Monday, December 24, 2012

Our People Are Worth the Risks: A Southern Queer Agenda from the Margins and the Red States, By Southerners On New Ground (SONG)

Reprinted from the SONG website and from the Scholar & Feminist Online, a webjournal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
In the best parts of our tradition as LGBTQ people for liberation, we have resisted assimilation. We have held die-ins, we have risked our lives at pride celebrations, we have been willing to be part of spectacle and even to be hated—in the hope that our work would mean motion towards liberation. We have witnessed a mainstream LGBT movement that has moved away from these practices, and many of us have spent years in conference centers and hotel rooms all around this country pushing back against a mainstreaming of this movement. It is not enough to disagree with the mainstream agenda. We must be actively creating, resourcing, and organizing new strategies that move a politics of intersectionality into the fields, the small towns, the cities, the bedrooms, the televisions, and the visions of this country and this world. These strategies must work tirelessly to build contagious power with those LGBTQ people who have been left behind by a mainstream gay rights agenda and the unlikely allies who have been passed by. 

In the past two years, SONG has mobilized and transformed thousands of LGBTQ people in the South through two campaigns. In 2011, our campaign against anti-immigrant hate in Georgia unleashed the power of an unprecedented number of LGBTQ people in a fight for liberation that was not slanted “single-issue” toward the traditional definition of gay rights. In 2012, our fight against the antifamily amendment in North Carolina (denying the basic rights of all unmarried couples and our children) was named by the North Carolina News Service as one of the biggest grassroots efforts in the history of North Carolina. Both of these campaigns happened in the South: the part of the country that the media tells us is the most hateful and hostile to marginalized communities. We know without a doubt that all the successes in this work originate from the thousands of LGBTQ southerners and allies who led these efforts. They are voting for a new queer agenda with their sweat, risk taking, and voices. SONG listened to them, created an organizational container, and provided strategic direction. They did the rest. At every turn, when we reframed messages away from a narrow, single-issue, gay rights agenda, our people on the ground responded with vigorous affirmation, agitation, and effort.

All over this country, our people grow tired of a defensive, apologetic LGBT strategy against the right wing. Bullies do not stop when they are appeased. We have nothing to apologize for, and yet we watch as our own people and issues are publicly “de-gayed,” portrayed as middle-class and white—all in the name of eventual equality. In the South, we watch tall grass grow up over the houses where our neighbors used to live and over the businesses that used to populate our small towns. We watch as our family members are detained and deported, our comrades are pushed involuntarily into sex work just to survive, and our children are incarcerated. We turn on the television and hear a conversation about LGBTQ people every day that names us as perverted; sinful; and worthy of pain, isolation, and death. 

Yet our mainstream movement, which claims it speaks for us, tells us to wait for policy wins. We are assured that these wins will trickle down to us as some form of victory on our behalf. As people living in the South, as undocumented immigrants, as people of color, as trans people, as rural people, and as people with disabilities, SONG says this is not good enough. In the absence of stronger national leadership, we call on queer liberationists to build and amplify our power and take our rightful leadership regardless of the scale of our organizations: local, statewide, regional, or national. This article seeks to lay out a little bit more about evolving thoughts on how to do just that, from a Southern perspective on queer liberation. We hope that it inspires other groups (who have not already done so) to seize the moment, stop, listen, and respond to the conditions of today.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post-Katrina, Funders and Foundations Failed New Orleans

In December of 2006, New Orleans' social justice community came together to draft a letter addressed to foundations and funders, in response to the dismal response to the continuing post-Katrina crisis. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters still to come, the issues raised then are as relevant as ever. 

The letter is reproduced below, along with many of the original names of those who signed on; a range of signatories that helps show the extent of the anger and frustration felt at that time. 

We also encourage those interested in this issue to see this 2007 letter written by civil rights lawyer Bill Quigley



LETTER FROM THE PEOPLE OF NEW ORLEANS TO OUR FRIENDS AND ALLIES

December 15, 2006


We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of grassroots New Orleans organizers, activists, artists, educators, media makers, health care providers and other community members concerned about the fate of our city.  This letter is directed to all those around the world concerned about the fate of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but is especially intended for US-based nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other institutions with resources and finances that have been, or could be, directed towards the Gulf Coast.

