Thursday, September 29, 2005

Jordan's Log--Fighting for New Orleans

A month later, many of those dislocated and displaced from New Orleans are still trying to reunite with family members, still trying to find out information about their homes and belongings, still grieving over their losses. Parents are still trying to find a school district for their kids, and local schools are over full and some are not welcoming. One Louisiana school suspended all New Orleans students as punishment for the actions of one child.

For many who are still in the shelter system, abuse and revictimization is rampant. There have been widespread reports of racism and discrimination in Red Cross shelters, especially in Lafayette, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge. According to Jodie Escobedo, a doctor from California who was volunteering in the Baton Rouge shelters, “Local officials, including politicians, select Red Cross personnel and an especially well placed but small segment of the Louisiana medical community, have managed to get themselves into positions of power where their prejudices result in the hoarding of supplies, vilification of the needy and substandard treatment of volunteers and refugees alike.”

Escobedo paints a devastating portrait. “I witnessed Red Cross staff treated abusively by shelter administration who also expressed contempt for the sheltered population. Dental abscesses abounded and when several cases of small individual cases of Scope were donated, Red Cross staff was told not to distribute it because ‘they will drink it and get drunk.’ At the River Center the Red Cross hoarded hygiene supplies and basic necessities on a giant loading dock while kids could not go to school because they had no pants or shoes, babies drank from dirty baby bottles, people slept on the floor and donated clothes sat inaccessible. I tried for 4 days to get access to the Red Cross storehouse of hand sanitizer which was unfortunately off site.”

According to another volunteer in Baton Rouge, “The River Center had a special bathroom that was set up for elderly and handicapped residents. Those with special needs. The FEMA guys came in and made it a private bathroom for FEMA staff.”

Not only have many New Orleanians been mistreated in the shelter system, their voices are not heard. The same people of New Orleans residents who the national media portrayed as murders and animals are still silenced. Even in the progressive media, white voices like mine have been over represented instead of Black voices, and Black female voices are doubly missing. Beyond race, there are also other issues of privilege. As one community organizer expressed to me the other day, “there’s a difference between New Orleans residents and New Orleans natives. The voices I’ve heard speaking for us have been people who moved to New Orleans Many of them are currently staying with family or friends from somewhere else. They’re in a different situation. I’m from New Orleans. I don’t have anywhere else.”

They way the media covered the first few days still stings. This headline from today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune says it all: “Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated - Widely reported attacks false or unsubstantiated.” The article goes on to state, “Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.” The one national guard soldier who was shot turned out to have shot himself. Between the Convention Center and Superdome, there were ten bodies found. Despite the reports of mass killings, only one of the deaths appears to be a homicide. However, it was these rumors that were used to demonize the people of New Orleans, and since most of the media has offered no correction, the representation still stands.

Meanwhile, the bulldozer of the Disaster Industrial Complex continues to rush towards our city. For executives at Halliburton, there was no pause for grieving. For the white elites of New Orleans, the same unelected power structure that parades in all white Mardi Gras Krewes and lives in wealthy uptown mansions, there was no fear and insecurity. For all of those who are poised to gain from this horrible chain of events, there has been nothing but a rush to profit. The real criminals run free.

New Orleans’ progressive infrastructure is as weak and underfunded as the levees around the lower 9th ward. The grassroots organizations who are coming together to fight for the future of New Orleans are struggling to define their work and mission, while the diaspora of our city becomes ever more displaced.

There are so many difficulties that organizers face right now, from the stress and trauma of lost lives and livelihoods, to communications and housing issues. The cel phone network in Baton Rouge is so overloaded right now, its almost impossible to call from one local cel phone to another. Apartments are scarce, and some landlords are asking for six months rent in advance. New Orleans-based groups have no access to their office and files. It seems that every day I talk to another friend who has lost everything, or is trying to clean mold off of a few remaining possessions they’ve recovered. I still don’t know if all of my friends are alive, including one of my best friends and her family.

Still, the fight continues. The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Commission (PHRF), currently based in Jackson, Mississippi, is working to set up offices in other cities with evacuee populations. They have also formed committees and a structure for folks from New Orleans and for supporters from around the US to join, and they are convening a strategy retreat for this weekend, in South Carolina. “We’re buckling down for the long term,” organizer Curtis Muhammad told me. “This is a five year, a ten year struggle.”

PHRF has achieved an early prominence through its powerful and galvanizing first statement, issued just days after the world watched in horror as a city drowned under mismanagement and neglect. Since then, representatives from the group have been highlighted on independent media, and have met with Hugo Chavez and spoke at last weekend’s March on Washington.However, there are other efforts as well, with various levels of cooperation and communication. In Baton Rouge, at least two other coalitions focused on reconstruction have come together. One of the groups was initiated by the NAACP and the Service Employees International Union, and is planning demonstrations, as well as media and political campaigns. Their first two meetings featured a diversity of organizations and individuals, from shelter residents to folks from ACLU, ACORN, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. They are still grappling with everything from the group’s name and mission, to their demands.

Another group, the Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition, was initiated by progressive political campaigners from New Orleans, and appears to be focused more on political pressure. The conveners, Cheron Brylski and Russell Henderson, have worked with a wide array of progressive politicians from Louisiana.Still, most New Orleans residents do not know about these groups, and those of us who are in touch have been following their progress with hope and apprehension. As one shelter resident whispered to me during a recent coalition meeting, “I’m just worried that they’ve won already. The Krewe’s have won, and we’ll never see our city again.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Islamonline Interview with Yours Truly

Okay, I was asked to do an interview with Dr. Khalil Jassemm for

Hope you like it, though I really wish they would edit and spell check our responses before posting them. I mean, one was a phone interview and the other was online. Never mind.

More Scenes from the Big Easy

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Trees and a Damaged Car

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Hey, My stepfather's house is still standing!

Grant it, it's proably filled with mold and mildew from the wet carpets but at least he won't have to scrap the whole thing. Posted by Picasa

Can you see the brown lines?

That lets you know how high the water came onto the home. Posted by Picasa

Helicopters in New Orleans East

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House in Gentilly on Franklin Ave.

This house is in the same area where I live though these once stately houses were on higher ground. And yet, they weren't spared. It looks like it was abandoned years ago rather than ravaged by a hurricane. Posted by Picasa

My Stepfather's House

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Scenes from the Big Easy

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fighting Dolphins?!

This is just unreal.

Armed and dangerous - Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina

by Mark Townsend Houston

Sunday September 25, 2005

The Observer

It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

ICNA Relief to Start Chapters in New Orleans

ICNA Relief is establishing offices in two of the largest Islamic Centers in New Orleans area, which by the grace of Allah (SWT) have been spared from major hurricane damage.

These masajid are Masjid Abu Bakr, in Kenner, LA and Masjid Al Tawba, in Gretna, LA. Relief efforts will include reaching out to affected families within the immediate neighborhoods of these Islamic Centers, irrespective of faith or creed.

ICNA Relief in Baton Rouge

This is old news but it's good news.

