Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Report from Ella Baker Organizing Fund visit to Standing Rock


This report reposted from the Ella Baker Organizing Fund.


The Board of Directors of the Ella Baker Organizing Fund and our supporters from the Korean American Community just finished a four-day visit to Standing Rock, North Dakota. We were an ethnically diverse, multi-generational group of persons with complex and long involvement in movements for civil and human rights, Black liberation,labor organizing, immigration rights, and other critical issues of our time. We went to offer a donation demonstrating our solidarity with the Dakota Access Pipeline Water-Protectors’ struggle against the U.S. government and greedy corporations attempting to invade and contaminate the sacred lands of the Lakota-Sioux people of the Northern Plains and their precious water sources. We presented a letter to Indigenous elders inviting the Lakota-Sioux people to a collaborative project to liberate our peoples. We proposed that Native leaders use their reservations to offer refuge to Black people who are victims of murder, imprisonment, and institutional violence. In addition, we proposed to use the reservations to grow medical marijuana to obtain funds for this revolutionary work. We hope to build on a historical relationship between Native People and African Americans that began during our enslavement. Despite our vast and variant experiences with other mass protests and the mobilizing of responses to basic human needs, few of us were prepared for the sheer scale of the encampment we saw at Standing Rock reservation on the banks of the Cannonball River.

We did not visit only a group of protesters and water protectors, but also a highly organized, self-made and self-sustaining town of 12,000 inhabitants. It was huge, astonishing, and it was developed in an incredibly short period of time; a testament to the superb organizing of the First Nation People. The campsite was complex, subdivided in various areas that functioned like small neighborhoods. The community contained institutions and centers that provided all of the basic needs for a people’s survival, including: food, clothing, winter supplies, shelter, medical care, healing therapies, education, orientation, childcare, communication, (solar-powered) energy, governance, and spirituality spaces. All of these centers were innovative and creative; for instance, the housing options ranged from RV trailers, to yurts, to traditional tepees and wigwams, to “tarpees,” made out of tarp that built upon the tepee structure, and improvised Quonset huts. Moreover, all of these necessities and goods were offered for FREE. The way the camp was run envisions the world we want to live in.

This "town" was a gathering of folk of almost every race, age, gender, hue and culture on this earth. People from all over this country and the world came to support this struggle. We even encountered folks from Indigenous Nations of Brazil, from Palestine, and from Lebanon. The best of humanity was present. Folks would often walk around the camp offering donated goods to people in need; an elder in our delegation received snowshoe-nets from a passer-byer who noticed he was having difficulty walking on the uneven snow and wanted to attend to his need. The air of the camp was infused with a spirit of love, generosity, and concern for our fellow water-protectors, for nature, and for the earth. People stayed and worked despite the bitter cold of North Dakota that averaged 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  For some of us, the community of the Standing Rock encampment revived memories of Tent City in Washington, DC, The Poor People’s March, the Gwangja Uprising in South Korea, and a massive civil action when plantation workers were thrown off the plantation in Mississippi. This experience reawakened our belief in a “beloved community.” Through bottom-up organizing, Standing Rock has laid the groundwork for an alternative community, showing us what is possible for our movement work. We, lovers of freedom and justice, DO have the ability to create a new world based on love and justice.  

At the core and leadership of this great demonstration were 700 Native Nations from all over the Americas who kept their culture, their history, their leadership, and sentiments of love and respect at the center of all activity.  Orientation, which occurred daily for new and old volunteers, emphasized the need to respect the Native’s decisions and decision-making processes. Volunteer leaders would explain the history of this struggle, the core principles and values of the First Nation People, and what allies - non indigenous people - may or may not help them with. This meeting serves as the bedrock of education for allies to understand what it means to be “indigenous-centered” and to reflect upon “settler-colonizer” attitudes and the ways even well-meaning allies may often impose on the indigenous people. We were also often reminded that this is a peaceful protest and that the spirit of the warrior is motivated by and fights with love. Various speeches made at the Sacred Fire, a communication center of prayer, offerings, and announcements, reiterated the importance of respect for the Lakota-Sioux people’s decisions. Speeches also spoke to the various ways in which Native People have struggled against and suffered at the hands of the United States, naming various massacres and genocides, such as Wounded Knee and the Sand Creek Massacre. In these speeches, they would note how they continue to suffer today, and also remind water-protectors how to conduct themselves at this camp in a way that respects Native traditions, especially the need to respect elders. This constant communication and repetition helped this movement stay strong and not be “colonized” and hijacked by protesters acting on their own agenda. To you our Dear Native Brothers and Sisters, we bow to you; we honor you; we respect you for teaching us the power of love as the most powerful weapon for freedom and justice.

