Thursday, September 29, 2005

Powder Keg

Updated: Thursday September 29th
Location: Algiers and Beyond

Mayor Ray "I'm mayor of a town with no functioning government" Nagan has announced the latest in what has become one inhumane attack on hurricane survivors after another. This time, its the "Look and Stay, Look and Leave" program. New Orleans residents may begin returning to their homes by zip codes. Upon arriving to their home, they will encounter a mark on the door left by FEMA. If the mark is green, the house is considered habitable and people may stay. But if the mark is red, the house has been condemned. Residents of 'red houses' MUST leave their zip code by curfew time. In other words, they must leave their home neighborhood of family and friends, or face police action.

Law enforcement units are realigning to set up check points zip code by zip code. What happens when tens of thousands of displaced residents who have been treated like cattle are forcefully prevented from taking control of their homes and belongs? How will these storm survivors - many of whom have been treated like criminals and moved around under armed-guard to restricted camps - cope with even more abuse from incompetent government authorities and institutionalized racist/classist policies?

This city is a powder keg. At some point, people will reclaim their dignity. We don't need armed guards lording over shocked and saddened residents who really need a warm hug and a shoulder to cry on. We must change our relief priorities from armies with guns to armies with hugs. We must return human dignity to those in need. If not, at some point, the people will explode.

R - E - S - P - E - C - T
The incredible and persistent work of Common Ground has finally earned respect from the "authorities". First, the military began helping out because they were on the ground and witnessing our clinic, distribution, and community service projects in action. Now, we are getting response from FEMA related organizations. That doesn't mean FEMA has become less incompentent, but more that our work has been very difficult to marginalize. We are finally having the chance to access some of their relief infrastructure that may allow us to serve the community in solidarity more effectively. Anything that helps the people is good news. Meanwhile, we remain vigilant for any attacks against our services from those in power who feel threatened by a community-based effort that has reacted more humanely, fluidly, and effectively than the "official" relief effort.

Today we expanded into Smithville, Terrebonne Parish and emptied an entire truck. These folks have received virtually no help. We are also planning distro into the community of Chauvin - another bayou town flooded during Rita. We are also trying to get into the small town of Lafitte in Jefferson Parish. Much of the town still has flooding issues but there are still people there. We still have an urgent need for volunteers with cargo trucks, rental trucks, pick-ups, busses, etc. that will allow us to expand food and supply distribution in more areas. Trust me, thousands of square miles are in need. Your participation is needed.

I write tonight's update with a heavy heart. Tommorow I return to Asheville, NC for a small respite from relief work. I'm exhausted, frustrated, and simply burned out from organizing and working 18- 20 hours every single day. But I am going to miss all my new friends, both here in Algiers and in the outlying communities of Terrebonne Parishb while I'm gone.

I plan on returning to the area in about two weeks and will be in constant contact with the work on the ground. There are several of us that are also working to build a more efficient first response disaster network.

I'll keep updating with more Real Reports.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What the $#@^#!

Updated: Thursday September 29th
Location: Algiers and Terrebonne Parish

I apologize for the slow Real Reports. I've been working 20 hour days traveling between Algiers and Terrebonne Parish, so updates have to be written early in the morning. Thanks to everyone for all the support.

Yesterday I drove to the Algiers Red Cross distribution point which is located in the southern section of the Algiers neighborhood near the middle-class white section of town. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a frowning young man in a khaki shirt and black hat with a sidearm and corporate logo prominently displayed.

Blackwater Security is now providing security to the Red Cross! That's right, you heard correctly. Armed mecenaries are providing security to a (supposedly) humanitarian relief organization. I spoke with three Red Cross volunteers about what was going on with their distribution and pointed out that Blackwater is a group of armed mercenaries - corporate contractors who have a very bad reputation. I offerred the question - who are they accountable to?"

A well meaning volunteer from Vermont said that the Blackwater guys were very nice and they offered protection. I asked, "Who do you need protection from?" The conversation ended.

So if you donated money to the Red Cross, you are supporting extra-legal armed mercenaries who were observed shooting people out of French Quarter windows following Katrina. Hurricane relief at gunpoint. Aren't you proud?

Terrebonne Parish is the disaster area no one has heard about. Situated just outside the ring of catastrophic Katrina damage to the west, and just outside the Hurricane Rita media frenzy to the east - this area was only just declared a federal disaster area yesterday afternoon. In reality, the area sustained significant wind damage from Katrina, and then was flooded by Rita's storm surge.

Common Ground has been providing supplies and relief south of the city of Houma for four days. We acted as true first responders - making a supply run during the rising flood waters. For the past four days we've seen virtually no Federal disaster relief agencies. Red Cross-ed finally showed up yesterday with a whopping two trucks at the Baptist Church on State Road 57. FEMA began showing up today and in true form began making the resident's lives even more miserable.

One woman reported that a FEMA agent came to look at her house, which sustained roof damage during Katrina and whose trailer sustained structural damage from Rita's flooding. Fortunately the inside of her trailer was not immersed. The woman kept trying to show the FEMA agent the damage to her trailer, but all he could ask to see is damage to furniture and appliances. When she said that her inside possessions were fine but the trailer itself was damaged, the FEMA agent told her he needed to see "damaged refrigerators and appliances" or she had no claim.

Another woman reported that she has been trying to contact FEMA for over a month. The FEMA website is so complex and overloaded with traffic that even the Red Cross is advising people not to use the internet. But the phone systems are constantly busy. I heard from one person that was on hold for over EIGHT HOURS.

So maybe people should just show up to the FEMA office in person right? Wrong. FEMA will only let you apply for disaster services online or by phone. People are so pissed FEMA agents have to walk around in disguise as firemen or Red Cross workers. Incredible but true.

Our critical work in Terrebonne Parish has yielded the huge need for cleaning kits and supplies. We have been exploring all possible avenues for getting cleaning supplies for distro to flood victims. We tried to get some of the cleaning boxes from the Red Cross but surprise surprise ran into red tape. "You have to call central distribution," an officious but friendly volunteer coordinator said.

So I called the head honcho for Red Cross distribution and explained that we were working with local contacts and distribution networks in Terrebonne Parish and really could use a couple of pallets of cleaning boxes. After a pause she said, "I'll give your contact information to the distribution coordinator in Houma. If they need your help, they will give you a call."

Ahhh... Red Cross has it all covered. Thank goodness. No need to panic. Everything's fine. Move on, nothing to see here. Check's in the mail. WHATEVER!

While the Terrebonne communities of Ashland, Grand Calliou and Dulac have barely seen Red Cross and FEMA, another friend in the Disaster Industrial Complex showed up in force today. Haliburton vehicles were commonplace on State Road 57 this afternoon. It's so nice to know that our corporate profiteers are always circling like vultures to descend on the next money-making natural disaster.

