more from inside New Orleans, from Jordan Flaherty

NewOrleansBlues.jpg
Troy Tallent brings some blues back to the French Quarter, by playing for the few residents and police still in the neighborhood. Originally from Georgia, Troy came to New Orleans in 1987 and he hasn't left yet. [Los Angeles Times caption dated September 3]

NewOrleans105.jpg
HELP AT HAND: Nita LaGarde, 105, leaves New Orleans’ convention center with her nurse’s granddaughter Tanisha Blevin, 5. Before coming to the shelter, they huddled in an attic and on an interstate island. Helicopters evacuated the elderly, infirm and infants. About 1,000 people remain. [Los Angeles Times dated September 4]


I'm publishing a second letter from Jordan Flaherty this morning, once again copied in its entirety. The first section includes his thoughts on the the city, the second is in the form of a diary and the third is the beginnings of a prospectus for aiding the people of New Orleans.


DON'T LET NEW ORLEANS DIE

by Jordan Flaherty

August 27 - September 3, 2005

Its been a day since I evacuated from New Orleans, my
home, the city I love. Today I saw Governor
Blanco proudly speak of troops coming in with orders
to shoot to kill. Is she trying to help New
Orleans, or has she declared war?

I feel like the world isn’t seeing the truth about the
city I love. People outside know about Jazz Fest
and Bourbon Street and beads, and now they know about
looters and armed gangs and helicopter
rescue.

What's missing is the story of a city and people who
have created a culture of liberation and
resistance. A city where people have stood up against
centuries of racism and white supremacy.

This is the city where in 1892 Homer Plessy and the
Citizens Committee planned the direct action
that brought the first (unsuccessful) legal challenge
to the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” This is
the city where in 1970 the New Orleans Black Panthers
held off the police from the desire housing
projects, and also formed one of the nations’ first
Black Panther chapters in prison. Where in 2005
teens at Frederick Douglas High School, one of the
most impoverished schools in the US, formed a
student activist group called Teens With Attitude to
fight for educational justice, and canvassed their
community to develop true community ownership of their
school.

I didn’t really understand community until I moved to
New Orleans. Secondlines, the new orleans
tradition of roving street parties with a brass band,
began as a form of community insurance, and are
still used to benefit those needing aid. New Orleans
is a place where someone always wants to feed
you.

Instead of demonizing this community, instead of
mistreating them and shooting them and stranding
them in refugee camps and displacing them across the
southern US, we need to give our love and
support to this community in their hour of crisis, and
then we need to let them lead the redevelopment
of New Orleans. As Naomi Klein has already pointed
out, the rebuilding money that will come in
doesn’t belong to the Red Cross or FEMA or Homeland
Security, the money belongs to the people of
New Orleans.


HURRICANE DIARY

Many people have asked for more information about my
experience in the past week. I was one of
the fortunate ones. I had food and water and a solid
home. Below are notes from my week in the
disaster that was constructed out of greed, corruption
and neglect.

Saturday, August 27

I’m in New Orleans, and there’s word of a hurricane
approaching. I don’t consider leaving. Why?
Because I don’t have a car, and all the airlines and
car rental companies are sold out. Because the
last two hurricanes were false alarms, despite the
shrill and vacuous media alarms. Because I have
a sturdy, second floor apartment, food, water,
flashlights, and supplies. Because there is not much
of an evacuation plan. Friends of mine who evacuated
last time sat in their cars, moving 50 miles in 12
hours.

Sunday, August 28

As the storm approaches and grows larger, everyone I
know is calling. “Are you staying or going?
where are you staying? Are you bringing your pets?
What should I do?” Governor Blanco urges us
to “pray the hurricane down” to a level 2.

I relent to pressure somewhat and relocate to a more
sturdy location, an apartment complex built out
of an old can factory in the midcity neighborhood.
The building is five stories high, built of concrete
and brick. There are seven of us in the apartment,
with four cats.