In the days after the storm, there were promises of support from the federal government and an array of nongovernmental organizations, such as progressive and liberal foundations and nonprofits.  Small and large organizations have done fundraising on our behalf, promising to deliver resources and support to the people of New Orleans.

Many organizations and individuals have supported New Orleans-led efforts with time, resources, and advocacy on our behalf, and for this we are very grateful. These folks followed through on their commitments and offered support in a way that was respectful, responsible, and timely.

However, we are writing this letter to tell you that, aside from these very important exceptions, the support we need has not arrived, or has been seriously limited, or has been based upon conditions that become an enormous burden for us.

We remain in crisis, understaffed, underfunded and in many cases in desperate need of help. From the perspective of the poorest and least powerful, it appears that the work of national allies on their behalf has either not happened or if it has happened it has been a failure.

In the days after August 29, 2005 the world watched as our city was devastated.  This destruction was not caused by Hurricane Katrina, but by failures of local, state and national government, and institutional structures of racism and corruption.  The disaster highlighted already-existing problems such as neglect, privatization and deindustrialization.

As New Orleanians, we have seen tragedy first hand.  We have lost friends and seen our community devastated.  More than 15 months later, we have seen few improvements.  Our education, health care and criminal justice systems remain in crisis, and more than 60 percent of the former population of our city remains displaced. Among those that remain, depression and other mental health issues have skyrocketed.

While many nationwide speak of "Katrina Fatigue," we are still living the disaster.  We remain committed to our homes and communities.  And we still need support.

In 15 months we have hosted visits by countless representatives from an encyclopedic list of prominent organizations and foundations.  We have given hundreds of tours of affected areas, and we have assisted in the writing of scores of reports and assessments.  We have participated in or assisted in organizing panels and workshops and conferences.  We have supplied housing and food and hospitality to hundreds of supporters promising to return with funding and resources, to donate staff and equipment and more.  It seems hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in our name, often using our words, or our stories.

However, just as the government's promises of assistance, such as the "Road Home" program, remain largely out of reach of most New Orleanians, we have also seen very little money and support from liberal and progressive sources.

Instead of prioritizing efforts led by people who are from the communities most affected, we have seen millions of dollars that was advertised as dedicated towards Gulf Coast residents either remain unspent, or shuttled to well-placed outsiders with at best a cursory knowledge of the realities faced by people here. Instead of reflecting local needs and priorities, many projects funded reflect outside perception of what our priorities should be. We have seen attempts to dictate to us what we should do, instead of a real desire to listen and build together.

We are at an historic moment.  The disaster on the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, has highlighted issues of national and international relevance.  Questions of race, class, gender, education, health care, food access, policing, housing, privatization, mental health and much more are on vivid display.

The south has been traditionally underfunded and exploited by institutions, including corporations, the labor movement, foundations, and the federal government.  We have faced the legacy of centuries of institutional racism and oppression, with little outside support.  And yet, against massive odds, grassroots movements in the south have organized and won inspiring victories with international relevance.

In New Orleans, despite personal loss and family tragedies, people are fighting for the future of the city they love. Many are working with little to no funding or support.

We are writing this open letter to you to tell you that it's not too late.  The struggle is still ongoing.  Evacuees are organizing in trailer parks, health care providers are opening clinics, former public housing residents are fighting to keep their homes from being demolished, artists and media makers are documenting the struggle, educators and lawyers are joining with high school students to fight for better schools.

We ask you, as concerned friends and allies nationwide, as funders and organizations, to look critically at your practices.  Has your organization raised money on New Orleans' behalf?  Did that money go towards New Orleans-based projects, initiated and directed by those most affected?  Have you listened directly to the needs of those in the Gulf and been responsive to them? Have you adjusted your practices and strategies to the organizing realities on the ground?

We ask you to seize this opportunity, and join and support the grassroots movements.  If the people of New Orleans can succeed against incredible odds to save their city and their community, it is a victory for oppressed people everywhere. If the people of New Orleans lose, it is a loss for movements everywhere.  Struggling together, we can win together.