Just the otherside of the bayou from the town of Dulac lies Shrimper's Row. This road, runs through the largest concentration of Native Americans in the coastal area. Father Kirby of the Dulac Methodist Church and community center said, "You know how cities have 'the other side of the tracks?' Down here we have the 'other side of the bayou.'

I've seen alot of heart wrenching things the last month but driving down Shrimper's Row was among the most depressing. Like many Native American communities, this area is deeply impoverished. Many of the homes had not been placed up on stilts (which costs $35,000 - $185,000) and were flooded and torn apart by rushing waters. Shrimp boats and other vessels were thrown across the road and into people's yards. Tons of dead marsh grass debris littered the roads and community. Hundreds of poisonous water moccasin snakes are trying to find their way back to the marsh. Mud covers everything.

I've developed an immense respect for the communities of south Terrebonne Parish - Ashland, Grand Calliou and Dulac. Local residents have been in constant contact with us helping to coordinate our trucks and informing their friends. Once we set up our distro, they help out in the trucks and along the lines. There is such a sense of community. Despite the incredible loss, there is also alot of smiles and laugher amid the tears. These folks, new friends, act from the heart.

I've been in Algiers for over three weeks now. I'm exhausted. Tomorrow, I might be taking a break for several days. But I'll continue to give Real Reports and let you know what's happening on the ground in these areas. Keep an eye on New Orleans when the tired, frustrated residents return to unihabitable homes, little support, and lots of wacko Wackenhut Security and other law enforcement. It's a fire ready to ignite.

Naomi Archer is a global justice organizer and spiritual activist from Asheville, NC working for the Common Ground relief effort in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans. She can be reached at 828.230.1404 or Blog at Website at

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Updated: Monday September 26th
Location: City of Dulac, Highway 57, Terribone Parish

Fifty miles southwest of New Orleans, the Houma Navigation Canal is a 36 mile man-made linear gash running from the Gulf of Mexico to the small city of Houma in Terrebonne Parish. The canal bypasses several small fishing villages perched like wading birds with one leg on the two lane blacktop of State Road 57 and the other anchored in the marshy bayou. Small brackish creeks and channels connect the shrimping villages with the canal and the open water of the Gulf.

When Hurricane Rita collided with the Louisiana coast, the storm pushed a wall of water into thousands of square miles of bayou backed by south winds that kept the water bottled up for days.

The same Houma Navigation Canal that allows ships to penetrate the marsh grass and hardwood swamps of the bayou allowed the storm surge from Rita to do the same. A flood of muddy water and silt up to eight feet high ran through the bayou and swallowed up the small fishing villages of southern Louisiana. Alongside Highway 57, the towns of Ashland, Bayou Calliou and Dulac found themselves under flood waters and the sheen of diesel fuel spills.

The town of Dulac, home to a large community of Houma Native Americans was hit especially hard, their levees crippled by the same underfunding of flood protection that made New Orleans vulnerable. President Bush's 2006 budget included no money for flood protection efforts in Terrebonne despite a request for $10 million by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District. Standing in a foot of muddy water in front of the Dulac community center, Houma native and methodist pastor Kirby Verret observed, "No one really sees us down here."

FEMA certainly doesn't see Dulac or the other towns. Despite the constant buzz of helicopters in the air, and nearly 10,000 homes in Terrebonne Parish destroyed, FEMA has yet to declare this parish a disaster area. When FEMA was asked about the flood damage in Terrebonne Parish during a Sunday press conference, the government mouthpiece stated, "We have helicopters flying over the area. We are assessing the damage."

Adding ignorance to insult, folks living along Highway 57 were told by FEMA they could not remove the rapidly molding furniture and appliances from their homes or else they would void disaster funds. With 90 degree temperatures turning such an absurd restriction into a serious heath hazard, most families are emptying their homes as soon as the water recedes, FEMA's "poverty pimping" be damned.

No matter the super-spin being put on Hurricane Rita relief efforts to bolster Bush's abysmal poll numbers, the real report is that thousands of people have had their homes destroyed and families displaced. No one is sure how the shrimping will recover until the debris clears out of the rivers and creeks and fishing begins anew. Like farmers, a good shrimp harvest means boat payments and yearly bills are paid. If the shrimping is disrupted, an economic disaster may continue far beyond the immediate affects of the flood.

Hurricane relief efforts continue to run along race and class lines. While the misery might not be evident to FEMA damage assessors far removed from the reality on the ground by their aerial surveys, relief organizers from Common Ground have been sending trucks and supplies to the small towns of Ashland, Bayou Calliou and Dulac for three days. The damaged houses and heavy hearts are clear to us.

Maybe its the fact that Terrebonne is populated with working class brown, black, Cajun and Native American people. The area isn't easily accessible, doesn't have any five star hotels like the renovating French Quarter, and doesn't allow for a quickie Presidential "moment" between rounds of golf. It's just the home to proud, resourceful fishermen and hard workers. With Red Cross and many of the other Disaster Industrial Complex profiteers pulling out of areas ravaged by Katrina, and with Rita refusing to provide the disaster film footage necessary for multiple Presidential photo-ops, its quite possible Terrebonne will continue without Federal assistance.

I've been personally touched by the people of Terrebonne Parish. Growing up on boats and spending part of my life among shrimpers and crabbers on the Georgia coast, I have a special kinship with those who make a living from the sea. I'm proud to work in solidarity with their efforts to rebuild.

In compliment to native-led efforts, Common Ground has provided some of the first assistance that some Terrebonne communities have received. We've handed out hundreds of gallons of water and box after box of food and diapers. We don't have enough personal hygeine kits to even remotely meet the need of those families who've lost everything. And for those families that are cleaning out the mud and mold, ten semi-trucks of cleaning supplies would not be enough. (But it would be a start!)

The Methodist Church in Dulac feeds over 100 families every month. Their storage area has been flooded and they are concerned how they will continue this assistance until new food donations arrive. Multiple teams of volunteers are needed to work in solidarity with the residents here to clean up homes and provide hot food. Additional supplies are needed.

Please support Common Ground by 1) Volunteering your time here in Louisiana. A few days isn't too little and a few months isn't too much. 2) Send trucks, vans or other vehicles full of supplies to the Common Ground office in Algiers or to our post office box. 3) Tell your friends about what's really happening in the hurricane affected areas. Visit and other independent media like New Orleans Indymedia - for information you won't get on the corporate news channels.