Spirituality held ample space at Standing Rock, particularly Native American traditions, but other religious traditions from across the globe were present, fully respected, and welcomed. Native American spiritual traditions were present in the commonplace activities of the camp. Everyday began with a prayer ceremony by the water in which people of all faiths were invited to participate and pray in their own way. The Sacred Fire was kept burning day in and day out, 24/7 by Fire-Keepers. The sacred fire was a place of prayer where people could burn sage, and offer tobacco and other herbs to the fire. Evenings were filled with chanting, the beating of drums, and dancing. On Sunday December 4th, there was an Interfaith Ceremony where people, of various religious and spiritual traditions from around the world, from Christians, to Quakers, to Buddhists, came to express their deep solidarity with the Lakota Struggle.  Every speaker lead a prayer, chant, or whatever method is utilized in their tradition to pray and give thanks for and power to this movement. This ceremony continued with ease while U.S. drones and helicopters zoomed over our heads. It was an incredible display, with prayers in various languages, in which spirituality was not only present in a political community but actively utilized to support and give power to our efforts.

After the interfaith ceremony, a prayer circle was being formed, where all water-protectors would make a circle, holding-hands around the entire camp to pray. Before the circle was completed, the camp received an announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers were halting Pipeline Construction. It was a powerful moment receiving such a message with the spirit of prayer among us, and as thousands of U.S. Veterans of all ages and ethnicities were arriving to protect the waters. One member of our delegation arrived in North Dakota on a plane full of veterans who were so moved by the resistance at Standing Rock that they came to flip the script of history and shield First Nation people from attack from the very government they had put their lives on the line to serve. Some accredit the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to stop the pipeline to the power of prayer and spirituality. Others believe that the government did not feel comfortable attacking thousands of former U.S. soldiers. We were blessed enough to be at Standing Rock, a historical event for our people’s movements, at the moment we all received this exceptional news.

Standing Rock demonstrated the powerfully ways in which spirituality can be used as a tool to support our movements and move our people forward. The leadership and superb organization of the First Nation People has shown what is possible for our revolutions. A self-sustaining community lead by the most oppressed that not only provides all of the needs necessary for a people's survival but actively focuses on fighting for freedom and justice. This is a unique and powerful example of revolutionary work. This is the kind of work that makes us believe that revolution is possible in the 21st century. To the leadership of Standing Rock, we honor you and hold you close.

We have had a fruitful and successful encounter. Several Native Nations have expressed interest in our collaborative proposal. We hope to move forward in the upcoming days and weeks visiting various Native Nations across the country to speak about the prospect of investing in the Medical Marijuana Industry, and creating a haven/refuge for Black people. We hope to build coalitions with and also provide refuge for other oppressed people in the United States.

We, The Ella Baker Organizing Fund, promise to continue using what we learned from our visit to one of the greatest gatherings of freedom fighters in modern times. We will continue to nurture our relationship with Native People and will share our experience with everyone we come in contact. We vow to always use the “power of love” as a centerpiece in our work.

We give thanks and honor to all those who participated in this demonstration, particularly the Native People who have brought us together and welcomed us into their lands and their struggles for justice.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are members of The Ella Baker Organizing Fund. Our Board of Directors and donors are composed mostly of veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, namely from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). We are committed to the recruiting and training of Black youth to become full-time organizers in and for oppressed communities.

We have come to you to show our support and make a donation to your campaign to stop the destruction caused by the U.S. Government, corporations and all those who are disrespecting our earth and the sacred lands of our First Nation People. We hope to meet with the elders and leadership of this noble cause.

We also come bearing a proposal to continue and honor a long-standing alliance between Black and Native people. Black and Native people have struggled together for our collective freedom since the time that Black people were first enslaved and forcibly brought to the Americas.  We ask that our people, the descendants of enslaved Africans who are still today being killed and jailed, be allowed to move to reservations and work together with Native people to build a life for our collective youth and future.  To do this we need to raise 30 to 40 million dollars to hire and sustain 30 to 40  organizers and build and develop schools, clinics, farms, vocational and skill trainings, communication technology and all the institutions needed for our people's survival.  Native reservations have the legal right to provide refuge to an unwanted people just as they did during the days of the Underground Railroad.

To raise the resources needed, we ask you to consider making land available for the growing of medical marijuana. Corporate thieves, who actively support and have created legislation criminalizing marijuana that is responsible for the mass imprisonment of our people, are now the beneficiaries of the rising medical marijuana industry.  An overflowing quantity of Black youth enslaved to the prison industrial complex has paid the biggest price for the criminalization of marijuana. Yet, there are no people of color growing legal medicinal marijuana. Instead, tobacco giants are beginning to invade and seize this industry. However, we can produce medical marijuana and use some of the proceeds toward funds vital to the hiring of organizers and the building of institutions fundamental to our survival.

We would love to hold our first strategy session together here on this site where the spirit of struggle is alive and well.

Supporters from the Korean American community have also joined our delegation and donation to express their solidarity with Native and Black communities.

Thank you for reading our statement and we look forward to a long and fruitful relationship forging our freedom and liberation as a United Front of oppressed people in the USA.

In struggle and solidarity,

Respectfully submitted by the Ella Baker Organizing Fund

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Once in a lifetime opportunity - STEAL from New Orleans Airbnb's!


On Thursday, November 19, a posting on New Orleans Craigslist quickly went viral and just as quickly was deleted. As a service to the public, we are re-printing it here. We do not know who the writer is, and we claim no ownership of its contents or views.