Signed,

Cherice Harrison-Nelson, Director and Curator, Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame
Royce Osborn, writer/producer
Greta Gladney, 4th generation Lower 9th Ward resident
Corlita Mahr, Media Justice Advocate
Judy Watts, President/CEO, Agenda for Children
Robert “Kool Black” Horton, Critical Resistance
Jennifer Turner, Community Book Center
Mayaba Liebenthal, INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance
Norris Henderson, Co-Director Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Ursula Price, Outreach and Investigation Coordinator, Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Evelyn Lynn, Managing Director, Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Shana griffin, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Min. J. Kojo Livingston, Founder Liberation Zone/Destiny One Ministries
Shana Sassoon, New Orleans Network Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans
Althea Francois, Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Malcolm Suber, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund
Saket Soni, New Orleans Worker’s Justice Project
Nick Slie, I-10, Witness Project, Co-Artistic Director Mondo Bizarro
Catherine Jones, Organizer and co-founder, Latino Health Outreach Project
Jennifer Whitney, coordinator, Latino Health Outreach Project
S. Mandisa Moore, INCITE! New Orleans
Aesha Rasheed, Project Manager, New Orleans Network
Dix deLaneuville, Educator,
Rebecca Snedeker, Filmmaker
Catherine A. Galpin, RN, FACES and Children's Hospital
Grace Bauer, Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children
Xochitl Bervera, Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children
Bess Carrick, Producer/Director
John Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Loyola University
Diana Dunn, The People's Institute, European Dissent
Courtney Egan, Artist
Lou Furman, Turning Point Partners
Ariana Hall, Director, CubaNOLA Collective
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Historian, writer and lecturer, New Orleans and Mississippi Pine Belt
Susan Hamovitch, Filmmaker/Teacher, NYC/New Orleans
Russell Henderson, Lecturer, Dillard University and Organizer, Rebuilding Louisana Coalition
Ms. Deon Haywood, Events Coordinator, Women With A Vision Inc.
Rachel Herzing, Critical Resistance, Oakland
Rev. Doug Highfield, Universal Life Church, Cherokee, AL
Joyce Marie Jackson, Ph.D., Cultural Researcher, LSU Dept. of Geography & Anthropology, and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge
Elizabeth K Jeffers, Teacher
Dana Kaplan, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Vi Landry, freelance journalist, New Orleans/New York
Bridget Lehane, European Dissent and The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond
Karen-kaia Livers, Alliance for Community Theaters, Inc.
Rachel E. Luft, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of New Orleans
Damekia Morgan, Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children
Ukali Mwendo, (Hazardous Materials Specialist, NOFD),President, Provisional Government - Republic of New Afrika / New Orleans LA (former resident of the Lafitte Housing Development)
Thea Patterson, Women's Health and Justice Initiative
J. Nash Porter, Documentary Photographer and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge
Gloria Powers, Arts Project Manager
Bill Quigley, Loyola Professor of Law
Linda Santi, , Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans
Tony Sferlazza, Director of Plenty International NOLA
Heidi Lee Sinclair, MD, MPH, Baton Rouge Children's Health Project
Justin Stein, Neighborhood Relations Coordinator and Community Mediator, Common Ground Health Clinic
Audrey Stewart, Loyola Law Clinic
Tracie L. Washington, Esq., Director, Louisiana Justice Institute
Scott Weinstein, Former co-director of the Common Ground Health Clinic
Melissa Wells, New Orleans,
Jerald L. White, Bottletree Productions
Morgan Williams, Student Hurricane Network, Co-founder
Gina Womack, Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

Remember All the Children, Mr. President, By Bill Quigley

Remember the 20 children who died in Newtown, Connecticut.

Remember the 35 children who died in Gaza this month from Israeli bombardments.

Remember the 168 children who have been killed by US drone attacks in Pakistan since 2006.

Remember the 231 children killed in Afghanistan in the first 6 months of this year.

Remember the 400 other children in the US under the age of 15 who die from gunshot wounds each year.

Remember the 921 children killed by US air strikes against insurgents in Iraq.

Remember the 1,770 US children who die each year from child abuse and maltreatment.

Remember the 16,000 children who die each day around the world from hunger.

These tragedies must end.

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com  A version of this article with sources is available.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Crime Against Nature Law Back in Court

From our friends at Women With A Vision and Center for Constitutional Rights:
Fill the Court For Oral Arguments In the Case To Overturn Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Law!

Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 10:00 a.m
Federal District Court, 500 Poydras Street
Judge Feldman’s Court—Room C551

Many of you supported us during Doe, et al. v. Jindal, et al.-- a federal lawsuit filed against state officials in Louisiana, challenging the fact that a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) conviction requires registration as a sex offender on the state sex offender registry.  On March 29, 2012, the Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor, agreeing that this registration requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. The Court unambiguously ruled that it is unconstitutional to require someone to register as a sex offender solely because of a CANS conviction.