Common Ground is community-run organization offering temporary assistance and mutual aid to the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Common Ground's team includes doctors, lawyers, aid workers, community organizers, and volunteers of all stripes and creeds. For more information visit

Sunday, September 25, 2005

One Hundred Thousand

Real Reports of Katrina Relief Special: One Hundred Thousand
2:00am September 25th. Algiers, Louisiana

One hundred thousand people. I read the news from Washington DC that one hundred thousand protestors are marching on the capital, sharing a flood of outrage on our faltering King George, who frankly, doesn't care if one hundred million demonstrated. I look at the pictures from the day and I see marches with multitudes of people, smiles and laughter, and creative props, costumes and actions. I'm sure the people who are participating feel empowered and alive.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. All affected by decades of socio-economic neglect and new super-fueled hurricanes. They are outraged at King George and his jesters who have made a joke out of the word "relief." They care deeply about their lost loved ones, lost homes, and displaced lives. I look through the images of my mind today and I see flooded homes, grim faces, and a children's doll floating face down in the tea colored water.

Tonight, there is alot of water. The bayou parishes of South Louisiana have become a lake. Water covers thousands of square miles of low lying land, bottled up against the high ground by a combination of Hurricane Rita's south wind and storm surge. High tide peaks in about thiry minutes. The water was still rising into people's homes when myself and another relief worker left the Point Au Chien community.

The disonance between what is happening in Washington DC tonight and what is happening in Louisiana is too much for me to rationalize. Progressives talk about ending racism, poverty, and showing how much they "care" about other people. But it seems that for too many people, those ideals are values of convenience. And when it becomes inconvenient, uncomfortable, or frightening - then the values become almost valueless.

What could I say to the hundreds of families who are watching the water rise towards their doors and windows, or people who have already lost everything from these storms? "I'm sorry, but I can't help you because we don't have enough volunteers. I know your house is flooding, you're hungry and everything you own will be lost. But look on the bright side. One hundred thousand people are protesting about the lack of relief response you've gotten. I'm sure it will change right away. President Bush always moves quickly on these kinds of things."

But things could be so much different. Imagine one hundred thousand people marching on the Gulf coast to act in soldiarty with others who have been marginalized and demonized by King George and his jesters. I think of the pictures of that day. I see hundreds of tons of food distributed, thousands of tarps and house repairs, and creative ways of acting together to build a community of change. I'm sure the people who are participating feel empowered and the ones they are helping are still alive. There might even be a smile.

Come to Louisiana. Come hand out food. Come provide medical care. Come cover the roof of a house. Come give hope to those who've lost everything. I guarantee it will change your life forever. For more information about Common Ground and community-based hurricane relief, visit

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rita Update

Updated: Saturday September 24th
Location: Algiers

4:33pm Time to run...sorry for the short update but we have an emergency shipment going to the bayou. I'll add more later. By the way - did you notice I used the word "emergency"? If you are wondering whether you should come down, or send anything.... I think you may have your answer. Peace.

Most people have heard by now that the southeast part of New Orleans that lies within the lower 9th Ward and St. Bernards Parish has been flooded again. It's so demoralizing to see this hard hit area become a lake again. Mother Nature seems intent on reclaiming her land for part of the lake. They can keep building leeves, but eventually sea-level rise and giant storms will take back the low-lying areas.

Parts of downtown New Orleans are also under water. Most of it seems to be less than four feet, but there are some of the lower locations with over 8 feet of water. As long as we keep getting this south wind - the flooding will continue. Our friends in the upper 9th and in other parts of the city seem okay. That is good news. But all of us are concerned about the possibility for torential rains in the next few days. Flooding may continue.

I can't tell you the impact - emotional and physical of more flood water. While people aren't swimming for survival this time, the houses that were filled with mud and mold after Katrina may become too waterlogged to be liveable. It makes the possibility of land grabs and profit - driven condemnations much more of a threat than it already was. Emotionally, it is difficult to watch the areas that we've all seen via the news, or in person, flood again. The images of Katrina are fresh and post traumatic syndrome is very common.

Rita's south winds have brought more water. Flooding continues. It feels strange to be so dry here in Algiers while houses float away almost within eyesite of our leeve.

With sensitivity emphasized by my own particular spiritual path ( and the wishes of my ancestors, I have been very concerned about the Native American communities. So I have been relieved to help connect Common Ground with the Point-Au-Chien community and to keep in contact with several others.

Rita has been a blow to these tribal communities in the bayou. For instance, in the Point-Au-Chien community, Katrina brought wind damage but not much water. But due to the path of Rita, the entire bayou is underwater from Houma to the Texas border. That's hundreds of square miles. They are in need again of food, water, house repairs and other assistance. We hope to send our first truck of food and water in the morning.

I still need to contact the Houma Nation. They flooded seriously during Katrina and were likely underwater again. With so many relief agencies pulled out due to exhaustion, fear of Rita, or a hundred other reasons - the need for aid across southern Louisiana is critical. Please support this work.

We currently have two advance teams out scouting to the southwest and west. We are trying to get an assessment team into the St. Charles area. Hopefully by the morning we will have both news reports, official updates from the government, and our own ground-truthing to help determine what aid is needed where. You can be assured that another call out for relief and aid is very close at hand.

I'm not sure how many hours I am sleep deficient. I know I am worn out trying to coordinate the advance teams, get the day-to-day work planned for Algiers, and interfacing with so many amazingly supportive people who are coming down or sending aid. The load is really staggering and the most intense organizing work I've ever done. I am very grateful there are other talented organizers in the collective that make it all happen.


  • About a week ago I lost my driver's license. As you can imagine it was quite upsetting - not just because it was my license, but because in order to get through checkpoints you need ID. I called North Carolina DMV where I got one run around after another. We can't do that... it will take two weeks... we can't send it there.. etc. I got tired of the bureaucratic red tape pretty quickly. We've had enough of that garbage with the relief effort already. So I called my US senator's office to intercede on my behalf. Thankfully they did, and I had my license fed-ex'd in two days. I am safe to travel once again.

  • You would not believe the corruption and chaos in New Orleans right now. It's absolutely outrageous. Add to that the posturing of officials and opportunists who are practically salivating over themselves to get a piece of the FEMA checkbook. As anonymous military official said, "You ever been to a third world country? Well they learned everything from here."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Flashback

Updated: Thursday September 22, 2005
Location: Surealville

The rain slaps on the roof now. A stiff breeze blows when Rita's outer bands spiral through. And its actually really nice outside. Breezy, cool, not like the 120 degree heat and humidity of the last two weeks.

This has been the hardest day for me so far in the two weeks I've been in Louisiana. People are on edge about Rita: where will she go, and what will happen to the people in her sights? I've taken on alot of responsibility, and I realize my recommendations affect the health and safety of other people in our group.

