleans hospitals operating at pre-storm levels; 200% increase in rents. These are just some of the grim statistics.
Katrina and its aftermath and the occupation of Iraq are the defining political moments of the first decade of the 21st century. The ways in which the Bush Administration has handled both and the people’s response will shape the political and social contours of the world for decades to come.
The progressive and labor movements have been faulted for not responding to the needs of the predominately Black and working-class populations of Louisiana and Mississippi in a vigorous and sustained way. Black Liberation activists are frustrated with the response of those allies but also with their own inability to mobilize the collective national response that the survivors needed and millions of Black folks wanted to see happen. Granted, that critical moment and opportunity was missed and is, in part, responsible for the criminally slow reconstruction efforts, but the fight is by no means over.
What Needs To Be Done?
Starting with anniversary commemorations, including the International People’s Tribunal, the energy and determination that were witnessed at the US Social Forum in June have to be directed at Gulf reconstruction. The social, anti-war, environmental, and labor movements along with all sections of the Black freedom movement have to put this at the top of their agendas. We, in turn, have to engage them in this work. It should be clear to these movements that we were all affected and continue to be impacted by government indifference and inaction.
International Tribunal on Katrina–Support the findings of the International Tribunal and inform our communities, networks and organizations about the process and outcomes.
2008 electoral campaign–Katrina and Gulf reconstruction must be at the center of all electoral work in this campaign. All candidates, at all times and in all places, must be required to speak to their support of reconstruction and the efforts and projects supported by the people’s organizations in the Gulf.
Support for Gulf Coast organizations–There is a need for continued, non-sectarian support for all of the organizations struggling for a just reconstruction. Where possible, we should help with broadening the united front of these vital organizations.
Mobilizing survivors in the diaspora–There is still a need for the exiles, sometimes called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), to gather in order to participate, as a movement, in the developments and struggles in New Orleans. Help build survivors’ councils if you can.
Bridge-building and engagement with labor and civil rights groups–We have to use our memberships in, leaderships in or relationships with civil rights, labor and faith organizations to bring them into dialogue and action with grassroots organizations in the Gulf Coast region.
Political support for legislative programs and recovery projects–Supporters should find ways to get behind initiatives like the Gulf Coast Civic Works Program and the African American Leadership Project’s Citizen’s Bill of Rights.
Build a united front of the Black Left in support of Katrina–In the spirit of the African Liberation Support Committee and the other Black radical/left projects of the last half of the 20th century, Black radicals and their organizations must come together to support the reconstruction movement and to rebuild a strong Black Liberation movement for this century.
Since the storm, “Katrinanization” has been used to describe different processes. For us, it has meant the failure of the government to play a significant and key role in the protection and maintenance of those basic services in our society, in favor of the private sector with its profit-squeezing machinery. Whether it is disaster relief, education or infrastructure repairs, the people are in peril because of this ideological program of the capitalist class. The awful state of our schools and the Minneapolis bridge collapse are clear and frightening indications of what we can expect if a sense of rage is not forthcoming from those governed by these criminals. We must rise up and challenge them in the streets, the workplace, the courthouse, and the Congress.
Support Gulf Coast Reconstruction!
Make the Bushites Pay!