Yet almost 500 people remain on the registry.

So we’ve sued the state again, and we need your support. 

Doe, et al. v. Caldwell, et al. is a federal class action lawsuit seeking to remove from the sex offender registry the hundreds of people who are still forced to register solely as a result of a CANS conviction despite the March 29, 2012 ruling in Doe v. Jindal that deemed that practice unconstitutional.

In Louisiana, people accused of soliciting sex for a fee can be criminally charged in two ways: either under the prostitution statute, or under the solicitation provision of the Crime Against Nature statute.  This archaic statute, adopted in 1805, outlaws “unnatural carnal copulation,” which has been defined by Louisiana courts as oral and anal (but not vaginal) sex.  Police and prosecutors have unfettered discretion in choosing which to charge.  But a Crime Against Nature conviction subjects people to far harsher penalties than a prostitution conviction.  Most significantly, individuals convicted of a Crime Against Nature are forced to register as sex offenders.

The registry law imposes many harsh requirements that impacts every aspect of our clients’ lives.  For example, they must carry a state driver’s license or non-drivers’ identification document which brands them as a sex offender in bright orange capital letters.  They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches.  Their names, address, and photographs appear on the internet. 

Many of our clients have been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders.  Several have been barred from homeless shelters.  One has been physically threatened by neighbors.  And another has been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept sex offenders at their facilities.

Our clients are not alone in being forced to register as sex offenders solely as a result of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation conviction.  Indeed, almost 40 percent of registered sex offenders in Orleans Parish are on the registry as a result of such a conviction.  76 percent of these individuals are women, and 80 percent of them are African American.

CCR argues that being forced to register as a sex offender because of a Crime Against Nature conviction serves no legitimate purpose whatsoever.  As such, it is unjustifiable and unconstitutional.  CCR further contends that the only reason our clients are registered sex offenders is that they were convicted under the provisions of a 200-year-old statute that condemns non-procreative sex acts and sex acts traditionally associated with homosexuality, solely on grounds of moral disapproval.

Women With A Vision also spoke at the New Orleans City Council about the recent arson attack they faced. See the clip here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"I'm The Miracle": The Story of Exoneree Derrick Jamison

From our friends at Resurrection After Exoneration:
“I’m number 119,” proclaims the man sitting beside my desk. His smile is broad and sincere, gold teeth glistening in the artificial light of the office. “Damon Thibodeaux is number 141, you know, the one who got out of Angola a couple weeks ago. Joe Ambrosia is number 140; we was together on death row in Ohio.” He seems so comfortable with these numbers, actually proud of them. Proud to be number 119!

If I were not aware of what he refers to, I might be shocked by his proud announcement, but it isn’t that way for us. Derrick Jamison is here to share his story with me, the story of how he landed on death row for a crime he did not commit, the story of a young man who spent over seventeen years fighting for his life as he awaited execution, and the story of a man who was finally exonerated, the 119th such person in the United States.

Derrick Jamison, from Cincinnati, Ohio, was twenty-four years old when he was convicted of aggravated murder and robbery on October 16, 1985. He was represented by a public defender in a case where the prosecutor and homicide detective withheld thirty-five pieces of evidence. They knew he was not guilty from the start, but getting the conviction was their goal. Apparently, it did not matter who their “victim” was!

Derrick entered death row at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility on October 25, the very day he was sentenced, and was placed into solitary confinement, behind bars, in a 6’x9’ cell, with no physical human contact for seventeen years. At times the prison would be locked down, and he would not be allowed visits or mail from anyone, even from his lawyer, for extended periods of time. For many years of his confinement, Derrick was allowed only two five-minute phone calls per year, one on Christmas Day.

While on death row, Derrick was granted six stays of execution. One was while he was in lockdown, so he did not even receive the notification. Another stay was granted on the actual scheduled date of his execution. He waited until the last minute, with crowds of protesters and supporters gathered outside the prison. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he replied ,”A cake with a saw in it! I’m not thinking about no food. I’m thinking about dying.” Six times he went through various stages of this harrowing process, and six times it was halted by an official stay by the governor of Ohio.