The ICNA Relief Baton Rouge office humbly announces major accomplishment in regards to relief efforts and this is just the beginning. Alhumdulillah. Every evacuee family, formerly housed in the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge, has been placed into an apartment and all basic needs have been met. ICNA Relief has guaranteed up to 6-months rent and utilities for each family and will continue supportive assistance as needed until all families have been permanently resettled, with the help of Allah (SWT) and our faithful donors.

Though the most immediate need has been satisfied (food, clothes, medicine and shelter) for our brothers and sisters who have been displaced due to Hurricane Katrina, our work at ICNA Relief has just begun. Now, we look from our present position into the future. Sustaining the safety and well-being of an many Katrina affectees and helping to slowly transition back into their previous lives, begins the next phase of our work. En sha Allah, we will enter the New Orleans area as soon as it is allowed and hopefully as soon as this upcoming Friday.

We have reached a mutual understanding with leaders of Masjid Abu Bakr, in Kenner, LA and Masjid Al Tawba, in Gretna, LA and look forward to continuing relief efforts there.

ICNA Relief is thankful to Allah (SWT) for His blessings, the contributions of faithful Muslims, the support and assistance of the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge and their leaders, all other local masajid, and all of the volunteers who have diligently worked to make this possible.

I Love Protesters

Here's some Yahoo coverage of the thousands protesting in Washington, D.C.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Update from Jordan

Dear Friends and Allies,

I spent yesterday in New Orleans, where residents are once again preparing for storm and flooding. In Treme, I spoke with Al, Chief of the Northside Skulls Skeleton Crew, a vital institution of Black Mardi Gras. He hasn't left yet, and says he isn't leaving now. "We're holding on," he says. "I've got plenty of food - I've been feeding people from all over. Let me know if you need anything."

I also spoke with the activists from Food Not Bombs, who have set up a food distribution network from a house on Desire Street, and are working on setting up a medical clinic. "We're feeding folks from Central City, Ninth Ward, Treme, all over," said Leenie. Meanwhile, in Houston, many New Orleans evacuees have been evacuated once again.

Below is an update from Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, an excellent organization I've mentioned in a couple of recent articles. They also speak about ways in which you can support their work. Please help them if they can.

The People's Hurricane Fund also is developing a new website, available at Please check in with them for updates on their work.New Orleans fights on.

in solidarity,


New Orleans' Prisoners Left to Drown

Article from the UK Independent

A leading US human rights group accused prison officials in New Orleans yesterday of abandoning hundreds of men in the city jail in the run-up to Hurricane Katrina, leaving them locked up without food, water, electricity, fresh air or functioning toilets for four days as the floodwaters rose to their chests, necks and higher...

The Poorest of the Poor Affected by Katrina

A Yahoo! article about how those the poorest Americans are left more destitute after Katrina.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Help the Muslim Academy of New Orleans Rebuild

To Our Dear Brothers and Sisters across the Nation and Around the World:
(From Professor Nabil Abukhader-President of Muslim Academy and Vice-President of Masjid Al-Tawbah, both located in Gretna, Louisiana a suburb of New Orleans)

Al'humdulillah for everything.

As all of you are aware, the disaster of hurricane Katrina has affected nearly all of the metropolitan New Orleans area. Our community of approximately 10,000+ Muslims has been hard hit.

The severity of the event has scattered many of us around the country, but the majority are still in Louisiana and, in particular, in the city of Baton Rouge. We are working hard to take care of each other to the best of our capability, but the devastation is beyond anyone's imagination. Al'humdulillah, brothers and sisters from all over have come to the aid of their fellow Muslims evacuated to their area. Unfortunately, many brothers, sisters and entire families remain in shelters because there is not enough housing available. Fortunately, we haven't seen serious injuries, but the shelters are crowded and many of the kids are sick from this environment; some have resorted to sleeping in their cars.

Many New Orleans area Muslims have lost their homes, businesses, jobs and some have lost everything. It is our duty and responsibility to help them rebuild their lives.

The West Bank of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish is the least damaged area (Al'humdulillah only minimal flooding and moderate wind damage). The community is pleading with us to get Masjid Al-Tawbah and Muslim Academy up and running so that they can begin to get their lives back to normal. Many of the children are still not registered in other schools because their families are not settled anywhere and they are without a place to live. We enrolled less than 40 kids at the Islamic school in Baton Rouge; it is a small facility and could not accommodate many of them. The rest we would like to keep out of public schools especially since they are so overcrowded now because of the tragedy. Most importantly, I don't want to see the kids lose a year of their school life.

Muslim Academy (Luqman Educational Center) has 192 students enrolled this year from PreK to 9th grade. The school buildings have suffered comparatively minor damage:

- a section of the roof has been lost
- 3 air conditioning units which were on the roof are lost
- a portion of the south wall collapsed but the framing is intact
- one portable classroom trailer (14' x 40') will be replaced

Masjid Al-Tawbah, located adjacent to the school, has also experienced damage:

- the south wall of the Masjid has collapsed onto the classroom trailer
- roof damage (extent unknown) that allowed rainwater to enter the Masjid and
led to the collapse of the drop ceiling and damaged the entire carpet.

Al'humdulillah, all facilities are in relatively good condition considering the power of the storm.

The Board will try to open the school by Monday, October 3rd in'sha'Allah (this is the same restart date tentatively planned for some of the local public school system). We have running water, sewage service and natural gas already. We hope to have electricity in the next two weeks in our area of the West Bank.

In planning how to achieve this goal, we must face the following reality:

The tuition is $250/student. Now, most of the families have lost their source of income. The school has no outside funding and has always been dependent on revenue from tuition and minor fundraising. According to our data, we believe we will have approximately 100 students whose parents will no longer be able to afford the tuition under their current circumstances.

100 students x $250/month x 10 months = $250,000 in lost tuition

We estimate $70,000 in building repairs to the school and Masjid.

Emergency funding needed is roughly $320,000

We ask everyone to help us heal these families and put these children back in their full-time Islamic School in order to normalize their lives.

For those of you willing to help, please send your donation to:

Luqman Educational Center/DBA Muslim Academy
Whitney Bank
Account# 715428535
Routing# 065000171
Gretna, LA 70056

Or mail your check to:

Muslim Academy
P.O. Box 2891
Gretna, LA 70054

As things become more settled, I will try to keep all of you updated as to the status of the Muslim community in New Orleans and in the surrounding area.

Your Brother in Islam,

Professor Nabil Abukhader
Muslim Academy/Masjid Al-Tawbah
Gretna, Louisiana
504-813-7870 cell
504-433-1960 school office

Disasters--Jordan's Log 9/16/05

New Orleans was not devastated by a hurricane. From my travels around New Orleans and surrounding areas, its clear that very little damage was done to mycity by hurricane Katrina. Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Gulfport and other Gulf cities have suffered extensive hurricane-related damage. However, the damage to New Orleans came from brutal negligence - a lack of planning and a stunningly slow response, created by afederal government that didn’t care about the people of New Orleans, and still doesn’t. Academic Cornel West has called it Hurricane Povertina. Poet Suheir Hammad has referred to the “survivors of the rescue,” others have referred to the displaced as “victims of hurricane FEMA,” or simply “Michael Brown’s victims.”