Whether you admit it not, being here has an effect on you. The energy in the air is palpable, as if you can still hear the screams of those lost in the storm. Journeying through other more damaged parts of the city also takes an emotional toll. I haven't encountered anyone who is not dreaming their way through this tragedy that doesn't have the haunted look in their eyes. Relief workers, residents, military, and police all have a certain numb look about them.

That numbness is easy to understand. The tragedy of neglect and fear that took hold here is too much to process in a short time.

Every day brings a new story and a new outrage about what has unfolded here. For instance, one of the Common Ground people discovered a latino community that has not had meaningful contact with any relief organization. FEMA couldn't help, somehow they couldn't come up with a spanish translator!

Or the one about the hospital that was overlooked by rescue teams for almost a week, only to be saved by a wildlife officer who saw someone waving their hand and screaming, "There are a thousand people in here!" A thousand sick and dying people in a public hospital has to wait almost a week to get rescued?

I was told about the young man who tied himself to a telephone pole to fight the flood waters. He didn't make it.

Or how the government agencies can't get their shit together. New Orleans, St. Bernards and Plaquemine parish are financially bankrupt and waiting for the FEMA checks to clear. Uh... checks in the mail.

The most ludicrous evacuation orders. Algiers is voluntary evacuation. Then it is mandatory, but without mayoral support. Then it is voluntary again - all within 24 hours of a major hurricane's landfall! Absolutely outrageous.

Or the slum lords who have evicted people from Section 8 housing while they were gone during the evacuation. Many people complained about returning home and finding their doorlocks changed. Another slum lord prevented residents from taping or boarding up windows. If they did, they would be evicted. That's still happening.

These are just a few things I've heard in the last 48 hours alone. It's very hard to live with. And knowing that Rita is about to cut another swath of the same kind of misery throughout the region.

I'll write more tomorrow. But for now, I need to sleep.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Calm Before the Storm

Updated: Wednesday, September 21
Location: Somewhere in history.

Tonight, the amazing people of Common Ground took the time to voice hopes and fears. It was an emotional space. So many feelings and experiences running together. Everyone is working 18 hour days. They've seen things that will flicker in the mind's eye forever. And they've done the one thing that FEMA, the Red Cross, and even all the military might assembled here cannot do: create hope.

I can't even begin to share how I feel watching Rita spin across the Gulf with 175mph winds. She is displaying the raw power of Mother Earth, awe-inspiring and frightening all at the same time. Even a weaker storm will cause massive damage where ever it makes landfall. Inland of the glittering sands and expensive beachside homes lies more poverty, more brown and black people struggling to make ends meet. It seems unfair the hurricane would make landfall in these places. But then I realize, the storm is not targeting anyone in particular. It exists, as a product of natural cycles super-charged by our own environmental neglect, just as the poverty in this region is super-charged by our own neglect. It is only through our own apathy and inaction that we have let it all come to this.

Neglect takes many forms. The one I feel most clearly now is the neglect caused by apathy and inaction. I am still fighting to find explanation why one million people can march in New York or Washington DC to protest the war, but not even one hundredth of that number can't break away to help provide hope for people who have lost everything in the government's war against our own people. Please, help me understand.

I've recieved a fair number of emails that chastise me for being so hard on those progressives who have decided not to come. I'm working on this project they say, or this issue is important too. Guilt manifests itself in many ways. I acknowledge my guilt that I can't help more people by calling for a stream of volunteers. If you feel guilty for not doing more, how do you cope? How do you avoid just getting in your car and driving down?

I did a quick calculation to quantify the area of significant Katrina storm damage. It's about 15,000 square miles in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. How will we deal with another huge area that needs relief? I know that Common Ground is already making plans to send in an emergency response team. Maybe the beauty that has taken root here, can grow in Texas.

Today, the Common Ground clinic saw more people than the two government clinics combined. People feel comfortable coming to see us, and we are seeing a transition from emergency type medicine to care more typical of a non-displaced population. It's a wonderful validation of the work we've done and will continue to do.

Tonight we attended a community liasson meeting with the military, police, relief groups and local leaders. We learned quite a bit. Among the interesting facts that came out was the group of New Orleans police who are patrolling our area consist of community policing officers from the east side of the river. According to one military source, they have very little command and control. Essentially they are acting on their own with no accountability. And according to a NOLA policeman tonight - they haven't been paid since before the storm, and New Orleans is financially broke. Another solider predicted if they weren't there to serve as a buffer between the police and the community - it would not be pretty.

According to our military friends with the M-16s, there will be a long term military presence in this area. How long? I'm sure they wouldn't say. They said they are here to help prevent rioting and civil disturbance. This points out the Jekyll and Hyde nature of military rule. Sure they clean up streets, give out food, an keep the bugged-out cops in check, but they also repress legitimate social struggle by those who have been oppressed by years of negligence and inequality. Even a large gathering of peaceful people triggers their role as the keeper of State control, not the keeper of justice.

Remember what I said about there not being much black and white here. This is the same kind of thing. The same soldier who gave you a few boxes of food might be the same solider who points a gun in your face if you've decided that "justice too long delayed, is justice denied."

Shocking stories about those who have been relocated, I mean "evacuated." Tonight I asked the group of officials what concentration camp, I mean refugee camp, the Rita evacuees from NOLA would be taken. First I was told they weren't sure, then I was told they would be taken to the New Orleans Convention Center and then dispersed to prisons, I mean housing centers, outside the area.

Later at Common Ground, I heard those refugees living in the Houston Astrodome are being further relocated to Nebraska. All I can wonder is, are they going to make them walk there?

The next few days are going to be very intense. Please keep all of the people in the path of the storm, as well as those of us in Common Ground, in your thoughts and prayers. I'll write when I can.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Updated: September 19th and 20th
Location: A levee overlooking the Mississippi River from Algiers

So many people continue to ask what we need here in Algiers. It's ever changing, but these are some of the key items:
-Lots of tarps (and we need them now)
-Tools including leatherman tools
-Alcohol Swabs
-Hammer and Nails
-Non-deet bug spray
Please send to Common Ground, P.O. Box 3216, Gretna, LA 70054

An unidentifed military source told us that the military is using the Hurricane Rita situation to pull troops out of New Orleans and return to their bases.

"We are spread to thin. We are moving out," a young soldier told us. Convoys of soldiers are heading out of town. Many thanks to the certain individuals who raided FEMA warehouses to provide us extra supplies.

The Red Cross has decided to change their name to Invisible Cross due to the fact that no one can seem to find them. Apparently they've been doing something in Algiers, though I'm not sure what. But they leave tomorrow to follow the military to Baton Rouge so who knows when they will be seen again - literally.