For the first fourteen years, until 1999, Ohio had the death penalty as part of its system, and there were many inmates on death row awaiting execution, but the state did not use it. Since 1999, they have executed forty-seven inmates and exonerated six. These statistics do not include the even larger number of death row inmates whose sentences were reduced to life imprisonment during the past thirteen years. At one point, the governor, Richard Celeste, upon leaving office, reduced the sentences of all eight women on death row and of several men who were on their final appeals. One of the women whose sentence he reduced had been sentenced to at least eight death penalties for serial murders. Derrick says that he would not have accepted this condition had it been offered. He knew he was innocent and sought exoneration, not a reduced sentence.

At one point, Derrick was offered the opportunity to go free on time served, if he would admit guilt and stop his appeals. He refused. “People thought I lost my mind. I couldn’t admit to something I didn’t do. I’d rather die.”

“Death Row is the same as Schindler’s List,” Derrick continues. “You’re just watching your friends be murdered time and again.” Derrick watched healthy young men come in “like babies – 18 and 19 years old. I watched them grow into men and then they just killed ‘em. It’s like somebody pointing a gun at you and there ain’t nothin’ you can do. They had nobody to fight for them.” Ohio is second in the nation behind Texas in executions.

In 2002, John Byrd was executed. Another man came forward and admitted to the crime for which John had been convicted, but they still killed him. John and Derrick had become close friends on death row. “I curled up on my bunk watching TV, trying not to deal with it, but when they rolled John out on the gurney to his execution….” He paused and cleared his throat, attempting to regain his composure. “It still haunts me. A healthy young man, my buddy, but he was rebellious on the row.” Derrick, on the other hand, never had any write ups on death row. He was not a rebel. “If I had given in to anger and hostility, I would’ve lost my mind. I seen what it did to those other guys. I’m a miracle. All them men, all them babies were in there, some innocent like me, and I walked out. I’m the miracle.”

On May 23, 2002, Federal Judge Arthur Spiegel granted Derrick a new trial. He was moved to general population for three years while the justice system plodded along the path to his ultimate exoneration and release on October 25, 2005, exactly twenty years to the day from the day he first entered death row. His nephew came to pick him up, and the entire family was waiting for him when he got home…everyone except his two closest and most active supporters. “I didn’t die on death row, but my death penalty killed my parents.”

There were events of celebration for a month straight. It was a busy time, and it was good. “If I could bottle up that feeling and sell it, I’d be a millionaire!” He was enjoying life. “When I first came home, I went to the casinos. I won a lot of money; I lost a lot of money. That’s why they call it gambling. I had been a gambler before I went to prison.” There were parties, media events, and Derrick was in demand to speak at area events, “but my biggest supporters weren’t there. My mom was smiling from heaven.”

Asked about his current situation, Derrick reveals that he is on disability due to post traumatic stress disorder. “We ain’t been to jail; we been to hell and back,” he says. The disability compensation permits him to have a part-time job with limited pay, but he remains unemployed.

He spends a significant amount of time speaking to others, sharing his story. He remembers that he went to Catholic schools as a child and says that God gives him the power to go out and share his message with others. “When I speak to a large crowd, something comes over me. That’s God. God has made me into a teacher. I’m a teacher now.”

Derrick tells kids that he thinks that they are all at risk in today’s society. He urges them to remember him and others like him when they experience bad times. “We need to get rid of the death penalty,” he says. “What are we teaching our young people, when our government says it’s alright to kill?” He compares the death penalty to modernized lynchings, remembering what he learned in history class about families coming out with picnic baskets to watch the hangings in the town square. “That might have been a deterrent then, but this, what we have, doesn’t work!”

Our system will always make mistakes. “To err is human, right? We have to stop executing entirely so we won’t be killing innocent people on those mistakes.”

Derrick tells his audiences that he was never involved in drugs in his life, because he was always against them. “I seen what it did to people in my neighborhood.” He assures them that death row is populated by many different types of people. “A lot of guys on death row were pure evil and dangerous, but that doesn’t give somebody the right to kill them. Some were good guys that made mistakes.”

What does his future look like? “I’ll never heal; none of these guys will ever heal. We can’t be compensated for what’s been done to us. My life will get better, but I’ll never get over it. It will always be there…the nightmares. It’s something no human being should have to experience.”