Monday, August 29

Its morning, the storm is over, and we survey the
streets outside. There has been some flooding. A
few of us explore the neighborhood in boats, and we
see extensive damage, but overall we feel as if
New Orleans has once again escaped fate.

Later in the day, we hear some reports of much greater
flooding in destruction in the ninth ward and
lower ninth ward neighborhoods, New Orleans’ most
overexploited communities.

Tomorrow, we decide, the water will lower and we’ll
walk home. We expect power will start coming
on in a week or so.

There are many relaxed and friendly conversations,
especially on the roof. With all of the lights in the
city out, the night sky is beautiful. We lie on our
backs and watch shooting stars.

Tuesday, August 30

We wake up to discover that the water level has risen
several feet. Panic begins to set in among
some. We inventory our food and find that, if we
ration it tightly, we have enough for five days. As
we discuss it, we repeatedly say, “not that we’ll be
here that long, but if we had to...”

We continue to explore the area by boat, helping
people when possible. The atmosphere outside is
a sort of post-apocalyptic, threatening world of
obscure danger, where the streets are empty and the
future seems cloudy. The water is a repellent mix of
sewage, gas, oil, trash and worse.

We meet some of our neighbors. Most of the building
is empty. Of at least 250 apartments, there are
maybe 200 people in the building, about half white and
half Black. Many people, like us, are crowded 7 or 10
to an apartment. Like us, many people came here for
safety from the storm. Some have no food and water.
A few folks break open the building candy machine and
distribute the contents. We talk about breaking into
the cafe attached to the building and distributing the
food.

We turn on a battery-powered tv and radio, and then
turn it off in disgust. No solid information, just
rumor and conjecture and fear. Throughout this time,
there is no reliable source of information,
compounding and multiplying the crisis.

The reporters and politicians talk 80% about looting
and 20% about flooding. I can’t understand how
anyone could blame someone for “looting” when they
just had their home destroyed by the neglect
and corruption of a country that doesn’t care about
them and never did.

Tomorrow, the news announces, the water level will
continue to rise, perhaps 12-15 feet. Governor
Blanco calls for a day of prayer.

Wednesday, August 31

White people in the building start whispering about
their fears of “them.” One woman complains of
people in the building “from the projects and hoarding
food.” There is talk of gangs in the streets,
shooting, robbing, and lawless anarchy. I feel like
there is a struggle in people’s minds between
compassion and panic, between empathy and fear.

However, we witness many folks traveling around in
boats, bringing food or giving lifts or sharing
information.

But the overwhelming atmosphere is one of fear. People
fear they wont be able to leave, they fear
disease, hunger, and crime. There is talk of a
soldier shot in the head by looters, of bodies
floating in the ninth ward, flooding in Charity
Hospital, and huge masses (including police) emptying
WalMart and the electronic stores on Canal street.
There are fires visible in the distance. A
particularly large fire seems to be nearby - we think
its at the projects at Orleans and Claiborne.
Helicopters drop army MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and
water, and people rush forward to grab as many as
they can.

After the third air drop, people in the building start
organizing a distribution system.

Across the street is a spot of land, and helicopters
begin landing there and loading people aboard.
Hundreds of people from the nearby hospital make their
way there, many wearing only flimsy gowns, waiting in
the sun. As more helicopters come, people start
arriving from every direction, straggling in, swimming
or coming by boat.

A helicopter hovers over our roof, and a soldier comes
down and announces that tomorrow everyone in the
building will be evacuated.

Across the street, at least two hundred people spend
the night huddled on a tiny patch of land, waiting for
evacuation.

Thursday, September 1

People in the building want out. They are lining up
on the roof to be picked up by helicopters - three
copters come early in the morning and take a total of
nine people. Seventy-five people spend the
next several hours waiting on the roof, but no more
come.