The houses of New orleans were not hit by 35 foot tall waves or 200 mile winds. On the day after the hurricane, most of the city was in good shape,and many of us still in the city felt that New Orleans had once again come through battered and bruised but all right. Then, over the next few days, the levee broke and water rushed into the city, and relief rescue and repair efforts were far too little, far too late. But the worst damage is what is being done now, this confluence of forces barraging New Orleans and its Diaspora, what some local organizers have referred to as the Disaster Industrial Complex. This is the perfect storm created by an orgy of greed and opportunism engaged in by the jackals of disaster profiteering.

The list of those who are gaining from our loss is large, and it includes everyone from the heavily armed thugs of Wackenhut Security and Blackwater USA to the often well-meaning but ineffective bureaucrats of Red Cross and FEMA, to the Scientology missionaries crowding the shelters, to journalists and disaster-gazers taking up a chunk of available housing, to the major multinationals such as Halliburton, working in concert with rich elites from uptown New Orleans seeking partners with which to exploit this tragedy. These are the institutions and individuals poised to profit from this disaster, while the people of New Orleans face nothing but further dislocation and disempowerment. New Orleans-based organizer Andrea Garland told me about the callous treatment she’s seen in the shelters of the Covington, Louisiana area.

“The Red Cross has made at least 800 million dollars from fundraising, but people in this shelter can’t get soap and are showering under a hose? Is that right?” I spoke last night to journalist and organizer Rosa Clemente about the harrowing sights she’s seen in shelters from Baton Rouge to Houston. Aside from the aforementioned team of Scientology missionaries, she also saw a national guardsoldier point a gun at a five year old, as well as being briefly placed under arrest herself. She spoke of stores around the area of the shelters that have signs saying that shelter residents are not welcome, and she said that people in the shelters are completely cut off from news about the outside world. “Thereare three tvs for three thousand people. We asked everyone we spoke with in the shelter what they thought about Kanye West’s remarks, and none of them had heard of it!”

Whether its in the shelters or in the streets of New Orleans, this may go down as the most militarized “relief” effort in history. The Chicago police are camped out on a bar on Bourbon Street. Wacken hut security convoys are riding in and out of town. Israeli security patrol Audubon Place Uptown. White vigilante gangs patrol the West Bank, with tacit permission of local authorities. National Guard and Blackwater are on patrol throughout the city, along with DEA, INS, State police, New Orleans police, NYPD, and countless other agencies. As I write this, I’m sitting at the River Shelter in Baton Rouge, surrounded by National Guard, with a Virginia “Police Command Center” parked in front of me and a Scientologist Mission Center behind me, with news vans parked around, looking for comments on Bush's latest speech.

A couple days ago I was in a car accident in uptown New Orleans, at the corner of Magazine and Nashville. The driver of the other car was a police officer. Within minutes, there were perhaps fifty police/military/security officers on the scene, and the driver of our car, an independent journalist still wounded and in shock from the accident, was arrested and led off in handcuffs. They told him, “you hit a cop in New Orleans. You’re going to leave town in the trunk of a car.” He was taken to the local Greyhound Station, which is functioning as a temporary city prison, and he was held for 22 hours. (He was released thanks to the efforts of various defense lawyers and media activists).

This militarization of New Orleans stands in stark contradiction to the people’s efforts at reconstruction. The Common Ground Collective, in the Algiers area of New Orleans, has built a community health center and food distribution networkserving, according to organizer Malik Rahim’s estimate, about 16,000 people in New Orleans Parish and surrounding areas such as Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes. “Have the police helped us?” asked one local organizer, “no, they’ve stood in our way at every turn.” The community traditions of New Orleans have generally existed outside the police and white power structure of the city. For example, Mardi Gras Indians, one of the central cultural traditions of what's known as Black Mardi Gras, have always faced police repression. Earlier this year, as the Indians were parading on St. Joseph’s Night, scores of officers descended on the scene and disrupted the event, scaring the children present and arresting several of the performers.

Several weeks later, at a city council hearing on the incident, Tootie Montana,the chief of chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indians, spoke. At 82 years old, Tootie has been a Mardi Gras Indian Chief for five decades. He captivated the assembled crowd with details of a long history of police repression, tied into racial discrimination, beginning with a police crackdown at his very first MardiGras. Tootie ended his speech with the words, “this has to stop.” Those would be his last words. Tootie Monatana stepped back from the microphone and collapsed to the floor. He was pronounced dead of a heart attack shortly afterwards. His funeral was a moving combination of cultural celebration and political demonstration. Thousands and thousands of people came out, dressed in all manner of costume, to commemorate the life of this brave fighter for freedom. Longtime community activist Jerome Smith fired up the crowd, saying "This is about a life that has passed, but it is also about the struggle against institutionalized racism in our city." The link between New Orleans culture, especially the culture of Black Mardi Gras, and liberation was clear.

The white Mardi Gras Krewes of Rex and Momus are seen as the unofficial, backroom leadership of the city. A central moment of Mardi Gras is when theKings of Rex and Momus greet each other. According to The Wall Street Journal, it is the leadership of these Krewe’s that is currently living uptown, with a heliport and Israeli security team, planning their vision of the corporate reconstruction of the city. Today I received a call from Royce Osborne, a local filmmaker who made the New Orleans classic film All On A Mardi Gras Day. Royce is also a community activist and one of the Mardi Gras Skeletons, another Black Mardi Gras tradition. Royce told me he’s aching to come back, and looking forward to MardiGras 2006. “If we see the Indians out on the streets in the next Mardi Gras, then I’ll know there’s hope for New Orleans,” he said.

Jordan Flaherty is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union and an editor of Left Turn Magazine. This is his fifth article from NewOrleans. To see the other articles, go to

Truth and Lies--Jordan's Log 9/12/05

What actually happened in New Orleans these past two weeks?

We need to sort through the rumors and distortions. Perhaps we need our version of South Africa’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission. Some way to sort through the many narratives and find a truth, and to find justice. I spent yesterday inside the city of New Orleans, speaking to a few of the last holdouts in the 9th ward/bywater neighborhood. Their stories paint a very different picture from what we’ve heard in the media. Instead of stories of gangs of criminals and police and soldiers keeping order, there were stories of collective action, everyone looking out for each other, communal responses. The first few nights there was a large, free community barbecue at a neighborhood bar called The Country Club. People brought food and cooked and cooked and drank and went swimming (yes, there's a pool in the bar).Emily Harris and Richie Kay, from Desire Street, traveled out on their boat and brought supplies and gave rides. They have been doing this almost every day since the hurricane struck. They estimate that they have rescued at least a hundred people. Emily doesn’t want to leave. She is a carpenter and builder, and says, “I want to stay and rebuild. I love New Orleans.”

