Amongst my many personal vices is a subscription to Workers Vanguard, publication of the ever-so-highly-caffeinated Spartacist League. Although clearly out of wack with my idea of sanity on some questions, their newspaper is nevertheless one of the more informative and educational publications of the sectarian left, with regular in-depth articles about revolutionary history and political economy around the world.
What follows is a letter dated November 1st that was published in the November 11th issue of their paper that i received at the beginning of December (Canada Post, don’t you love it?), and have been meaning to scan-and-post ever since.
For those of you interested in learning more about New Orleans & Hurricane Katrina, check out my somewhat-dated Hurricane Katrina webpage of resources and articles, and also be sure to take a gander at what some radicals have been doing at what the Common Ground Collective has been up to – Common Ground is a radical disaster relief initiative of the sort that should be studied and copied as the need arises!
I am a New Orleans evacuee recently returned, and a WV [Workers Vanguard – the Spart newspaper] supporter. I greatly appreciated the first WV article on Katrina, the “man-made disaster,” and await resumption of mail or Internet to read more. Here is what I am seeing since my return.
The feds, state and local authorities, having first attempted negligent homicide against the 20 percent of the city population with no car to evacuate in, are now seeking to prevent their return. The racist codewords of the day are “permanently reduced population” and “changed demographic.” You can read it in the bourgeois press and hear it on the street. The powers that be want a smaller, more affluent and whiter town post-Katrini.
The black poor and working class are being told “don’t come back,” by means of closing the public hospitals, public schools, public housing, libraries, parks and keeping them closed. The old jobs are wiped out, and the new jobs are going to out-of-staters. The blackest parts of town are denied utilities or are outright closed off at gun point.
Right now the part of town being repopulated is the strip of land along the Mississippi River, the 20 percent of town that has electricity and commerce. It includes Audubon Park, Tulane, Uptown, the Garden District, Central Business District and the French Quarter. These mostly well-to-do areas were protected from flooding by the old earthen levees dating to the 1700s.
The other 80 percent of the city flooded when the concrete walls of the modern-made canals broke due to faulty design and engineering. This included my neighborhood Gentilly, Mid-City, Lakeview and the overwhelmingly black New Orleans East and Lower 9th Ward. These areas are still without power and are largely uninhabited. Homeowners have begun to go into all but the 9th Ward during daylight hours to haul their belongings to the curb, knock out all the walls, and begin rebuilding their flooded homes.
The Lower 9th Ward is closed off by the National Guard. It is, or was, virtually all poor and black, mostly working poor such as city employees, dock workers, hotel workers. Fats Domino was rescued from the floodwaters there and lost everything in his home.
9th Ward residents were the last to be allowed back in to “Look and Leave.” The first ones in made the horrific discovery of the decomposed remains of 21 elderly loved ones, missed in the house-to-house sweep. After that, access was supervised, and now only 20-minute bus tours of the area are permitted.
The City peremptorily and prematurely condemned Charity Hospital, a huge and solid structure built in the l930s, not out of safety concerns but to eliminate healthcare to the poor and discourage their return. In the process, two medical schools and a Level One Trauma Center are gone. State legislators seek to move Charity out of N.O. Meanwhile Charity and LSU have set up a valiant little Tent City outside the shuttered University Hospital, serving 100 patients a day.
The local and state School Boards have closed the N.O. public schools for the school year, effectively preventing the return of all the families attached to those children. Only union-busting “charter schools” that cater to the well-off are being permitted to open. The state School Board President said they certainly do not plan to re-open the “failing schools,” which were all the rest. By contrast, the harder-hit St. Bernard Parish public schools are opening in November.
All the public housing projects, flooded or not, are closed. HANO, the Housing Authority of N.O., is paying to rent “shuttering devices” at an incredible $55 per month per door and $22 per month per window to keep the residents out.
The City of N.O. has laid off most city employees and closed all the neighborhood parks and libraries indefinitely, except for Algiers on the West Bank.
A quarter of a million jobs disappeared in September, fully 40 percent of the local workforce. Employers have notified the State of additional planned layoffs. Locals are shut out of the massive work of debris collection, demolition and rebuilding. Less than one-half of one percent of the initial contracts went to Louisiana companies: the rest went to Halliburton and those with ties to the Bush Administration. Halliburton and friends brought in an initial workforce from out of state, apparently 99 percent white... and without health insurance. Which I know because they are showing up at the hospital where I work. The sub-subcontractors have since brought in Latino crews which has caused the black Democratic mayor to worry aloud about “being overrun by Mexicans,” and led Democratic State Senator Mary Landrieu to call in the INS to deport undocumented workers from the Belle Chasse Naval Center. In historically under-unionized Louisiana, there has never been a clearer case for the need to unionize and unite workers of all races and nationalities.
There is a massive shortage of housing stock for both laborers and returning residents. Contractors and crews got little cooperation from local authorities and are squatting in massive encampments in City Park and empty lots everywhere. There is to this date not one occupied FEMA trailer in use in all of Orleans Parish.
Cops are enforcing the message that black residents better stay away. A tee-totalling 64-year-old black retired schoolteacher back to check on his 9th Ward home was beaten bloody and senseless and arrested outside his French Quarter hotel by NOPD who then menaced the TV camera man and reporter who recorded the incident. A middle-aged black female friend of mine, also back to check on her home, told me she is leaving the city for good because she cannot enter a store or place of business without being treated like a probable looter.
That was the line from the bourgeois state immediately after the storm. The prostitute bourgeois press duly repeated the lies as fact for four fateful days: namely that there was nobody in New Orleans to save but criminals and looters, and you couldn’t go in there because you’d get shot.
Red Cross trucks and fleets of rescue vehicles were stopped by the feds and barred from entering the city while vulnerable elderly and ill died awaiting rescue, including those in hospitals.
Only after enough movie stars, Wal Mart trucks and TV camera men got in and showed the scenes of poor and elderly, mothers and children begging to be saved did the tide turn.
After all was said and done the “criminal takeover” turned out to be a racist lie, and no one has apologized or retracted it.
The real looters were the cops. NOPD officers stole every last Cadillac and Corvette from a downtown dealership in a widely witnessed example.
New Orleans is a key port city and transportation hub which cannot be abandoned, moved, or reduced to a Disneyland version of the French Quarter. Black people are literally the backbone, guts and heart of New Orleans. People love this city for its Afro-Caribbean-Creole-Latin charm, reflected everywhere: in the architecture, food, music and culture of “laissez les bon temps rouler.” You cannot keep out the black port workers, laborers, musicians, chefs, oil workers, hospital and hospitality industry workers and still have a city.
A bitter joke made the rounds here:
What is Bush’s position on Roe versus Wade? Answer: he doesn’t care how people get out of New Orleans. The hurricane of the century blew down most of this town, revealing the vicious hostility of the ruling class toward the poor, the black and the working class. Truly a socialist revolution is needed to put the working class in power. It’s a matter of life and death.
1 November 2005
Categories: disasters, racism, trotskyism, united-states