In just a few days I might walk out into the hot, humid morning and find a red sky. You know the old mariner's proverb, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailor's take warning." Hurricane Rita may be on the way, and we have begun planning for our contingency actions should we find ourselves in the storm's path. Check out Common Ground on the web at for the latest details.

So many of the houses and buildings which withstood Katrina may fall even under a less powerful hurricane. Storm drains are still clogged in some sections, and heavy rains will cause flooding and the possible collapse of levy systems if the pumps go down. We are also planning how to get out aid to other communities as soon as possible. Whatever the problem, we have a contingency plan to address it.

When people arrive at Common Ground in Algiers they find that they are doing all kinds of things, from unloading trucks, to distributing supplies, to cleaning storm drains, or volunteering in the clinic. This isn't the place to come and just hang out because it's "cool" or you will be shown the door. This morning I found myself at a large house fire, busting out windows and looking for people who needed to be pulled out. It felt like just another part of any other day here. Strange.

With greater capacity we are extending our reach by supplying grassroots relief efforts in the downtown area and 9th Ward of New Orleans. We are also working in mutual aid with the Pointe Aux Chien Native American community south of New Orleans in the bayou. We have also performed scouting runs into other sections of the Louisiana bayou and parts of Mississippi.

On Wednesday, we are going to slide a shipment of supplies into Waveland (near Gulfport), MS before Rita gets much closer. Waveland is a sad example of the criminal Federal response effort. FEMA, wanting people to leave, closed two relief shelters in Waveland. So now hundreds of people are camped out on rubble, trying to save their homes and sense of place. Food Not Bombs has been there feeding over a thousand people every day. One storm survivor traveled 200 miles to find diabetic foods there. Common Ground is sending a relief van tommorow to offer resupply and assess ongoing medical needs. .

Common Ground has begun independent environmental testing in several of the most devasted neighborhoods. The highlight of the day was an open oil drum located in a ditch behind some houses. For some reason, I didn't hear about this on the nightly news. Hmm. More samples will be taken tommorow.

Also, word out of the bayou parishes indicates several oil tanks were breached and an environmental disaster is occurring. It has been called an oil spill on par with the Exxon Valdez in Alasks. Hadn't really seen that one on the news either. #*@&$#

A drug store in West Jefferson that is charging residents for prescriptions in violation of a FEMA act providing for free emergency prescriptions. This same pharmacist has hired gun-toting thugs and openly carries a gun himself. Bungled prescriptions and dispensing of unlabled bottles have also been observed at this location.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Midnight Oil

Updated: September 18th
Location: Algiers

It's midnight, again. And I'm tired, again. Hey, everything is normal here in Algiers! Everyday is a whirlwind of new information, some positive, some negative, some news that just really makes you want to scream.

I've been really blown away by the incredible response Common Ground Collective has been getting. We are getting well over 500 calls a day between various landlines and cells. We've raised over $5000 in two days. People are starting to come in by the carload - both individuals and groups like Campus Anti-War Network ( who came by to check us out yesterday.

Today we were joined by nurses from SEUI who took initiative and left thier work with the Red Cross to make a real difference here. We hear those stories all the time. People involved in the "official" relief effort bailing to get the work done through creative grassroots means. Beautiful.

But the most amazing part is watching the faces of people who stop by but don't know exactly who we are or what we are doing. Are you with FEMA? No. What non-profit are you with? None. Oh, you mean this is grassroots community aid? Exactly!

I'm also deeply grateful for all the positive response I've been getting from the blog. It's helped spark people to come down here, supplies to arrive, and people to be more vigilant about what is happening in the storm area in general. I'm just really blown away by it all. Thank you.

Please keep in mind that coming down here is hard work. And I'm not talking about King George "hard work" that trashes Iraq, runs the government (into the ground) or antagonizes the people of the storm area.

That said, EVERYONE that doesn't have other responsibilities should already be in their car on the way. We may not be in emergency operations here in Algiers anymore, but the rebuilding and community solidarity work with those who are displaced is coming to the forefront. We are expanding operations too - to the outer parishes and into Mississippi, so more bodies are needed. Please come.

Over the last two years that I know of, civil liberties monitors have documented the use of Israei Defense Force personnel providing training to U.S. law enforcement personnel. In fact, an office at Georgia State University helps to foster this international, inter-agency "cooperation." Considering IDF's atrocious human rights record, I don't think U.S. cops need any additional methods to violate the civil liberties of the public.

Here in New Orleans, we are blessed not just to have IDF trained police departments here, but IDF soldiers themselves! Why kill Americans on the Gaza Strip (Rachel Corrie) when you can kill them on their home soil! L' chaim!

I don't need to point out all the international aid that was turned down, or even refused entry into the US. But we accepted soldiers who have one of the worst human rights records on Earth. Ooookay.

What has occurred here in New Orleans has been a primer on urban warfare. And I will tell you that the aggressive use of information warfare is one of the key tactics of this kind of military operation. It just so happens this writer is a part of Save Our Civil Liberties collective and we've been studying the evolution of government policy that has pushed militarized, urban warfare response to the forefront. Urban warfare is based on the presumption that hungry, impoverished, politically disenfranchised people are a threat to "State authority" and must be "controlled."

The violent police action in Miami during the 2003 FTAA protests - urban warfare drill. The preemptive State of Emergency and military takeover of Brunswich in Georgia during the 2004 G8 - urban warfare drill. SWAT team action in marginalized communities - urban warfare, not a drill. Hurricane relief in New Orleans - urban warfare, not a drill.

I'll be doing a deeper analysis of what's occuring at a later date. There's so much to take in. Digestion takes time.

The "official body count" is bogus. We will never know just how high it is because the bodies are being hidden and disposed of without public oversight. But I've heard the whispers, the stories from people on the street, from military personnel getting things off their chest. I'll publish more as it becomes clear...

By the way, if you gave to the Red Cross I'de like to tell you what your donation has supported. A delayed emergency response embroiled in red tape. Warehouses of food and supplies that went unused for days. Disaster relief lines that take two days of calling and waiting to speak to a human being. Using their connections with the police and military to force grassroots relief out of buildings and communities. Getting a relief worker who just picked up supplies from their warehouse arrested by a multi-agency posse.

And our Red Crossed story of the day: The Red Cross shelter in Covington, LA absolutely disallowed displaced parents and young children who have lost everything from spending an afternoon of joy and relaxation at a picnic organized by Camp Covington- Veterans for Peace. Your donated money at work, aren't you proud?

Our friends at Department of Homeland Security has been keeping tabs on grassroots relief efforts that operate outside of the Disaster Industrial Complex. I'm so glad they can spend the time to monitor organizers and activists but they can't actually save or help anyone.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Who Needs the Minimum Wage?