Emily describes a community working together in the first days after the hurricane. She also describes a scene of abandonment and disappointment. “A lot of people came to the high ground at St. Claude Avenue. They really thought someone would come and rescue them, and they waited all day for something - a boat, a helicopter, anything. There were helicopters in the sky, but none coming down.”So people started walking as a mass uptown to Canal Street. Along the way, youths would break into grocery stores, take the food and distribute it evenly among houses in the community.“Then they reached Canal Street, and saw that there was still no one that wanted to rescue them. That's when people broke into the stores on Canal Street.” I asked Okra, in his house off of Piety Street, what the biggest problem has been. He said, “It’s been the police - they’ve lost the last restraints on their behavior they had, and gotten a license to go wild. They can do anything they want. I saw one cop beat a guy so hard that he almost took his ear off. And this was someone just trying to walk home.”

Walking through the streets, I witnessed hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets. Everyone I spoke to said that soldiers were coming to their house at least once a day, trying to convince them to leave, bringing stories of disease and quarantine and violence. I didn’t see or speak to any soldiers involved in any clean up or rebuilding. There are surely reasons to leave - I would not be living in the city at this point. I’m too attached to electricity and phone lines. But I can attest that those holdouts I spoke to are doing fine. They have enough food and water and have been very careful to avoid exposing themselves to the many health risks in the city. I saw more city busses rolling through poor areas of town than I ever saw pre-hurricane. Unfortunately, these buses were filled with patrols of soldiers. What if the massive effort placed into patrolling this city and chasing everyone out were placed into beginning the rebuilding process? Some neighborhoods are underwater still, and the water has turned into a sticky sludge of sewage and death that turns the stomach and breaks my heart. However, some neighborhoods are barely damaged at all, and if a large-scale effort were put into bringing back electricity and clearing the streets of debris, people could begin to move back in now.Certainly some people do not want to move back, but many of us do.

We want to rebuild our city that we love. The People’s Hurricane Fund - a grassroots, community based group made up of New Orleans community organizers and allies from around the US - has already made one of their first demands a “right of return” for the displaced of New Orleans. In the last week, I’ve traveled between Houston, Baton Rouge, Covington, Jackson and New Orleans and spoken to many of my former friends and neighbors. We feel shell shocked. It used to be we would see each other in a coffee shop or a bar or on the street and talk and find out what we’re doing. Those of us who were working for social justice felt a community. We could share stories, combine efforts, and we never felt alone.

Now we’re alone and dispersed and we miss our homes and our communities and we still don’t know where so many of our loved ones even are. It may be months before we start to get a clear picture of what happened in New Orleans. As people are dispersed around the US reconstructing that story becomes even harder than reconstructing the city. Certain sites, like the Convention Center and Superdome, have become legendary, but despite the thousands of people who were there, it still is hard to find out exactly what did happen. According to a report that’s been circulated, Denise Young, one of those trapped in the convention center told family members,

...“yes, there were young men with guns there, but they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and ‘looted,’ and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out ‘the buses are coming,’ the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back,just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.” But the buses never came. “Lots of people being dropped off, nobody being picked up. Cops passing by, speeding off. We thought we were being left to die.”

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, paramedics from Service Employees International Union Local 790 reported on their experience downtown, after leaving a hotel they were staying at for a convention. “We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told ...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...

“We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. ...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... “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 Orleanians 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 hot wired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.”

Media reports of armed gangs focused on black youth, but New Orleans community activist, Black Panther, and former Green Party candidate for City Council Malik Rahim reported from the West Bank of New Orleans, “There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup trucks, all of them armed.” I also heard similar reports from two of my neighbors - a white gay couple - who I visited on Esplanade Avenue. The reconstruction of New Orleans starts now. We need to reconstruct the truth, we need to reconstruct families, who are still separated, we need to reconstruct the lives and community of the people of New Orleans, and, finally, we need to reconstruct the city.

Since I moved to New Orleans, I’ve been inspired and educated by the grassroots community organizing that is an integral part of the life of the city. It is this community infrastructure that is needed to step forward and fight for restructuring with justice. In 1970, when hundreds of New Orleans police came to kick the Black Panthers out of the Desire Housing Projects, the entire community stood between the police and the Panthers, and the police were forced to retreat. The grassroots infrastructure of New Orleans is the infrastructure of second lines and Black Mardi Gras: true community support. The Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs organize New Orleans’ legendary secondline parades - roving street parties that happen almost every weekend. These societies were formed to provide insurance to the Black community because Black people could not buy insurance legally, and to this day the “social aid” is as important as the pleasure.

The only way that New Orleans will be reconstructed as even a shadow of its former self is if the people of New Orleans have direct control over that reconstruction. But, our community dislocation is only increasing. Every day, we are spread out further. People leave Houston for Oregon and Chicago. We are losing contact with each other, losing our community that has nurtured us. Already, the usual forces of corporate restructuring are lining up. Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary has begun work on a $500 million US Navy contract for emergency repairs at Gulf Coast naval and marine facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Blackwell Security - the folks that brought you Abu Ghraib - are patrolling the streets of our city. The Wall Street Journal reported that the rich white elite is already planning their vision of New Orleans’ reconstruction, from the super-rich gated compounds of Audubon Place Uptown, where they have set up a heliport and brought in a heavily-armed Israeli security company. “The new city must be something very different,” one of these city leaders was quoted as saying, “with better services and fewer poor people. Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

While the world’s attention is focused on New Orleans, in a time when its clear to most of the world that the federal government’s greed and heartlessness has caused this tragedy, we have an opportunity to make a case for a people’s restructuring, rather than a Halliburton restructuring. The people of New Orleans have the will. Today, I met up with Andrea Garland, a community activist with Get Your Act On who is planning a bold direct action; she and several of her friends are moving back in to their homes. They have generators and supplies, and they invite anyone who is willing to fight for New Orleans to move back in with them. Malik Rahim, in New Orleans’ West Bank, is refusing to leave and is inviting others to join him. Community organizer Shana Sassoon, exiled in Houston, is planning a community mapping project to map out where our diaspora is being sent, to aid in our coming back together. Abram Himmelstein and Rachel Breulin of The Neighborhood Story Project are beginning the long task of documenting oral histories of our exile. Please join us in this fight. This is not just about New Orleans. This is about community and collaboration versus corporate profiteering. The struggle for New Orleans lives on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lake Ponchatrain During a Windy Day

This was a part of my "Lakescape" series but I didn't get to far in completing them. This was the first of the series. Posted by Picasa

Welcome Back to New Orleans...No, wait, go back!

Salaam alaikum,

Why didn't Mayor Nagin wait until the city was back to some semblence of order before he started inviting people back? My mother and I are looking at him on television as if he has really lost it. But considering the stress he's under, maybe he has lost it. Everybody knows that hurricane season tends to intensify in the month of September. The Gulf waters are very warm now. And with Hurricane Rita barreling towards Texas, his call to return was too soon.