Are you tired of Airbnb rental prices driving up rent in your neighborhood? Is the lip service your city pays to reigning in short-term rentals leaving a bad taste in your mouth (or on your lips)? If so, become part of the NEW OFFENSIVE and pledge to STEAL INDISCRIMINATELY from New Orleans Airbnbs. 

Look at this graphic posted by Nola.com. 200 Airbnb listings in the Bywater/Marigny. There are barely 200 residential housing units in the Bywater/Marigny. There are barely 3 people I personally like living in the Bywater/Marigny. Maybe we should just burn the Bywater/Marigny. Let's save that for another post! No fire yet! Just theft. 

We cannot afford to wait for the city of New Orleans to fix this. THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS DOES NOT WANT TO FIX THIS. ALL THEY WANT IS A CUT OF THE MONEY. MEANWHILE THEY WANT TO CALL MEETINGS AND MAKE PIE CHARTS AND RECEIVE CREDIT FOR TRYING. We must steal whatever is not nailed down from New Orleans short-term rental units NOW. 

"WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO MONETIZE MY LIVING ROOM," said no one, ever. The only way to beat back the incessant privatization of everything is to make it unprofitable. The only way to make Airbnb unprofitable is to remove as much value from the rental property as you can until individual mini-landlords can no longer assume the risk of accepting a stranger into their home. The easiest way to remove value from Airbnb is to steal things. 

"BUT RENTAL PROPERTY TECHNOLOGY IS THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE," you reply. What about your "progressive" friends who are currently glad-handing each other for "disrupting" mega-hotel chains like Hilton and Motel 6! Their hands are cold and clammy, because they are dead inside, specifically in the brain area. 

Hilton can take the hit. Motel 6 pisses away perfectly good electricity leaving the light on for you every night. Know who can't take the hit? The service industry people who will see their hours cut when hotel business across the board is affected. Does your Airbnb-fiefdom offer health insurance? Of course not. It buys you a vacation. When your business model is based on labor precarity there is no room for humanity. Next time you head to P-Cola to chill out and get some culture while someone pays you for the privilege of ignoring your neighbors, think about your blistering Facebook post about health insurance a few years back. I remember how adamant you were that people make individual sacrifices for the greater good. Now that you have the opportunity to actually affect people's livelihoods with your economic decisions, what will you actually do? 

"WELL IF U WANT TO MAKE A OMELETTE THEN U GOTTA BREAK EGGS," is a garbage metaphor. Let's pretend for a sentence or two that it's not sick and cynical to compare the human effects of housing privatization to the loss of one unit of the productive output of millions of enslaved birds who never see the sun and poop on each other as a matter of course because we decided that even when chickens poop on each other the eggs come out just fine (the eggshell protects the egg from the poop!). Good fucking morning, how about YOU be the egg today? 

Let's not dance around the topic of which eggs are being broken here, either (hint: it's the brown eggs). I would bet dollars to donuts (which contain egg!) that an overwhelming majority of Airbnb landlords renting one of the 50-99 rental units in "Historic Treme" are white-operated. I wish someone would take me up on that bet. They'd have to burn down the donut factories for insurance money to pay me out, like so many Hubig's Pies buildings. Donuts for everyone! Or, donuts for no one, because we just burnt down all the factories. Burnt donuts. 

"BUT ALL EGGS ARE THE SAME ON THE INSIDE," you say. Yes, #alleggsmatter. But we're done with the egg metaphor. We're on donuts now. Airbnb proponents are like the fake scrambled eggs that come from a carton. And the hole in the donut is where their empathy used to be. 

"BUT IM AN ARTIST AND THIS IS HOW I GET THE SPACE I NEED TO DO MY CREATIVE" is another thing some dull person is probably saying right now, whilst painting a jazz guy with wavy music-lines coming out of his music-horn (the wavy lines mean it's jazz!). Do you know who used to live in the side of the half-shotgun that you live in (you rented out the other side)? THREE ARTISTS. And their art was just fine. The extra space has not made your art better. New Orleans art has not improved since the imposition of Airbnb. Your art compares unfavorably to George W. Bush's paintings of his dogs. 

"BUT ITS RAISING PROPERTY VALUES DURRRRRRRR." Once upon a time a house was something you made into a home. Just so you know. The idea of your house as a money-generator is relatively new, and only exists because we're running out of things to monetize. 
(Also, if you are not aware that property values have long been manipulated as a means to wrest property from "undesirables" during gentrification, beautification, re-settlement, or whatever you want to call it, you are either stupid or willfully ignorant. And if you ARE aware of this but choose to cast your lot with Airbnb, you are the worst kind of cynic.)

"IT'S A QUALITY OF LIFE THING, I LIKE MY SPACE" is another grammatically questionable thing that is probably coming out of a mouth right now, which is stressing out the owner of the mouth because he/she prefers to breathe through it. It should be noted that it's also a "quality of life issue" for the people who have been forced out of their homes and neighborhoods due to rising rents (which - shut up for a second - are ABSOLUTELY affected by the short-term rental market). You just don't see them anymore because they live somewhere else and can't afford your rental unit. 

