by M. Endesha Juakali, J.D.
Last year, the prevailing thought was that the fifth annual event was going to be the last chance to really make a statement because after that, the media and others around the country and world would definitely move on to other events and disasters. That is probably true from a media-marketing perspective, but for those of us who lived and are still living the disaster, moving on is not an option.
The storm that brushed by New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, was never the cause of the disaster. The shoddy work of the U.S. government that led to the levee failures and flooded the city was only the beginning of our troubles.
The real disaster began immediately after the storm when the city’s white supremacist economic elite and its “colored” collaborators decided to remake the city in their image, which strongly resembles a 21st century plantation. These collaborators, who included the mayor, city council, head of HUD and almost every Black elected official, thought that the plan would only affect the poor, who they never represented anyway!
They were not only unprincipled, but pretty misguided in not realizing that the majority of people in New Orleans were working poor and anything that affected them would change all the power relationships in the city.
It started almost immediately with the governor labeling Blacks in New Orleans “looters” and giving the police department and National Guard the power to shoot to kill. This was parroted by the then mayor. We can now see how that worked out.
Then the state took control of the public school system, firing all the experienced teachers and breaking the union. This was done for the express purpose of privatizing the industry, so now profit is the goal, not serving the children.
Then it was decided that certain areas in the city should not be repopulated. All of these areas, such as New Orleans East, the Lower 9th Ward and all of the traditional public housing developments, were areas that were almost exclusively Black and working class. Then the decision was made not to open the public hospital, which was a critical lifeline for the Black working poor community.
Then the political attacks began – and are still going on! Though the city is only 30 percent white, the white supremacist economic elite has used the weakened state of the Black community – as well as the failure of Blacks, other people of color and progressive whites to forge any kind of united front – to take away any semblance of power by Blacks and people of color in the city.
All of the major power bases in the city that were majority Black are now majority white. This includes the mayor, city council, district attorney, police chief, school superintendent and judges elected since the storm. In fact, any position of power that has been filled since the storm has most likely been filled by a white person or a non-New Orleans native.
This has been accompanied by a sustained war against the poor, the homeless and all other lower working class persons in the city. Since New Orleans was declared a blank slate, we are the social experimental lab of the world. Anyone with money and a new idea come to New Orleans, assuming “they will accept anything.”
This is just meant to be a sample of what has happened to the city since the storm. As a native New Orleanian and a Black person, I could go on and on with examples of how sad it feels to be politically and economically powerless in my own city. Suffice it to say, calling this a 21st century plantation is not meant to be a joke.
All people who believe in social justice should make it a point to march on Aug. 29. We cannot afford to move on because the disaster is not over. It’s an ongoing living event that seems to have gotten worse each year since 2005.
Therefore, we must march each year in order to remind ourselves that we are in a fight and cannot rest! We have lost many battles, but the war is ongoing and we must not quit!
I hope to see you at the levee breach on the 29th!
And after the march and program at Hunters Field, everyone is invited to join the residents and former residents of the St. Bernard community in their annual “Unity in the Community Celebration of Life” at the Fightback Center, 3820 Alfred St., in the 3800 block of St. Bernard Avenue, from 4 p.m. until.
To learn more, contact Survivors Village and the St. Bernard Fightback Center at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Katrina Commemoration Committee at email@example.com or (504) 328-3159.
Note from Sakura Kone
The Aug. 29 march will begin with a healing ceremony 10 a.m. at the Lower 9th Ward levee breach on Jourdan and Galvez. Immediately following the healing ceremony begins the Katrina Commemoration March and Secondline, a combination of traditional New Orleans secondlining, African drummers, New Orleans brass bands, social aid and pleasure clubs, various community organizations and the community-at-large. It travels through the streets of New Orleans down North Claiborne Avenue for about three miles to St. Bernard Avenue. The march/secondline ends at Hunters Field, located on the corner of North Claiborne Avenue and St. Bernard Avenue.
The Fightback Center works to maintain the culture of the St. Bernard community. The property at 3820 Alfred St. has always been the focal point of the St. Bernard community. As the headquarters of the New Day Black Community Development Organization, it provided economic assistance, advocacy against injustice, day care services, job banks, GED programs, a youth club and many other social, political and recreational services. There is not much left of what used to be our community physically, but the spirit, culture and love for St. Bernard still lives. The Fightback center is the perfect place for the yearly Mother’s Day reunions that the Big 7 parade has become. To see some pictures from this year’s parade, go to http://communitiesrising.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/fight-back-center-works-to-maintain-the-culture-of-the-st-bernard-community/.