We're not going back until October and then depends on if we get anymore flood water in our neighborhood. Right now, we have 1.2 feet of water back home. Our house may have trumbled and fell apart from being soaked in the fetid, toxic water. When we do go back, it will only be to survey the damage and get our cars from the airport.

My father suspects that they are anxious to get the city back in order because they don't want to lose the Bayou Classic, the Sugar Bowl and possibly, the Superbowl. Gee, we can't lose that tourist element.

Man, for an Eid gift, I want a new government.

MSNBC Aerial Views of New Orleans

Planet Grenada's Cool Entries on Katrina

I got this poem from Suheir Hammad over at Planet Grenada.

A Prayer Band

and some thoughts from Chuck D on Katrina

Finders, Keepers, Loo...Looters are Black

A Transcript of Kanye West's remarks (may he never take them back)

And Mos Def goes on attack against Bush...and Bono? Well, you know the song has profanity so make your own choice.

Aaminah's Linky Loo

Salaam alaikum,

Aaminah always sends me cool links, especially this link to a blog called Deadly Katrina, which has been tracking the aftermath of the storm.

Jazak Allah Aaminah! ;-)

After Katrina, stories of gun battles
Americans helping each other
Clarifying the Chain of Command After Katrina (Audio at NPR)
Katrina Chaos: A Black Eye for U.S. Image? (Audio at NPR)
Another storm could renew flooding (A Blog)

Another Awe-Inspiring Pic

Praise to be God that the weather is not always so terrible. He blesses us with blue skies and cool white clouds because of His love and mercy. These storms should serve as a reminder to thank God for the calmer, cooler days. Posted by Picasa

Eerily Beautiful

My sister said this pic looks like something from an alien invasion movie. Posted by Picasa

Fearsome and Beautiful

To look at such phenomenon makes me ponder the names of Allah subhana wa ta'ala.

Al-Matin (The Firm)
Al-Qawi (The Strong)
Al-Qadir (The Powerful)
Al-Jaleel (The Majestic)
Malikul Mulk (The Lord of the Kingdom)
Dhul Jalal wa Ikram (The Lord of Majesty and Generosity) Posted by Picasa

Home Can Not Be Replaced

Place that was home is really irreplaceable
Anne Rochell Konigsmark - For the Journal-Constitution

Sunday, September 4, 2005

We took diapers, water and dog food. We took a wedding album, a baby book, my husband's watch --- a wedding present--- and my best jewelry. It was before dawn on Sunday morning when we stuffed our Honda CRV with a bag of toys, a laptop, two flash drives, milk and juice, a dog bed, a Pack n Play portable crib and our son's most precious stuffed animals. The last things to go in were Gus, who is 18 months old, and our dog, a 100-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback named Lula. She perched precariously in the back, atop a cooler and a suitcase. I brought no shoes except flip-flops. My son had no long pants. My husband forgot to pack a belt. I did not take the journals and diaries I've been keeping since I was 9, orthe boxes of photographs, or the family silver. I didn't take an address book, or a calendar, or any of my first-edition books.

I made the bed. I folded some napkins and washed a glass. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, I joked. A sandwich bag full of boiled shrimp sits in the fridge. The garbage can and the diaper pail are full. But one week after evacuating from New Orleans, I have learned something: It's not about the house. For the first few days after Katrina hit, as New Orleans began drowning beneath brackish waters, I would spend my days thinking up things I had left behind. How could I forget my address book? Why didn't I pack any of our three cameras? Where is my grandmother's locket? Then something changed. I noticed that when people would call to say it looked as though our neighborhood might not have flooded, I would be uninterested. So the house is there. The roof --- 100 years old and made of brittle slates --- is surely gone, which means it will rain inside for weeks. No, just say it. Months. And who knows which of my former neighbors has taken up residence inside, or torn the place up looking for what? A TV they can't plug in? I imagine them drinking our case of 2000 Bordeaux, or wearing my clothes.

I dream about the looters every night. But even that is not about the house. When we got in the car that Sunday morning, we took a last look at our home,> a double shotgun cottage we had just painted yellow. The celadon green shutters were fastened tight against the 8-foot windows and our bright red door. We spent weeks choosing those colors. We drove past Parasol's, the neighborhood po'boy joint where literally, everybody knows your name. We drove in darkness down Washington Avenue, through the heart of the Garden District, past mansions and an above-ground cemetery and Commander's Palace. We turned onto St. Charles Avenue and drove quietly under the canopy of live oaks that line the most beautiful main street in America. We merged onto I-10 and sat there for an hour, listening to reports that the highway was hopelessly clogged. Fortunately, we are regular visitors to what we call "Cajun Country," that mystical region west of Baton Rouge where a seven-course meal consists of a six-pack and a link of boudin sausage.

We knew a back way and we took it. We arrived in Opelousas in four hours. On Monday afternoon, my husband began planning to go into New Orleans on Wednesday to survey the damage. On Tuesday morning, as the floodwaters surged into the city through broken levees, we packed up our things and began driving again. It was time to be with family. It was time to come back to Atlanta. I sit in the basement of my mother-in-law's Canton home, a spacious and loving place where I can pass Gus into the eager arms of his grandmother while I begin to sort this out. We don't know if we will ever return to New Orleans. As the e-mails pour in steadily --- from Houston, Long Island, Chicago, Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, Phoenix, North Carolina, California--- I feel as though my life has exploded, and the pieces have landed all over the country. I went shopping Friday. As I drove down I-75, I couldn't stop eyeing license plates, searching for someone from Louisiana. I WAS DESPERATELY LONELY in a sea of Georgia tags.

I went to Lenox Square,feeling ike a Lilliputian inside that vast shopping hive. A radio station was having a Red Cross fund-raiser outside. I put a dollar in the bucket and mumbled, "I'm from New Orleans." They smiled and handed me a strand of Mardi Gras beads. No thanks, I said bitterly, these are what we in New Orleans call the cheap beads. My unsaid (and ludicrous) message was, You don't understand about bead hierarchy. You're not from the city that collectively smiles smugly every February, wondering what the rest of the nation is doing while we line St. Charles Avenue with our coolers and our crawfish and our kids, waiting for the floats and those magical throws. Black and white, rich and poor, we gather along the parade routes for the best 10-day party in the world. So many people think it's all about boobs and Bourbon Street. I have never been to Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

Do I sound angry?

You should have seen me when Dennis Hastert mentioned bulldozers. You should have seen my husband when the service person at Cingular pronounced our beloved city "gone." "It will never be the same," she said. Lady, he wanted to shout, like you even know what it was? Do you even know what shell ginger and sweet olive smell like? Have you ever been sitting at dinner when a brass band just bursts into the restaurant for fun? Do you even know that we count off our seasons as shrimp, oyster, crawfish and crab? Do you have any idea what it means, to miss New Orleans?