AIRBNB "ENTREPRENEURS" ARE NOTHING MORE THAN ASPIRING LANDLORDS. Once people get a taste of making money for doing nothing, it's hard to get them back to work. However, if you can't make rent, you'll be sure to hear from them about your "work ethic." Landlords are sick fucks. Donald Trump made most of his money as a landlord. The fact that some landlords are planning on voting for Bernie Sanders doesn't make them better people; rather, it makes Bernie's campaign less trustworthy by several orders of magnitude, because if you want to see a socialist in office, you should at the very least be willing to attempt solidarity with your neighbors. 

Some of us choose to live within our means and establish human relationships with the other humans who have chosen to live out their lives in proximity. Others choose to annex more property than they need so they can parcel it out to vacation-bros from Ohio State who attack people on Gay Bourbon because they wandered there by mistake and got a boner. Choose your path.

SOLUTION: STEAL

Again, the only way to get rid of Airbnb is to make it unprofitable. Because Airbnb is an invisible middleman, we have no choice but to attack its physical expression within our city. A diffuse and decentralized campaign of petty theft is the best course of action. The recommendations below are to be understood as recommendations only; each participant in this action of economic warfare will exercise his or her creativity differently. 

CULTIVATE YOUR PROFILE. Don't start stealing right away. Build a trustworthy Airbnb profile. Enjoy yourself! Comment on the quirky art on the walls, and be sure to heed your landlord's recommendation re: the best brunch spots! Airbnb is truly a revolution in travel. 

STEAL EXPENSIVE THINGS AND THROW THEM IN THE RIVER. Most Airbnb furniture items make great habitat for endemic species. Make sure to check with the manufacturers of your stolen items before throwing them in the river; some items, like flat-screen Tvs, may need to be stripped of certain metals before they are placed in the Mississippi.

STEAL IRONIC THINGS. Who steals only the cables and wires from a home entertainment system? Who steals the rings that hold the curtains up and replaces them with zipties? You do. 

STEAL PERSONAL ITEMS. As it stands, when a landlord reports theft or damage to their Airbnb "property," Airbnb pays out generously. It's just good PR. That's why you will steal things that elude value: bronzed baby shoes, those prayer cards they make for funerals, wedding photos, etc. 

STEAL FROM ADJACENT PROPERTIES. Nothing like a little peer pressure from the neighbors, who never signed up to live next to your stupid faux-tel. 

STEAL ITEMS FROM ONE RENTAL PROPERTY, HIDE THEM IN A SECOND PROPERTY RUN BY A DIFFERENT LANDLORD, AND REPORT THE SECOND LANDLORD FOR THEFT. Create dissent in the ranks. Agents provocateurs, all of us. 

MAIL STOLEN ITEMS TO AIRBNB. The address is 888 Brannan Street, Floor 4, San Francisco CA 94117. Have you been to San Francisco lately? It's godawful. It's as if Skynet got bored with world domination and got an online design degree instead. No appraisal of Airbnb's value is complete until it takes into account that they chose to locate themselves here. New Orleans is great! San Francisco should slide into the ocean. 

THE FUTURE IS YOURS TO STEAL. 

We speak our future into reality. If we refuse to speak, we tacitly support the dominant vision. I am but one voice. I am but one pair of untrustworthy hands. Only a multiplicity of voices and stealing-hands will rid our fair city of the scourge of garbage people who seek to monetize your every interaction. Only by depriving Airbnb of "value" can we recapture what we actually value: our homes, our neighborhoods, and our city. 

In conclusion, fuck Airbnb.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Jena Six Family Member Killed in Double Murder


Catrina Wallace, who came to national prominence as a civil rights activist and the sister of one of the Jena Six, was found dead early today, the victim of a double homicide in Monroe, Louisiana. Wallace had three children.

Wallace, 35, was the sister of Robert Bailey, Jr.. In late 2006, a series of incidents in the town of Jena, Louisiana - including the hanging of several nooses in a school yard - led to racial tension and violence. After a school fight, Bailey was one of six high school students who was arrested and faced decades in prison. Catrina Wallace helped lead months of protests that eventually brought national and international attention to the case, culminating in a mass protest of nearly 50,000 in the small town of Jena, in what has been called the first major struggle of the 21st century civil rights movement. Although the story leapt to national attention in summer of 2007, Catrina and other family members had been leading protests, sometimes every week, for over six months before the first national press arrived.

The protests and the movement behind them were successful. The six young men went on to college, instead of prison. Last year, Robert Bailey graduated from Grambling University. Earlier this year Theo Shaw, another of the young men, received a full scholarship to law school.

After the young men were released, Catrina Wallace and her mother, Caseptla Bailey, stayed in Jena and remained focused on grassroots organizing. The two founded Organizing in the Trenches, a community organization dedicated to empowering youth. However, after the legal cases ended and national attention moved on, funding and support was hard to find for a small project located deep in rural Louisiana.

