Finding Common Ground in New Orleans
On September 15, Vinny and I were driving around Algiers to determine the reception quality of 94.5 FM, the Battle for Algiers. Next thing we knew, we were on the Mississippi River Bridge headed to downtown New Orleans.
The signal came in well in some parts of both Algiers and downtown New Orleans, but at other times the signal was staticy. Since we were already downtown, we decided to drive around some more to get a feel for the destruction caused by Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the city.
We saw construction crews working to repair some huge buildings in New Orleans, but for the most part, the city seemed to be abandoned. However, there were a lot of US Army and National Guard units patrolling the city and working to cleanup the streets. From construction workers, to the military, to charity organizations such as the Salvation Army, most people working or volunteering in the city were not from New Orleans.
Many homes and buildings in New Orleans have been checked by special operations crews for both live and dead people and animals, but at the same time there are still numerous parts of the city that have yet to be checked. Surely more people will be found dead in their homes. An "X" is spray painted on homes and businesses that have been checked and each triangle of the "X" is used to document the number of people found, the date the location was searched, the military unit that checked the building and something else, but I'm not sure what the fourth region of the "X" is used for.
The devastation caused by the storm and flooding is really tremendous. There have been chemical spills, collapsed buildings, fallen trees, scattered trash, overturned cars and countless other forms of ruin and destruction. The lack of people and car traffic is incredible. We came across Robert sitting on a sidewalk in front of the laundromat he usually manages in Mid-City from 6am to 9pm. Roger said he is finally getting some peace and quiet.
One sight that made us upset was seeing about 150 city buses just sitting in a parking lot. Why were these buses just left to flood? Surely they could have been used to evacuate people from the city. Although many people did not want to leave New Orleans, many other folks did want to leave but were told their only option was to seek refuge in the Superdome.
We met a lady named Evelyn who advised us that there was a bar that was still open for business, so Vinny and I went to check it out. The bar was called Johnny White's and the bartender told us that the bar has not been closed in 14 years. Yes, this bar was even open during the hurricane. We took some time to enjoy a few locally brewed beers and speak with the people hanging out in the pub. The bar was crowded with a whole range of law enforcement personnel, corporate journalists, locals, an independent photographer named Kim and two volunteers from the Humane Society who traveled from Gallup, New Mexico to help rescue animals.
Finally we made it over to the 8th District police station. It was quite a sight. Hundreds of police officers left town before the storm to be with their families. A pair of handcuffs was used to lock the steel gate which protects the police station and another pair of handcuffs was used to lock the front doors of the station.
The word on the street is that electricity will be restored to most of the city by Monday the 19th. Nobody knows for sure what the future holds for New Orleans. In some regards in seems like it will take years to rebuild this city. Some people think that New Orleans will never be the same. Other people think that New Orleans has not gone anywhere and that the people and culture of New Orleans will be back soon.
It is critical that people organize to (re)create a community that best reflects the values and traditions that makes people proud to call New Orleans their home. I'm talking about a close knit society with a vibrant music and arts community, good ol' southern home-cooking, respect, solidarity and mutual aid. Hopefully we see an improved school system, universal health care based on peoples' needs, media labs and instructors for all parts of New Orleans and the continuance of a community radio station in Algiers and stations for other neighborhoods.
All of us who value people over profit need to act fast. Capitalists have their own agenda for New Orleans. There are reports of plans to build a Walmart in the 9th ward. Construction contacts to rebuild the city are not being given to the people of New Orleans, they are going to multinational corporations who will, of course, exploit people.
Many people from New Orleans want to stay here forever. Other people have left town, but want to return. Some people are trying to continue their lives with their families in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, many adults and children have lost all the family they had.
No matter where you are right now, there are plenty of things you can do to help out. Some answers can be found though community based groups such as the Common Ground Collective in Algiers, New Orleans. But, we all need to search our souls to find out the best ways to help.
For more information about the Common Ground Collective, please visit our new website at:
If you can make it out to Texas, Mississippi or Louisiana, your help is definitely needed.
Also, if you can donate money to support independent media for survivors of Hurricane Katrina, that would be very helpful as well.
Vinny and I have put out a request for donations. Please read the following article for information on one important way that you can help out. thanks.
Support Independent Media in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
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