So I wandered from store to store, mindlessly purchasing a belt for my husband, a crib bumper and long pants for Gus and shoes for me. In J.Crew, a woman heard me say my ZIP code, and approached me. She too is from New Orleans, and lives not far from me. Of course, because New Orleans has only one or two degrees of separation, within two minutes we had figured out several people we knew in common. She owns a store on Magazine Street and has two school-aged children. She was headed to North Carolina to be with family. She didn't know if she would return. "Well, I hope to see you on Magazine Street again one day," I said. And I burst into tears. There I stood, in my flip flops, surrounded by bags of meaningless replacement items, mourning what may never be replaced. That is what it's about.

Anne Rochell Konigsmark is a former Journal-Constitution staff writer.

Thoughts on Katrina's Aftermath by poet Suheir Hammad

After and Before the Floodby Suheir Hammad

September 16, 2005

If I ever forget what I have seen, I do not know if I will be a blessed or a cursed woman. I begin with what I brought with me. Loot. Clothes, money, napkins, poetry books, nail polish, vitamins, hope. These I left in Algiers, in the West Bank. I brought a pretty pair of pajamas. That I left in Baton Rouge. I brought with me an innocence I did not know I possessed, until I left it in the toxic ravined streets of New Orleans.

My homegirl Jacquie and I got into New Orleans yesterday. She had her camera and I drove the car. She’s never been to the Crescent City. She will never see what it was. The Mayor’s press conference announced that this was the first time in the history of the city that it has been drug and crime free. We listened to his speech during one of the long hours spent in the car yesterday. Beware, he said, those of you planning on returning to do no good. The city has police even more invested in protecting property. Army, National Guard, M16s, M4s, night vision, and even bazookas, he chuckled, for special people.

The smell is not human, though humanity did manufacture the chemicals and structures that have dissolved into nature, to create it. Hurricane Katrina did not destroy this city or her poor. Human planning and human response did. The streets of New Orleans are peppered with so many military vehicles, it appears a film. The 9th ward, which has just been drained of its flood, is empty of its people and heavy with menacing air. The cars that had been underwater are parked, salted. I drove the streets I’d walked down, and knew what hell would look like. What it would smell like. Hell is not just fire, it is water as well. People lived here and made love here and fought here and ate here and slept here and birthed here and built here and whispered here andc ried here and danced here and danced here and danced here and died here and finally they fled here.

It will take me moons and cycles to begin to craft the language I need to transform these words, and myself, into something more than a simple reflection. Jacquie, Jordan and I then entered the River Center in Baton Rouge to talk with evacuees/refugees/survivors/victims/people. I am a poet. I entered through an exit. I brought with me my ancestry and the knowledge that displacement happens internally and externally. Within countries. Within bodies.

The River Center has several shelters set up within it. The one I entered did not allow cameras. We weren’t allowed in at all, actually. We said we were press. We were pressed. An evacuee outside, watching a TV set up by TV people, said, just tell them youl ive here. You don’t really need no wrist band. I followed her lead. The lights are bright. The noise a constant din. A loud speaker announces things no one understands. People are set up by exits, by communal televisions. Girls are placed in the center of groups of tired adults. There are sick people. There are women who are trading what they have for extra food and blankets. I am a poet, I said to the Haitian woman folding and refolding her clothes. A classmate had molested her eight-year-old daughter on the school bus earlier in the day. I asked the pretty brown girl with six braids blooming out of her head if she screamed. I don’t know how to scream, she said. A woman has to know how to scream, I told her. Her mother nodded. The father is still in Algiers. I asked if they’d heard the Mayor’s announcement early yesterday that Algiers would be open on Monday. Oh, thank you, thank god.

A Red Cross worker came over to our huddle. The boy who wouldn’t stop touching the girl would be put on a different bus. He and his family are still in the shelter. What is your name again, she asked the mother. I told you my name so many times, she gritted creole. A three year old girl with cavitied teeth and a runny nose took my hand. Kamani. Her mother was folding and refolding her clothes. Her thirteen-year-old sister taught me a game of cards with me called Pitty Pat. The family is from Jefferson Parish. Twenty of their neighbors had paid a Red Cross person to drive a bus over to the parish. They left her and her three kids behind. I asked what happened, were they late, was there no room? I don’t know, I just want to go home. She cried so easy. Like curtains gathered back to view a storm. Kamani is by her mother’s leg, rubbing it with no words. This girl looks into me and I give her some of my soul willingly, all the while she is rubbing her mother’s leg. They have been here for two weeks. I leave with Kamani a pretty yellow luggage tag shaped like a chick. Andrew had gifted it to me before I left. I tell her to write her name in the lines, and her address, and attach it to her things now, so when she goes home it can look official.

Next to this family is another one. Next to that one is another one. Next to this one is that one. There are pregnant women in here. One, from Honduras, is due in a week. Her belly is pressing against her shirt as if to breathe. She has been here since August 31. My sister is pregnant, I tell her. How many months? One. She says the baby is the size of a rice in the sonogram. We laugh. People are so relieved to laugh, it is painful. Mrs. and Mr. Brown never thought they would ever be in a shelter. He is 82 years old. She gently warns him to not say her age, then says she is a few years behind him. Black don’t crack and brown don’t frown, I say to them. This laugh is a surprise. I was born and reared in New Orleans, she says. I left my car parked in the street, I thought I’d be back. Her home of thirty-seven years is in Mid-City. I never thought I’d ever be in a shelter. Trina is scrubbing her white Nike sneakers, her hair half braided, her lip-gloss thick, when I ask her if I can sit down. She finally tracked down her two children last week. Girl, I am fine, now. Around her are diapers and bottles, which she brought with her thinking her kids would be close by. They are in North Carolina with her mother, and she is fine now.

There is every age here. Every hunger. There is no privacy. The showers are outside in tents and they are no more than 5 minutes long, from walking in with your clothes on, to walking out into the street. There are monitors who shout down the seconds so no one takes longer than the allotted time. There are three or four people in there at a time. There is a cough in the shelter I have never heard before. It escapes the mouths of children as if the earth is shifting inside of them.Willis is dressed fly. Of course he is from Brooklyn. Of course he got game and wants to pick me up. Then he begins to talk about the flood. Then he begins to say, very carefully, know what I mean,there is something more than storm that killed folk. Know what Imean. We could see water so high right here in one section, know what I mean, and right there, where the other income folk live, know what I mean, it was dry as nothing. Know what I mean?

Everyone I spoke to believes the levies were not destroyed by the storm.No one I spoke to had heard any of the Mayor’s comments about there construction of the city. No one within the shelter was watching the President’s news conference. Outside, where folks smoke and breathe, a few gathered around the TVs the TV people had set up. They laughed when he talked about Jazz Funerals and New Orleans culture.Cher is 32 years old and her husband wants to move them to Dallas, where he can get a job. She has two children and they need stability, she said. It makes sense. I don’t know how anyone could leave New Orleans, I told her. Then her face and heart opened. I don’t want to go, she whispered. Girl, I know. My people are Palestinians, I told her. Once you leave, you won’t be allowed back. She knows. She knows. The rest of the stories will have to be told in poems. The rest of the voices will have to speak to me over and again in my sleep. I will fold and refold these visions in my mind until I can place them in a corner where they will not be forgotten. Right now, I see nothing else. After the streets of New Orleans and the aisles of the shelter, I feel as if I have never danced. As if I have never been touched. As if I will never be touched again. If I am ever touched again, who will be able to secure this levy? Who will catch this flood? What will grow from this water?