On July 9, 2009, Wallace was one of a dozen Jena residents arrested in a multi-agency police raid that many saw as retribution for her organizing. After the arrests, which were focused entirely in Jena's Black community, some white residents of Jena began wearing t-shirts that celebrated the police action and featured an image of a monkey behind bars.

Wallace was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In 2014, her sentences were vacated on appeal, and she was released later that year.

Wallace moved out of Jena after her release, and at the time of her death was apparently working at a bail bonds office in Monroe, LA. As of this writing, police have not released any information on who might be behind the murder, but Monroe Police Detective Reggie Brown told reporters, "We're interviewing witnesses and possible persons of interest at this time, and we feel very strongly that we're going to bring the person responsible to justice." Since earlier today, Wallace's facebook wall has been filled with dozens of heartbreak-filled messages from friends and family.

Marcus Jones, another Jena Six family member, died last year in an apparent accident.

Photos by Mavis York.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reflections on the Ten Year Aftermath of the Federal Flood, by Lydia Pelot-Hobbs


Trying to sum up my thoughts on the 10th anniversary of Katrina has proven to be more difficult than I ever imagined. A few months ago, when I decided it was worth it to take a step back, think about what I’ve witnessed over the past ten years, and how I understand these pieces fitting together within a longer history of racialized violence and resistance, it seemed like an easy assignment. It is the exact sort of thing that I have been trained to do. But figuring out how to actually articulate my thoughts became more and more emotionally charged and messy as the days passed by and the barrage of Katrina media coverage has grown exponentially each day. I have given up on this assignment a number of times already as I’ve alternated between feeling too raw (even as a non-New Orleanian) to productively write and questioning if any of my thoughts are worth sharing at all.

But, I know I will regret not capturing what I have to say now, at this particular moment as myself and so much of the city and broader Gulf South are being forced to remember not only August 29, 2005 but the losses and changes of the past ten years. I’d rather put down some messy and imperfect reflections of this moment than none at all, so here they are.


For the past nine years, every time I drive on 1-10 towards the West Bank and look up at the Superdome, the same image pops in my head. It’s of looking up at the Superdome in the summer of 2006 watching tiny little figures (who I would later learn were likely immigrant workers) atop of the Dome connected to ropes fixing the roof so it would ready for the 2006 Saints football season.[i] I remember how that summer the image of the folks fixing the Superdome,[ii] while houses still sat in the middle of the street in the Lower Ninth, tap water threatened to give one giardia, and Katrina refrigerators littered the city, served as a daily reminder of what city elites’ vision of the future of New Orleans was and was not to be.

That image probably only lasted a few months but it and dozens of others from the first months and years following the storm continue to shape how I see New Orleans as she speeds towards the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, or what People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and many others made sure we rightfully referred to as the Federal Flood. Mitch Landrieu and his conspirators are doing everything they can to make sure we forgot such images. There is no room in the success story of New Orleans for the remembrance of thousands of Black folks abandoned on roofs and highway overpasses or the unapologetic shootings of Black men by NOPD and white vigilantes or of the proliferation of homeless encampments across the city as the crisis of homelessness reached epic proportions in 2007[iii] or of the bulldozing of the WPA era public housing developments still filled with the countless possessions of thousands who never were able to come home.[iv]  For Mitch and his ilk, these are the moments are best left forgotten[v] as the city moves forward and proves its ‘resiliency’ to the world. Reproducing the old liberal notion that the past does not shape the present, every where you turn is the disavowal that the ‘triumph’ of the city is predicated on the ongoing state sanctioned and extralegal violence, exploitation, and dispossession of Black New Orleanians.

Yes, this celebrated new New Orleans follows in the long tradition of New Souths remaking themselves time and time again through the dirty secret of all New Souths—their so-called successes have always been built upon the infrastructure of Jim Crow.[vi]  

And indeed the last ten years have much in common with the dismantling of Reconstruction and the rise of the Jim Crow regime of the New South. The framework of Reconstruction is not only familiar but was intentionally employed by numerous social justice organizations in the wake of the storm. Tracking back to both the promises of Radical Reconstruction and the ‘Second Reconstruction’ of the Black Freedom Movement, so many grassroots organizations named that the city’s rebuilding needed to be done as a “just reconstruction” if there was any hope of transforming the structures that created the conditions for such devastation to occur. Indeed, I was just one of thousands upon thousands of mostly, but not entirely, white Northerners who were called, moved, encouraged, recruited to come to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to support the reconstruction effort not dis-similarly from the Northern activists who went South in the 1860s and 1960s.[vii]

What’s more, community activists further followed in the best of the internationalist impulse of the Black Radical Tradition and other liberatory anti-racist movements in calling upon the most radical edge of human rights organizing, in the tradition of Paul Robeson and Malcolm X. People demanded that Gulf Coast residents be understood as internally displaced persons with the accompanied right of return, right to housing, right to healthcare, right to education, right to a living wage, right to a healthy environment and the right to collective self-determination. In doing so, Gulf South organizers highlighted that the experience New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents were facing had to be understood in a global frame of how climate change was (and would continue) wrecking havoc on vulnerable communities the world over.