In case you missed it, King George decided the lowely serfs in the hurricane ravaged areas would survive better by eliminating the minimum wage. Our illustrious King issued this proclamation on September 8th via executive order as recommended by FEMA.

As most of you know FEMA actually stands for Flagrantly Eviscerating Minority Areas - which is what the order will certainly do since it will allow employers to a) pay their regular local employers less than minimum wage at a time when they have to rebuild their homes and lives; and b) encourage employers to hire vulnerable immigrants that can be paid extremely low wages without fear of reprisal.

In the big picture context, this simply encourages divisiveness among groups (working class workers vs. immigrants) when we should be uniting to boot King George to jail. It's the ever-present government strategy of divide and conquer.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Reality Check

Updated: September 16th
Location: French Quarter, 9th Ward, Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish

Hurricane relief got real today. A team of us took a day-long fact-finding trip through downtown New Orleans, the French Quarter, 9th Ward, Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. Along the way we passed haunting landmarks of human struggle made famous by the media whores covering the storm: the Civic Center, the Walgreens drugstore featured in the AP "looting" photo, and the flooded homes of the lower 9th Ward. I'm finding it difficult to articulate what I experienced today. But I'm going to try.

Today an earnest hurricane survivor described his experiences surviving both the storm, and the gestapo tactics of the local and Federal law enforcement units since the storm. Just two nights ago, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) and US Marshalls raided a house next to his. Using the armed cover of a hovering helicopter, agents with machine guns stormed a house. Flash-bang grenades were used and shooting ensued. Who was shot? Did the person or persons die? Why were they targeted in the first place? Whatever the answers, I can assure you this won't make your local news and if I'm not mistaken, it wasn't addressed by King George on his latest photo-op in the Big Easy.

My opinion of several progressive news outlets has plummeted watching their coverage of the storm. It's as if Hurricane Katrina has become a tired and used story UNLESS it's an opportuntity to bash Bush or harp on global warming. I hate to pick on "friends", but the raw reality of what's occurring down here has ceased getting the attention it did when we were all watching CNN 24/7. I got news for folks, Iraq is important, but we have our own Iraq occurring within our country live and in living color.

While in the French Quarter this morning I heard that despite the glossy news in the corporate news, squirmishes are still occuring within portions of the 9th Ward. This impoverished area just east and north of the French Quarter, was the focal point of the racist news coverage during the storm. I can personally attest to the fact that 90% of the businesses which had been forced open were locations to get food, water, shelter or things like chairs. And still, even tonight, teams of military, US Marshalls, and local police perform sweeps and raids on the remaining hold-outs. We will never know the true death-toll of the storm, nor the near certain fact that many brown and black residents were gunned down in cold blood in a form of ethnic cleansing.

Just southeast of New Orleans and the 9th Ward is St. Bernard Parish and the cities of Arabi, Chalmette, and Meraux.. It is also home to the major petroleum refineries, chemical factories and accompanying Super-Fund sites. The area suffered massive storm and flood damage. It's wrecked.

Disparate reports of residents returning abound. One report says residents can return next week, while another says they can return for ONE day next week to gather belongings and assess damage to their homes. Whatever the answer, the area can't possibly be ready for the public. A toxic sheen of film or mud from the flood covers just about everything and dust blows across the concrete and grass. It's like walking into Love Canal. Unbelievable.

When we returned from our trip today I washed my shoes in a bleach/water solution, set-aside my clothes, and took a long shower. Are the authorities going to warn residents to protect themselves, or simply let them root among the toxic chemicals, black mold, and e-coli bacteria?

Many of you heard or read about the incident where desperate storm survivors were trying to leave New Orleans (population 2/3 black) over the Crescent City Connection Bridge leading to the City of Greta (population 2/3 white) only to be turned back by a white sheriff yelling. "Get off the fucking freeway!" and firing warning shots over their heads. Algiers community activist and Common Ground collective member Malik Rahim estimated that over 40,000 people could have found refuge just over the bridge where high ground prevented flooding.

As it turns out, the decision to refuse entry to the shell-shocked storm survivors fell solely on the shoulders of Police Chief Arthur Lawson Jr. He justifies his lame decision by an even lamer excuse: he wanted to protect Greta property from survivors who were told by other law enforcement agencies there were busses on the Greta side of the bridge - and would likely become enraged once they realized there was no relief there either.

So, let me get this straight. People are suffering, dying, drowning, and in dire need of dry land and compassion, but the Chief won't let them in because he's afraid a few windows might get broken? Jefferson Parish, which includes Greta, is home to David Duke Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan. Just ten years ago, two black men died while hog-tied under Greata PD's loving care. Need I say more?

United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and their lame-ass hurricane katrina action page Don't go to the Gulf Coast, don't take direct action to save the suffering and dying, just donate a few bucks to the AFL or NAACP. But you should still come to DC for the September protests. Absolutely pathetic.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Katrina Relief: News and Quotes from Algiers for Sept. 15

Katrina Relief Digest
Updated: September 15th
Location: The Algiers community adjacent to downtown New Orleans, Louisiana

Mayor Ray Nagin announced Thursday that Algiers will be the first of the communities in New Orleans to reopen to residents. While FEMA and the Red Cross will surely trumpet their efforts, the real success of Algiers belongs to those courageous community members who stayed through the storm and activist Malik Rahim who helped to catalyze the bustling Common Ground Relief effort.

Common Ground was the first on the ground relief effort of any kind in Algiers and one of the first along the Gulf Coast. The multiple success stories of Common Ground mutual aid has resulted in donations from Army personnel who wanted to see relief actually get to the community. The FEMA/Red Cross effort, bounded by razor wire, has played a poor second fiddle to the local efforts.

We anticipate an even greater need for relief support when residents begin moving back to the area. To support Common Ground, send donations to Common Ground, PO Box 3216, Gretna, LA 70054. Please pace your donations. Please no clothes or food. More information and online monetary donations will be available soon at the new action website at

Media team members have created a phenomenal communications effort here in Algiers. Today, the Common Ground Relief website came online at This website will be an information clearinghouse for relief activities, needed supplies and breaking news.

Volunteers with Common Ground and Get Your Act On ( are now cleaning and prepping a location within the highly publicized 9th Ward for a community wellness clinic. Mobile medic teams are already on the ground in the 9th serving the residents who braved the storm.
Downtown New Orleans still remains under tight military and law enforcement control. NOPD officers have expressed their displeasure with efforts to bring relief to this part of New Orleans.

"You can't start a clinic here [the 9th Ward]. That would give people hope. My job is to make their lives as hopeless as possible so they will leave." More good will from the "official" relief effort courtesy of New Orleans Police Department.

