BRIGADES of Workers and Witnesses

11-27-05, 2:00 pm

Now is the time for activists across the country to take action to save New Orleans from instant gentrification. There is an unprecedented unity of perspective among progressive political people. Activists and progressives agree that the slaughter of New Orleans’ low-income communities was not backward US “incompetence” nor was it merely an act of Mother Nature. The US has more than enough technological expertise and economic resources to protect our people from hurricanes, even hurricanes exacerbated by global warming. No one doubts that massive instant aid would have been provided if the people on rooftops or in nursing homes were white people with money. And they would never have been forced to live in sports stadiums hundreds of miles from home.

We agree that the levies were intentionally “sabotaged” by the federal government’s slashing of funds for their maintenance. (There is disagreement on how much direct sabotage may or may not have been involved, but that is not important.) Informed folks know that experts – and even an article in National Geographic – had predicted this devastation for several years. So our “leaders” had plenty of time to prepare for the storm with an evacuation plan and shoring up of the levies, but instead chose to do the opposite. Since we know that this not-so-natural disaster is being used to facilitate a modern land-grab and an escalation of the war on the poor, what can we do? We know that the mass media shamelessly promoted racist distortions of the poor community’s alleged criminal response to the crisis. We’ve watched in dismay as our government arrogantly gifted no-bid contracts to monster billionaire corporations like Halliburton, Bechdel and Maximus –despite their horrible histories of fiscal corruption and human abuse. We’ve been sickened to learn that these billionaires will be allowed to pay less than prevailing wages (not even living wages) to workers rebuilding New Orleans, thanks to another blatant federal government intervention. Finally the icing on the cake of our corporate government’s blatant cannibalization of US people is the Republican Congress’ plan to make the poor pay $50 billion both for the poor survivors of Katrina and to fund yet one more tax cut for wealthy Americans.

It’s time to move beyond charity and outrage. The African American and white people in poverty who have been so violently abandoned and abused will never be able to return, reclaim and rebuild their homes and communities without support. And that support will not be coming from billionaires like Halliburton and no-sayers like Maximus. On the contrary, the corporate mission is to reclaim New Orleans, especially the miles around the French Quarter, for the wealthy white population.

I propose the creation of brigades of volunteer workers and watchers from across the US to assist New Orleans neighborhoods, organizations and individuals who want, need, and request help rebuilding – and to provide witnesses to the actions of the corporate billionaires, the military, the security forces, and the police. Political groups and churches could organize these buses of both skilled and unskilled workers, coordinating efforts with groups and churches in New Orleans. The US has a history of organizing similar brigades of volunteer workers to the south during the Civil Rights campaign. We have also sent worker brigades to Cuba and witnesses to Guatemala.

By taking action to stop the land-grab in New Orleans and stop the Maximus no-sayers of public benefits, we will also be sending a message to our leaders. They will learn that the US activist populations will take action to stop billionaire corporations from running our government and pushing our country into ugly racist warfare on poor families, the disabled, and struggling workers.

--Pat Gowens is editor of Mother Warrior's Voice.