Against such bold and visionary organizing were the other plans for the city. For a whiter and wealthier New Orleans. It feels hard to imagine it now, and perhaps I was just naive at the time, but I really believed that the organizing work across the city was going to be able to stop this land grab. But the racial capitalist state, at both the local and national level, was strong. HOPE VI was to destroy public housing exacerbating the city’s housing shortage, the busting of the teachers’ union and refusal to reopen Charity Hospital ensured that unknown numbers of New Orleanians (often women, usually Black) were unable to come home as their jobs were eliminated, Road Home was not only a disaster but the homeowners who did receive funds received them in a racially uneven manner, and so on and so on. With local folks busy trying to rebuild their homes and lives, and the weakening of solidarity networks over the years,[viii] to say nothing of the political depression experienced by many (including myself) as the losses accumulated, the capacity to confront the racialized neoliberal agenda for the city was limited (but never completely diminished).  

In all of this, I see 2010 as one of the turning points of the city. During the previous five years, although the agenda for the city had clearly been set, it still had not come to full fruition.[ix] But then coupled with the incredible soul-lifting Super Bowl win was the historically low voter turnout for the mayoral election that brought Mitch Landrieu into office as the first white mayor since his father held the position in the 1970s.

Following the election, you could hear white folks unabashedly rejoicing at having a white mayor for the first time in decades. And again, following in the tradition set forth in the dismantling of Reconstruction, white folks justified their glee as not about racism but about *finally* having politicians running the city who weren’t corrupt or incompetent, neatly ignoring the fact it was only Black elected officials who were targeted for such investigations.[x]  

Although the policy programs of Landrieu were not too dissimilar from the pro-business, neoliberal agenda that Nagin had promoted since 2002, their abilities to marshal outside resources were markedly different. While this difference can be partially understood as the timing of their respective administrations in the rebuilding landscape, we cannot and should not overlook how the city having white political leadership influenced the ways outside investors viewed New Orleans. Confidence in the city soared with Mitch in office and new capital flowed in to take advantage of the speculative boom. This private investment alongside the continued funneling of federal recovery dollars into private enterprises such as the St. Roch Market, demonstrated again the goal of the city’s recovery was capital accumulation on the backs of Black and poor New Orleanians.

I could go on at length about the heart-breaking experience of watching this most recent manifestation of the city disinvesting in Black New Orleans in favor of the new New Orleans over the past three years or so. The uptick in policing Black youth, notably transgirls, in the corridors targeted for ‘revitalization’; the ongoing commodification and marketing of the city’s Black cultural traditions even as Black musicians and other cultural workers struggle to make ends meet; the city’s auctioning off of property for exorbitant rates rather than investing in housing for working class and poor residents; the expansion of tourist rentals and the accompanied creep of drunken dude bro tourists that have made neighborhoods unrecognizable even to folks like myself and my friends who moved here in 2006 and 2007. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for folks who are actually from here.

Perhaps one of the things that most marks this most recent period to me is the extent to which the storm and its aftermath had faded and forgotten to the extent that many of the newest arrivals I talk with don’t even seem to consider themselves as living in a post-disaster environment. Yes, the houses are no longer strewn in the middle of the road. Humvees do not roll up and down streets. Katrina X’s on houses are hard to spot these days. But this is still a post-disaster world. Every single one of us who has come since the storm are here because of Katrina and what it did to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast whether we recognize it or not. This is not to feel to guilty, but to squarely and honestly assess where it is that we are so that we can think to the best of our abilities about how to best be and move in this incredible, complicated, magical, and contradictory place.

Because even with all the losses New Orleans has sustained in the last decade, it still is not lost. Just as it is a disservice to New Orleans and the Gulf South to forget the violence that folks have experienced here and in the broader Katrina diaspora, it is a disservice to ignore the wins of grassroots organizing from the shrinking of Orleans Parish Prison by several thousands beds to the recent win of higher wages for city contract workers.[xi] The current mobilizations of activists to disrupt the narrative of the city’s recovery and resiliency, to highlight the tremendous organizing work of the past ten years, and to come together to envision new just futures for the region reminds us that the work of movement building is never over. New Orleans organizing continues to build upon the city’s long legacies of resistance, that stretch back to slave revolts and Homer Plessy’s contestation to the solidification of Jim Crow, while creatively pushing for a city that does not continue to displace and exploit the people who’ve made it what it is over the centuries. 

This is what still gives me hope. This is how I can imagine moving forward. Not forgetting the past or ignoring what is happening around me. But thinking critically, learning from the brilliance of people here, and finding ways to support the work of materializing the still unrealized project of abolition democracy and collective freedom.