Jordan's Log 9/20/05

Shelter and Safety

Last New Year’s Eve, a Black Georgia Southern University student named Levon Jones was killed by bouncers in the Bourbon Street club Razzoo’s. The outrage led to near-daily protests outside the club, threats of a Black tourist boycott of New Orleans, and a city commission to explore the issue of racism in the French Quarter. Despite widely-publicized advance warning, a “secret shopper” audit of the Quarter found rampant discrimination in French Quarter businesses, including different dress codes, admission prices, and drink prices, all based on whether the patron was black or white. “The French Quarter is not a place for Black people,” one community organizer told me pre-hurricane. “You don’t see Black folks working in the front of house in French Quarter restaurants or hotels, and you don’t see them as customers.”

Just north of the French Quarter, a few blocks from Razzoo’s, is the historic Treme neighborhood. Settled in the early 1800s, it’s known as the oldest free African-American community in the US. Residents fear for the post-reconstruction stability of communities like Treme. “There’s nothing some developers would like more than a ring of white neighborhoods around the French Quarter,” said one Treme resident recently. The widespread fear among organizers is that the exclusionary, “tourists only” atmosphere of the French Quarter will be multiplied and expanded across the city, and that many residents simply wont be able to return home. Chui Clark is a longtime community organizer from New Orleans, and was one of the leaders of the protests against Razzoo’s. He now stays in Baton Rouge’s River Street shelter. “This is a lily-white operation,” he reports. “You have white FEMA and Red Cross workers watching us like we’re some kind of amusement.”

Despite repeated assurances of housing placements from Red Cross and government officials, the population of the Baton Rouge shelters does not appear to be decreasing, according to Clark. “You have new arrivals all the time. Folks who were staying with families for a week or two are getting kicked out and they got no where else to go.” I went to the River Road shelter as part of a project initiated by Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children to help displaced New Orleans residents reconnect with loved ones who are lost in the labyrinth of Louisiana’s corrections system. Everyone I met was desperately trying to find a sister or brother or child or other family member lost in the system. Many people who were picked up for minor infractions in the days before the hurricane ended up being shipped to the infamous Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where it’s estimated over 90% of the inmates currently incarcerated will die within its walls. Most of the family members I spoke with just wanted to get a message to their loved ones, “Tell him that we’ve been looking for him, that we made it out of New Orleans, and that we love him,” said a former East New Orleans resident named Angela.

While Barbara Bush speaks of how fortunate the shelter residents are, in the real world New Orleans evacuees have been feeling anything but sheltered. One woman I spoke with in the River Street shelter said that she’s barely slept since she arrived in the shelter system. “I sleep with one eye open,” she told me. “It's not safe in there.” According to Christina Kucera, a feminist organizer from New Orleans, “issues of safety and shelter are intricately tied to gender. This has hit women particularly hard. Its the collapse of community. We’ve lost neighbors and systems within our communities that helped keep us safe.” Where once everyone in a neighborhood knew each other, now residents from each block are spread across several states. Communities and relationships that came together over decades were dispersed in hours.

Kucera lists the problems she’s heard, “there have been reports of rapes and assaults before evacuation and in the shelters. And that's just the beginning. There are continuing safety and healthcare needs. There are women who were planning on having children who now no longer have the stability to raise a child and want an abortion, but they have no money, and nowhere to go to get one. Six of the thirteen rape crisis centers in Louisiana were closed by the hurricane.” One longtime community organizer from the New Orleans chapter of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence has written, “We have to have some form of community accountability for the sexual and physical violence women and children endured. I'm not interested in developing an action plan to rebuild or organize a people’s agenda in New Orleans without a gender analysis and a demand for community accountability.” We are already unsettled, and now Hurricane Rita threatens a new wave of evacuations. Astrodome residents are being out on buses and planes.

While communities continue to be dispersed, some New Orleanians are staying and building. Diane "Momma D" Frenchcoat never evacuated out of her Treme home on North Dorgenois Street, and has been helping feed and support 50 families, coordinating a relief and rebuilding effort consisting of, at its peak, 30 volunteers known as the Soul Patrol." I ain't going nowhere," one Soul Patrol member told the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper in a september 18 article about Momma D. "I'm the son of a bricklayer. I'm ready to cut some sheetrock, lay some block, anything to rebuild the city." Asked about her plan, Momma D had these words, "Rescue. Return. Restore. Can you hear what I'm saying, baby? Listen to those words again. Rescue, return, restore. We want the young, able-bodied men who are still here to stay to help those in need. And the ones that have been evacuated, we want them to come home and help clean up and rebuild this city. How can the city demand that we evacuate our homes but then have thousands of people from across this country volunteering to do the things that we can do ourselves?"

Community organizers like Momma D in Treme and Malik Rahim, who has a similar network in the Algiers neighborhood, are the forces for relief and rebuilding that need our help. The biggest disaster was not a hurricane, but the dispersal of communities, and that's the disaster that needs to be addressed first. Yesterday a friend told me through tears, “I just want to go back as if this never happened. I want to go back to my friends and my neighbors and my community.” Its our community that has brought us security. People I know in New Orleans don’t feel safer when they see Blackwater mercenaries on their block, but they do feel security from knowing their neighbors are watching out for them. And that's why the police and national guard and security companies on our streets haven’t brought us the security we’ve been looking for, and why discussions of razing neighborhoods makes us feel cold. When we say we want our city back, we don’t mean the structures and the institutions, and we don’t mean “law and order,” we mean our community, the people we love. And that's the city we want to fight for.

Jordan Flaherty is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union and an editor of Left Turn Magazine. This is his sixth article from New Orleans. To see the other articles, go to

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Muslim Hotel Owner Helps Katrina Evacuees

Muslim Motel Owner Helps Katrina Evacuees

Taken from Positive Muslim News


Shabaz Khan Sherwani wished he'd known guests who arrived Monday night were from New Orleans. They left his La Quinta Inn that Tuesday morning. Sherwani figures it's because they were out of money. If he'd known, he would have insisted they stay put, money or no money.

So, now he's asking guests to show their driver's licenses when they check into the motel near Norcross. Shabaz Khan Sherwani, owner of the La Quinta Inn on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, has opened up the motel — and his heart — to help evacuees from New Orleans and other areas affected. Sherwani wants to know if anybody's from Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi. He wants to know because he wants to help, something he's been doing a lot of the past six days.

"You see the pain on their faces," said Sherwani, a Pakastani native who moved to Atlanta 16 years ago."It's a world responsibility to help." On Thursday, 17 families from the Crescent City were staying at Sherwani's hotel, located off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Another 60 were expected to arrive through the night. The $367 weekly rate has been cut to $200. Rooms with double beds, usually $55, now rent for $45. No money? No problem. Sherwani will find someone — or some way — to pay.