Down in the parking garage, flooded with sewage, a
steady stream of boats takes people to various
locations, mostly to a nearby helicopter pickup point.

We hear stories of hundreds of people waiting for
evacuation nearby at Xavier University, a
historically Black college, and at other locations.

Our group fractures, people leaving at various times.

Two of us take a boat to a helicopter to a refugee
camp. If you ever wondered if the US government
would treat US refugees the same way they treat
Haitian refugees or Somali refugees, the answer is,
yes, if those refugees are poor, black, and from the
South.

The individual soldiers and police are friendly and
polite - at least to me - but nobody seems to know
what's going on. As wave after wave of refugees
arrives, they are ushered behind the barricades
onto mud and dirt and sewage, while heavily armed
soldiers look on.

Many people sit on the side, not even trying to get on
a bus. Children, people in wheelchairs, and everyone
else sit in the sun by the side of the highway.

Everyone has a story to tell, of a home destroyed, of
swimming across town, of bodies and fights and
gunshots and looting and fear. The worst stories come
from the Superdome. I speak to one young man who
describes having to escape and swim up to midcity.

I‘m reminded of a moment I read about in the book
“Rising Tide,” about the Mississippi river flood of
1927. After the 1927 evacuation, a boatload of poor
black refugees is refused permission to get on
land “until they sing negro spirituals.” As a bus
arrives and a mass swarms forward and state police
and national guard do nothing to help, I feel like I’m
witnessing the modern equivalent of this dehumanizing
spectacle.

More refugees are arriving than are leaving. Three of
us walk out of the camp, considering trying to
hitchhike a ride from relief workers or press. We get
a ride from an Australian tv team who drive us to
Baton Rouge where we sit on the street and wait until
a relative arrives and gives us a ride to Houston.

While we sit on the street, everyone we meet is a
refugee from somewhere - Bay St Louis, Gulfport,
Slidell, Covington. Its after midnight, but the roads
are crowded. Everyone is going somewhere.

Friday, September 2

In Houston, I can’t sleep, although we drove through
the night. Governor Blanco announces that
she’s sending in more national guard troops, “These
troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained,
experienced, battle tested and under my orders to
restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and
they are locked and loaded. These troops know how
to shoot and kill and they are more than willing
to do so if necessary and I expect they will.”



[WHAT TO DO]

Many people have called and written to ask what they
can do. I don’t really have answers. I’m still
tired and angry and I don’t know if my home survived.

But, here's some thoughts:

1) Hold the politicians accountable. Hold the media
accountable. Defend Kanye West.

2) Support grassroots aid. A friend has compiled a
list at http://www.sparkplugfoundation.org/
katrinarelief.html

3) Volunteer. The following is a call for volunteers
from Families and friends of Louisiana’s
Incarcerated Children, an excellent grassroots group:

Come and help us walk through the shelters,
find people, help folks apply for FEMA assistance,
figure out what needs they have, match folks up
with other members willing to take people in. We
especially need Black folks to help us as the racial
divide between relief workers and evacuees is stark.
Email us ASAP if you would like to help with this
work.

kdhiggs@hotmail.com,
familiescantwait@yahoo.com
deenv_2000@yahoo.com
xochitl@mediajumpstart.org

4) Organize in your own community.

5) Add your apartment to the housing board at
www.hurricanehousing.org.

6) Support grassroots, community control of
redevelopment.

Don’t let New Orleans die.


More on Katrina, from independent sources, can be found on Znet.


[images from the Los Angeles Times, the first by LAT photographer Carolyn Cole, the second by the AP's Eric Gay]

Jordan has been an organizer for the International Solidarity Movement in NYC, and has himself spent time on the West Bank (occupied Palestine) and Gaza. If memory serves me right, he moved down to New Orleans about two year ago. He is currently an editor with left turn magazine. He has a calm demeanor and has struck me on the few occasions I've seen him speak as a really nice guy. He is definitely a community role model.