[i] I must admit, I held a grudge at the Saints for this special treatment until the 2009/2010 NFL Season and their Super Bowl win. 
[ii] Which we should not forget as also the site of much suffering by Katrina survivors in the aftermath of the flood.
[iii] During the summer and fall of 2007, a number of homeless folks came together to form a homeless union called Homeless Pride that set up a political encampment to demand an end to homelessness across from City Hall in Duncan Plaza until they were evicted by the city under the guise of park renovations. More about Homeless Pride can be found here:  http://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2393&context=td.
[iv] I will never forget that a week or so following the storm I called up an old friend from New Orleans who was collecting donations to get to the folks she knew who had lost everything (it was already known not to trust FEMA or the Red Cross). During our conversation, I asked her if her friends were ok and she told me that there were a bunch of folks she couldn’t get in touch with, but she knew they’d be ok since they’d been in the projects which were some of the sturdiest building in the city being three stories high and brick (a rarity in New Orleans). 
[v] Or even celebrated as with the raising of public housing or the mass firing of teachers to break the teachers union and pave the wave for the complete charterization of the New Orleans school system.
[vi] By Jim Crow, I mean the full range of racialized and gendered exploitative violence aimed at containing and controlling the recently freed Black population of the South upon the dismantling of Reconstruction by members of the plantation bloc and New South industrialists alike, buttressed by the support of Northern capitalists: de jure segregation, mass disenfranchisement, criminalization of Black communities and the expansion of the state’s policing and penal power, widespread sexualized violence, dismantling of collective ownership structures, disinvestment in education and other social services, privatization of state services, free trade, and the rise of precarious labor (which in the case of Louisiana included the recruitment of Chinese coolie labor to do the former work of enslaved people). Otherwise the prototype of what we call neoliberalism today. For more on this, everyone should read everything Clyde Woods ever wrote, beginning with Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta.
[vii] I am not trying to imply that everyone who showed up to volunteer was a radical anti-racist activist. That is far from the truth. But something did indeed occur in the scale of response by primarily young folks who identified doing volunteer work as politically important work. This politicized volunteering tapered off as time wore on with less volunteers, and less organizations, framing the rebuilding New Orleans as an anti-racist or Left or social justice project. 
[viii] To this day, I wonder how my own participation and advancement of certain political strategies contributed to the drying up of national support for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, particularly amongst the white activist-y Northerners similar to me. At the time it seemed important to emphasize to out of town volunteers that the conditions that gave rise to the disaster were not exceptional to New Orleans but could be found wherever they were from—thus the necessity of them focusing their activism home. And while I still generally agree with this framing, I wonder what could have happened if we had more firmly articulated that doing work at home required sticking with New Orleans for the long haul of what was sure to be a difficult and protracted recovery. This is hitting me particularly hard right now as I’ve realized in the last few weeks that no one I know is aware of any Katrina commemorative events happening outside of the Gulf Coast (I still hope I’m wrong on this front).
[ix] In the fall of 2009, I sat in an urban planning class where the different redevelopment schemes were presented to me of various “revitalization corridors” which include Tulane Ave, Freret Street, St. Claude, OC Haley, and Broad. At the time most of them seemed outlandish and unlikely, and now almost six years later I’ve seen them materialize, if unevenly.
[x] I am forever indebted to Du Bois’s discussion in Black Reconstruction about how white elites created and promoted the myth of Black Republican politicians as corrupt and incompetent in order to justify the ousting of Black political leadership and the reinstatement of white supremacist power during so-called Redemption for helping me articulate this connection. And noting this connection does not mean that I was a fan of everyone who was ousted following the storm, but that we cannot ignore that the targeting of corrupt politicians in the South has more often been about the diminishing of Black political power than about honest and principled politics.   
[xi] For a fantastic description of the wide-range of organizing happening in New Orleans today check out Jordan Flaherty’s recent article “A Movement Lab in New Orleans” http://www.thenation.com/article/a-movement-lab-in-new-orleans/

“The science teacher from 2003 who taught you to be proud of your heritage, where are they?” by New Orleans Youth


Note: This article was written by New Orleans young people. See another opinion piece by the students at this link.

Early Friday morning students arrived at their schools only to find that it was no regular morning. Pasted on the walls all around the schools were large black & white posters. But these were not your typical posters. These posters had facts, questions, and statistics regarding New Orleans public charter schools and their inhabitants -- former students, teachers, principals, and CEOs. Some posters had questions on them that referenced the firing of over 7,000 teachers post-Katrina: "The black math teacher from 2004 who lived in your neighborhood, where are they?" And some questioned the salaries of school principals and administrators compared to the quality of the schools they run: “Your principal makes $100,000 a year, but why is your school only a ‘D’ school?” These are only a few of the many posters that were found at several high schools across the New Orleans area, including Lake Area, Sci Academy, Warren Easton, and Landry Walker.



Students at these schools and others had a lot to say about the posters and the questions they posed.  Responding to the question, “Your homie from the class of 2013...where are they now?” one high school student answered, “Most of the people I knew in the class of 2013 are currently in college, or didn’t finish and plan to go back this year. That makes me anxious and worry about if I can finish college when I’m ‘supposed’ to and wonder what happened to throw them off track. It makes me feel sad that people go into college unsure of their main drive and because of being rushed into it, they lose track of what they really want.”