Read the whole article at:

More FEMA blunders...trailers packed with ice are sent to Maine

FEMA Sends Trucks Full Of Ice For Katrina Victims To Maine

Created: 9/19/2005 8:31:47 PM
Updated: 9/20/2005 10:46:21 AM

The trucks started arriving this weekend, and they're expected to keep coming through Sunday. City officials say they have no idea why the trucks are here, only that the city has been asked to help out with traffic problems. But the truck drivers NEWSCENTER spoke to said they went all the way down to the Gulf Coast with the ice -- stayed for a few days -- and then were told by FEMA they needed to drive to Maine to store it.

The truck drivers, who are from all over the country, tell us they were subcontracted by FEMA. They started arriving over the weekend, and city spokesperson Peter Dewitt says as many as 200 trucks could come to the city by the end of the week.The trucks are storing the ice at Americold, a company with awarehouse on Read Street in Portland. People who live nearby say all the traffic has been baffling them for days. The trucks can only unload 4 at a time -- so the city is allowing some of them to sit at the International Marine Terminal and at the Jetport's satellite parking lot. No one NEWSCENTER talked to has any idea when, or even if the ice will go back to the gulf coast.

Hurricane Katrina Captured

 Posted by Picasa

Hurricane Katrina pics

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Hurricane Katrina captured...

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Castro Offered Cuban Doctors

But no response from the American government.


President Fidel Castro on Monday lamented that the U.S. government had not still responded two weeks after he offered to send nearly 1,600 Cuban doctors to help Hurricane Katrina victims, saying the team could have saved lives. The U.S. government has suggested there were sufficient American physicians to care for the ailing among those displaced by the storm across Louisiana and Mississippi.

Soundvision's Help for Hurricane Relief

On a final note, if you know anyone who is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, please give him or her this article from CNN.

It has excellent information about how they can get immediate financial assistance fromvarious sources. The article is at:

Salam/PeaceAbdul Malik Mujahid


"Do We Rebuild Iraq or the Gulf South?" asks the current administration

Just when you think things could get worse...

But now, amid pleas for aid after Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration has launched an unusual effort to raise charitable contributions for another cause: the government's attempt to rebuild Iraq.

Although more than $30 billion in taxpayer funds have been appropriated for Iraqi reconstruction, the administration earlier this month launched an Internet-based fundraising effort that it says is aimed at giving Americans "a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq." Contributors have no way of knowing who's getting the money or precisely where it's headed, because the government says it must keep the details secret for security reasons...

Children Coping With the Storm

This is a Yahoo article talking about the challenges
that many young evacuees are dealing with as they adjust to their new lives.

Notes from New Orleans--Jordan's Log--9/2/05

Jordan's Log is a series of e-mails from a friend of mine still hanging in there in New Orleans. He's a civil rights activist, heavily envolved in the anti-war movement and the Palestinian Solidarity movement. Here are his thoughts on what's going on.

Notes From Inside New Orleans

by Jordan Flaherty

Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps. In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90%black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas.

If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp. I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian TV to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me “as someone who’s been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don’t want to be here at night.”

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can. To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to look at New Orleans itself. For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a place of art and music and dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and federal governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an answer. It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few, overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying that they don’t need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge. There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’s education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison.

It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy. Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to thetreatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race. Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to“Pray the hurricane down” to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane, we tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a day of prayer.

As rumors and panic began to rule, they was no source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse. While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply. No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a “looter,” but that's just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties focus on “welfare queens” and “super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes. City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week’s events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city.

While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders. The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long. In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, newschools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment,deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair. Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyes are focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.


Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn Magazine ( He is not planning on moving out of New Orleans.


Relief Rations are Burned
19 September 2005


Tons of British aid donated to help Hurricane Katrina victims to be BURNED by Americans

From Ryan Parry, US Correspondent in New York

HUNDREDS of tons of British food aid shipped to America for starving Hurricane Katrina survivors is to be burned. US red tape is stopping it from reaching hungry evacuees. Instead tons of the badly needed Nato ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption. And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration. One British aid worker last night called the move "sickening senselessness" and said furious colleagues were "spitting blood".

The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed. Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant. The Ministry of Defence in London said last night that 400,000 operational ration packs had been shipped to the US. But officials blamed the US Department of Agriculture, which impounded the shipment under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.

The aid worker, who would not be named, said: "This is the most appalling act of sickening senselessness while people starve. "The FDA has recalled aid from Britain because it has been condemned as un fit for human consumption, despite the fact that these are Nato approved rations of exactly the same type fed to British soldiers in Iraq."Under Nato, American soldiers are also entitled to eat such rations, yet the starving of the American South will see them go up in smoke because of FDA red tape madness. "The worker added: "There will be a cloud of smoke above Little Rock soon - of burned food, of anger and of shame that the world's richest nation couldn't organise a p**s up in a brewery and lets Americans starve while they arrogantly observe petty regulations. "Everyone is revolted by the chaotic shambles the US is making of this crisis. Guys from Unicef are walking around spitting blood.

"This is utter madness. People have worked their socks off to get food into the region. "It is perfectly good Nato approved food of the type British servicemen have. Yet the FDA are saying that because there is a meat content and it has come from Britain it must be destroyed. "If they are trying to argue there is a BSE reason then that is ludicrously out of date. There is more BSE in the States than there ever was in Britain and UK meat has been safe for years." The Ministry of Defence said: "We understand there was a glitch and these packs have been impounded by the US Department of Agriculture under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.

"The situation is changing all the time and at our last meeting onFriday we were told progress was being made in relation to the releaseof these packs. The Americans certainly haven't indicated to us that there are any more problems and they haven't asked us to take them back. "Food from Spain and Italy is also being held because it fails to meet US standards and has been judged unfit for human consumption. And Israeli relief agencies are furious that thousands of gallons of pear juice are to be destroyed because it has been judged unfit. The FDA said: "We did inspect some MREs (meals ready to eat) on September 13. They are the only MREs we looked at. There were 70 huge pallets of vegetarian MREs. "They were from a foreign nation. We inspected them and then released them for distribution."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Anne Rice Speaks of New Orleans

A great article from the Mistress of Vampire Fiction, Mrs. Anne Rice.

Anti-War Protests and Hurricane Katrina

"One of the bogus reasons that George Bush' gives for this invasion (and) occupation of Iraq is to make America safer -- and Katrina exposed that clearly he has made America more vulnerable through his policies in Iraq," anti-war activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan told a morning news conference.
U.S. troops fighting an unexpectedly stubborn insurgency in Iraq should come home to help face domestic challenges like the unprecedented humanitarian relief and recovery effort on the Gulf Coast, said the activists, who will stage a march on Washington this weekend.

Islam Online Article

An article that I wrote for Islam

Stories from Those Left Behind

***Hurricane Katrina - Our Experiences***
By Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky

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 buses 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 pallet sand 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 tofind 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 f-----g freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As were treated, 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 belongingsin 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. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.