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.


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