Another student nearby answered as well saying, “Most of them are still in college but a few are struggling to have somewhere to stay and are still trying to get into college. They have no choice but to get a job, and their job is weighing on them and keeping them from going to school.”

At another local high school a student responded by saying, “My friend is currently working at Papa John’s, and it’s sad especially because he is now struggling and on the verge of giving up.” One student candidly said, “I don’t know where they are, and I feel some type of way because of their disappearance.” One final student gave a chilling answer, “Probably dead to be honest.”



Over at a high school on the West Bank students responded to several questions that were on posters around their school. Responding to, “How many teachers live in your neighborhood?” A student answered, “None. I feel disappointed because the teachers come from all over and they don’t know what the people from my neighborhood are going through.”



Other questions centered around how students get exposed to black culture in their schools. Two of them included, “The principal who taught you the black national anthem, what happened to them?” and “The science teacher from 2003 who taught you to be proud of your heritage, where are they?”



The first student answered, “It’s like a crime to teach your truth and your history, because if it wasn’t they wouldn’t have been fired and white people wouldn’t be the main ones teaching in our schools. There’s only a certain time for us to talk about black people in schools — February.”



And the other said, “I don’t even know what the Black National Anthem is, which makes me sad because it shows what type of schools I went to. The fact that I live in Louisiana and don’t know the Black National Anthem puts things into perspective for me.”



While the last student responded, “Well, that school doesn’t even have the same name any more. It’s charter school now, everything has changed — new principal, new teachers, new uniforms, new name. I don’t even know what happened to those teachers. When the school changed and those charter people came, they had to go. And that was the only school that I went to where I learned the Black National Anthem.” (The school was George Washington Carver, now it’s Carver Collegiate.)


One student talked in-depth about how the posters forced them to reflect on their place as youth in New Orleans. “After seeing the different posters at my school, it really made me think about how black youth don't really matter to this city, or that we do matter but only for the use of others. Schools and the entire city really just use us to pass off statistics to the rest of the world to say that the city is doing better. It’s like if we’re getting higher scores on tests than New Orleans must be moving forward...but it's not.”





Maybe the point of these posters is to raise questions about where the city really is 10 years after hurricane Katrina. A high school senior from New Orleans East seems to have summed up the feelings of their peers and families regarding the cruel irony of the anniversary festivities. “Our city's leaders are celebrating the anniversary of Katrina, and saying that if not for a terrible storm that killed so many people and hurt so many families we wouldn't have been able to move forward. Which implies that the way the city was before, and the things that happened before Katrina were wrong. All without acknowledging the damage that some of these ‘positive’ changes have caused our city.”

-written by New Orleans Youth
#k10truth4youth
#whywefight

"All McDonough schools were founded by money made directly from slave labor" by New Orleans Youth


Note: This article was written by New Orleans young people. See another opinion piece by the students at this link.

As the ten year commemoration of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the city of New Orleans is filled with high energy from the life-long residents of the city. The New Orlenians that have seen the good and bad that this city has to offer. There has been plenty of conversation in the city about whether or not the people feel like New Orleans has fully recovered from hurricane Katrina. On this Friday morning as students were arriving to school, they were surprised to see a yard full of signs reading:

All McDonough schools were founded by money made directly from slave labor
Your principal makes over $90,000 a year , but why is your school a “F” school?
How many of your teachers live in your neighborhood?
If you feel like a prisoner in your school, ask your teacher “why”
Your homies from class of 2013. . . where are they now?
The black math teacher from 2004 who lived in your neighborhood, where are they?
The science teacher from 2003 who taught you to be proud of your heritage, where are they?
The principal who taught you the black national anthem, what happened to them?
New Beginnings Schools Foundation runs Lake Area.  Their CEO makes $140,000 a year, but why is your school only a “D” school?

At a time like this when the city is highly anticipating the commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, the youth of New Orleans boldly decided to use artful expression to speak up about how they feel. Directly addressing the farce of better schools and improving education in the city of New Orleans that has been portrayed by the media. This is a method that I agree with completely. The youth has been blatantly ignored by the media and by the city of New Orleans when it comes to listening to their opinion of why the crime rate is so high, why there is a lack of opportunity in the city for youth of color and why the city is not better off now than it was ten years ago. In fact the city is worse off than it was ten years ago especially in terms of education.

Before you believe the hype that surrounds the 10th Anniversary, try to think of the names of all the teachers who were unjustly fired right after the storm.   And try to think of the names of all the students who’ve been pushed out of schools because of racist and unfair discipline policies.  When you think of what it means to have a real education system that encourages critical thought and self-discovery, try to think of names.  Not data points.   And if the names don’t come to you, maybe you should ask yourselves why they’ve been erased. 

That’s what young people have done with their art.  They’re asking questions and demanding answers.  This reaction from the youth represents a bold statement in the face of anyone who is now saying that the city of New Orleans has recovered from hurricane Katrina and the corruption that followed in the midst of hurricane Katrina.  As the hashtag at the bottom of the posters says, this is #whywefight.

-written by New Orleans Youth
#k10truth4youth

#whywefight