We are now sending out teams to other areas of the Gulf coast to perform emergency medical aid (EMA) and perform community needs assessments. From this data-gathering, we can more effectively focus community-based mutual aid efforts in these areas.

Food Not Bombs and other mutual aid workers report that some communities in areas like Slidell, Louisiana have seen virtually no aid since the hurricane hit 16 days ago! Common Ground is also working with St. Marys Church in Algiers to ascertain the community needs in the surrounding parishes that have been devastated to a greater degree than New Orleans. Veterans for Peace caravans are also reporting on communities in need.


PROPS!.....The People of Algiers
In a span of just fourteen days the people of Algiers have lived through Katrina, a military take over, white supremacists, and a bumbling relief effort by the behemoth beauracracies of FEMA and the Red Cross. From the vibrant energy of activist Malik Rahim to the helping hands of local residents, they have opened their homes and their lives to those outside the community and have contributed to making Algiers the first community to reopen.

PROPS!.....Veterans for Peace Chapter 116, Their Volunteers, and Michael Moore
A great partner in the Common Ground effort has been Camp Casey in Covington and Veterans For Peace(VFP) Chapter 116. This effort has been openly funded and supported by Michael Moore and his staff. VFP has brought us food, supplies, and information about other areas along the coast. For more information about Camp Casey in Covington visit

**PAN$.....FEMA's God Squad Photo-Op
Leave it to a FEMA backed relief agency to provide the daily hiccup in what is otherwise a determined and efficient relief effort here in Algiers FEMA, the Red Cross and the military have mostly played second fiddle to Common Ground in Algiers. But after learning the Common Ground Wellness Center (a converted mosque) was in need of extra doctors and medical staff, a member of FEMA's faith-based god-squad showed up for a few hours of relief from two nurses, and a physicians assistant. "The calvary is here," the white man yelled as he climbed out of their van!
One of their photographers rushed to photograph their entrance into the clinic. About fifteen minutes later, one of their video camera crews proceeded to set up in the clinic area despite the signs that said "NO CAMERAS INSIDE" presumably to show the 'calvary' in action. Chaos quickly ensued and thankfully no patients were in the clinic at the time.

A quickly organized meeting of the clinic staff and the video photographer was asked to leave. And then the photographer left. And then the medical staff walked out! Hmmm, do you think they will come back tomorrow?

PAN$.....NOPD and NYPD
The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has a solid reputation... of corruption and lawlessness. Now that the Army has backed out of their community policing efforts, the state and local officials have taken their place. Among the police involved: our friends from NYPD - New York Police Department. Now, it seems like everyone and their brother had a NYPD shirt following 9/11 but their driving through Algiers in an unmarked black van openly brandishing shotguns fell short in the community relations department. Did anyone bother to tell them the only terrorists here were with the Federal government?

We are in desperate need of doctors, nurses, PAs, medics and support personnel in addition to basic volunteers. The more people who come to Algiers and get involved with Common Ground, the more communities can be supported by mutual aid. If you think the crisis is over, you would be mistaken. Medics are still saving lives and food and personal items are still in demand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

News and Quotes from Algiers for Sept. 14

Updated: September 14th
Location: The Algiers community adjacent to downtown New Orleans, Louisiana


The locally-led, mutually based community relief effort in Algiers is now being called Common Ground Algiers. Currently, more than 40 volunteer medics, doctors, cooks, communications technicians, community organizers and concerned people are directly involved in the Common Ground collective effort. Emergency services that have been created include a community garbage pick-up program; mobile kitchens to provide free hot meals to anyone in the area; a first aid clinic in a local mosque and a mobile first aid station staffed by doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians; and bicycles for volunteers and residents to transport aid around the area; and the development of a free school for children.

These efforts could serve as a community-based model for creating both emergency response and long-term infrastruture for people affected by the hurricane and who are in need of these kind of vital services. Donations can be sent to Common Ground, PO Box 3216, Gretna, LA 70054. Please pace your donations. Please no clothes or food.


In Algiers, the military has finally put down most of their M16 machine guns and are now helping with pick-up and debris collection. Keen observers noticed this community clean-up begun in advance of a visit to the Common Ground Emergency Wellness Center by Cindy Sheehan and following a blistering report by Amy Goodman and DemocracyNOW on the dead bodies that still can be found on the streets. Rangers from Ft. Bragg continued the clean-up today around town.


Cracker squads are groups of white supremacists who are using the slanderous media coverage and storm chaos to terrorize communities of color in Louisiana and Mississippi. One young woman in a Mississippi town relayed to us that a cracker squad had shot black men in the woods and threatened retaliation for those going public with the story. Similar stories have come in from Algiers, downtown New Orleans, and the outying parishes of Louisiana.

A related threat are the armed mercenaries of Black Water and other contractors who are patrolling downtown New Orleans. Internet reports indicate they have been particularly brutal in the handling of storm survivors.


You can't start a clinic here [the 9th Ward]. That would give people hope. My job is to make their lives as hopeless as possible so they will leave.
New Orleans Police Dept. officer berating relief workers in the 9th Ward

The Administration of this country needs to be put on trial for human rights violations and treason against the people of the gulf coast region; as well as negligent homicide for every person left in this region to die.
Noah, Emergency Medical Technician-B with the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, New Orleans

Neighborhood folks find it alot more friendly to get their health care and healing from a community clinic with friendly faces rather than a militarized zone with soldiers toting M-16s. If the government got off their high chair, and worked with us grassroots relief people, we'd have health clinics all over the city. Believe me, we have the know-how to really help and we have the spirit of true compassion flowing here.
Michael Kozart, a doctor from San Francisco, CA volunteering in the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, NOLA

Our number one national priority right now should be to clean up New Orleans and rebuild vulnerable areas in a safe and environmentally sound way. Then, every single evacuee must be offered the opportunity and the resouces to return to rebuild their neighborhoods in exactly the same way. We cannot allow evacuees to be forced into becoming refugees.
Roger Benham, Emergency Medical Technician-B with the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, New Orleans

I'm a community organizer and medic who drove all the way here to Algiers/New Orleans from San Francisco with a caravan of people. On the way here a few of us questioned if we'll be useful and why we're using resources to come all this way. But after checking in with the locals and assessing the situation, volunteering in the clinic and such, I can see people from all over [the neighborhoods] will be healed for a very long time to come.
Dixie Block, an organizer/medic from San Francisco, CA volunteering in the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, NOLA

It's not so much that the government is not responding [with storm relief], they are obstructing the response. They are telling us we can't bring people the basic necessities of life because that would give them hope. It is a question of oppression vs. mutual aid. That is the revolution.
Jesse, an organizer with MayDay DC volunteering in the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, NOLA

A Crossroads of Conscience

A Crossroads of Conscience
The Peace and Justice Movement and Hurricane Katrina
by Naomi Archer
September 14, 2005

Standing on a road littered by broken glass and splintered shingles in the Algiers community of New Orleans, it's impossible not to wonder, "Where is everybody?" But the search isn't to find the residents of the Algiers. Members of the neighborhood wander in and out the new but understaffed wellness clinic on Techie Street. Instead, the eyes scan the horizon, searching for a whirlwind of progressive relief equal to the storm winds and political hot air that have created this disaster.

Where is the progressive left during this crisis?

In particular, where are the hundreds of groups and individuals that make up the peace and justice movement? As thousands of mostly poor, black and brown residents of southern Louisiana and Mississippi work through a highly publicized struggle for human dignity and basic relief, a critical mass of mostly white peace and justice progressives have turned the focus of their gaze from the Gulf coast to a weekend of protests in Washington DC. Instead of talking about direct action in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, Algiers, or in Gulfport, Mississippi, they talk about symbolic protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Meanwhile, the shocking news continues to flow out of Algiers and other communities that have endured military martial rule, corrupt police, racist "cracker squads" and ethnic cleansing. It was only yesterday that dead bodies were removed from the streets of Algiers. Just today, Food Not Bombs visited communities that have received no assistance at all. Community activists continue to send out calls-to-action and emergency aid requests. If the progressive left doesn't understand what is happening in the aftermath of Katrina, it can only be from willfully ignoring the disturbing news coming out of the area.

It is frustrating to realize the donation of a few bags of clothes and the monetary equivalent of a good meal are enough the ease the conscience of too many people who will spend hundreds of dollars to travel to DC while the shell-shocked on the Gulf coast struggle simply to survive and reclaim their neighborhoods from storm damage, poverty, and government neglect.

Observing the manic buzz around the D.C. protests and the vibrant but overworked activists on the ground in the disaster zone, it would seem a large majority of the peace and justice crowd would rather hob-nob in DC with the rich and famous than get their hands dirty on the Gulf Coast. The stereotype of the "elite left" becomes a bit more tangible in this instance.

There is both sadness and irony in the lack of mass relief action by the progressive arm of the left. It is sad because thousands of people have courageously faced a powerful storm and years of government negligence only to face a tide of inaction by the very same lefties that preach the end of racism and poverty.

It is ironic that a whirlwind of direct progressive action in the relief area would do more to demonstrate the values and principals of the left than any protest. What could be more embarrassing to Bush than thousands of progressives in the relief area, uniting with local communities, and being visible witness to the criminal actions of the government and their corporate profiteers? More importantly, it is precisely this sort of conscious action that challenges stereotypes and builds solidarity across historic divides. Ultimately, it is the moral and just thing to do.

Though its been two weeks since Katrina hit this area, a Federal relief effort that has been both criminal and racist continues to leave people without food, clean water, medical care, or respect. The fluffy media stunts of Bush, FEMA and the military hide the truth on the ground that there is not enough medical personnel, food distribution, or will to meet the immense need.

If the massive network of peace and justice organizations, individuals and activists won't meet the need of those who suffer, then who will? And meeting the need involves more than simply writing a check or giving away a box of old clothing. The failure of the Government's relief infrastructure means that groups and individuals will have to fill that void by providing mutual aid hand-to-hand, face-to-face, in the relief area.

And with local community leaders making desperate pleas for actual volunteers, one wonders when this need will arrive. In two more weeks after the DC protests? With knowledge that people's lives hang in the balance, that sort of neglect is as heinous as FEMA's much publicized inaction. This is a historic crisis, and it can only be answered by historic action.

The progressive community has reached a crossroads of conscience. To ignore both the human calamity and human courage that is occurring on the Gulf coast in favor of a political protest, would be a moral failure of historic proportions. To change this failure into a historic moment of solidarity and compassion is still in reach. But a whirlwind of change as life-altering as Hurricane Katrina must blow through the peace and justice movement in a short period of time. Choosing the right road will take courage and strength. The survivors of this disaster have shown these qualities time and time again. Those of us in the peace and justice movement will dishonor them, and ourselves, by displaying anything less.

To support the Common Ground relief effort in Algiers and elsewhere, call 504-368-6897 or 512-297-1049. The more people that volunteer, the more people can be reached. Packages can be sent to Common Ground, PO Box 3216, Gretna, LA 70054.

Naomi Archer is a global justice organizer and spiritual activist from Asheville, NC working for the Common Ground relief effort in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans. She can be reached at 828.230.1404 or Blog at Website at

Thursday, September 08, 2005

'Get Off the Fucking Freeway'

Katrina Survivors Forceably _Prevented_ From Evacuating New Orleans

Sep 6, 2005, 11:59
By Parmedics Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky

Note: Bradshaw and Slonsky are paramedics frorm California that were attending the EMS conference in New Orleans. Larry Bradsahw is the chief shop steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790; and Lorrie Beth Slonsky is steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790.[California]

Posted at
Also posted at

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New

Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of

New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist.

here was more suffering than need be.

ives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Get the Picture?

Who says that politically provocative observations can't be fun? Try your hand at this game called What's Wrong With This Picture?

After looking at the pictures above, choose all the correct statements below.
a) The people have brown or black skin.

b) The people have been villified by the US government.

c) The people are victims of the "War on _____"

c) The people have been forcefully displaced by US actions.

d) The U.S. Government killed women and children in their communities.

e) Bush Administration provides criminally negligent relief efforts in their country.

f) Relief efforts and rebuilding in their communities are "privatized" by corporations like Haliburton with ties to the Administration.

g) Bush cronies will profiteer from the destruction and suffering of their communities.

h) The media repeats the lies and spin of the Administration.

i) The American people allow the incompetence to continue.

j) All of the above.

If you chose j) All of the above, you are clearly paying attention. Now please go tell all your friends and let's 1) create change by providing real relief to the suffering of these people and 2) kick these criminals out of Washington DC before they kill more people!

Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How Low Can You Go?

Bush's Friday visit to the gulf coast seemed to be one cheesy photo-op after another.

And thankfully, astute people were on hand to record the lies at every one.

From staged construction and needy "victims" in Biloxi to the staged repair of the 17th Street levee that was abandoned after his visit, these media stunts were just a well-planned set of orchestrated lies.

And even more outrageous, at every place Bush went - REAL relief efforts for the stranded and dying were suspended while he greedily went about pretending to do something.

Check out this excellent summary of events with sources here:

People are dying and Bush is lying, again.