Documentary Planned on United Houma Nation's "Indian Santa," By Adam Crepelle

Reposted from our friends at Bridge The Gulf:
Indian Santa is a short documentary about, as the name suggests, Indian Santa. The tradition was started in 1985 when Hurricane Juan devastated the Houma Indian communities along the Gulf Coast. The Houma families received little help after the storm, and presents were going to be absent from many Houma children's Christmas.

Joe Dardard, a Houma Indian, decided to take action. He teamed up with Toys for Tots and dressed as Santa--with a twist. In addition to the red Santa suit, Joe Dardard donned a traditional tribal headdress. The result, children in the Houma community received at least a moment of joy during the holiday. Over 20 years later, Indian Santa continues to spread Christmas cheer throughout the Houma Indian community. Thomas Dardar, Joe's nephew and Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation, has been serving as Indian Santa for the past seven years.

I produced the film because, although several chapters in books and a few films have mentioned the Houma, all of those pieces focus on the adversity the tribe faces. I wanted to show something genial happening within the tribe.

Indian Santa was scheduled to be shown December 6th and 8th at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian's "At the Movies" Screening Series with My Louisiana Love but due to Hurricane Sandy, the screening has been moved to the spring of 2013. Indian Santa is an official selection of the New Orleans Film Festival, the South Alabama Film Festival, the Life Film Festival (Winner Best Documentary), and the American Indian Film Festival.

Just as Indian Santa is a tradition among the Houma, dealing with disaster has become part of the Houma culture as well.

Hurricanes and the BP spill have absolutely crippled many citizens of the United Houma Nation, who primarily work in the seafood and oil industries. This year, Hurricane Isaac wreaked havoc in Braithwaite, Louisiana, a Houma Indian community.

Aside from disaster, another constant is the federal government's persistent refusal to acknowledge the United Houma Nation as an Indian tribe. Houma Indian children were forced to attend a segregated Indian school until 1969; that is, five years after the passage of the Civil Rights of 1964 officially desegregated society. Nevertheless, the federal government insists the Houma are not an Indian tribe.

Federal recognition would be immensely beneficial to the Houma because it would make the tribe eligible for disaster relief programs and funds to help combat coastal erosion. Coastal erosion is major reason recent hurricanes have been unusually impactful. The barrier islands, now vanished, served as a buffer weakening hurricanes before they hit coastal populations – the Houma. Thanks to the vanished islands and shrinking coastline, Houma Indian communities such as Isle de Jean Charles and Point-Aux-Chenes are now the storm buffer.

The BP disaster serves the most obvious example of how lack of federal recognition harms the Houma. In response the United Houma Nation's damages claim, BP replied:

"While BP indeed processes claims from federally recognized Indian Tribes through this process, our review of your claim submission indicates that the United Houma Nation is not a federally recognized Indian Tribe entitled to assert claims pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 ('OPA'). Therefore, we are closing your claim file with regard to this matter."

Indian Santa is lighthearted movie. It spotlights something positive happening in a community wrought with hardship. My hope is the film's success will bring interest to the tribe, its ongoing struggles, and support from allies. The more national recognition the UHN receives, the closer the UHN will be to federal recognition.

Photo: Principal Chief Thomas Dardar as Indian Santa in 2011, courtesy of 'Indian Santa'. Learn more about Indian Santa at the film's website or Facebook page.

Adam Crepelle is a citizen of the United Houma Nation. He serves on the tribe’s Tribal Security and Community Services Committee and the tribe’s Diabetes’s Coalition. Adam received his degree in exercise science from the University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2009. He is currently in his third year at Southern University Law Center.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hundreds in New Orleans Protest Israeli Killings in Gaza

In one of the larger protests New Orleans has seen in recent years, nearly two hundred demonstrators marched through New Orleans' French Quarter on Saturday, November 17, to protest the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The next day, a mostly student crowd of about 40 held a candlelight vigil at Tulane University, in an action organized by a new campus group called Tulane Students for Justice in Palestine.
One week later, in the aftermath of the declared ceasefire, a smaller march once again traveled through the French Quarter, calling for an end to US financial and diplomatic support for Israeli Apartheid, and pointing out that, despite the ceasefire, Palestinians were still being killed by Israeli military forces.
New Orleans has a long history of Palestine activism. During the Israeli bombardment of Gaza that began in late 2008, more than one thousand New Orleanians marched through the French Quarter in one of the largest protests the city had seen in the past decade. Two years later, New Orleans made international headlines when local activists disrupted a talk featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israeli political and military leaders Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak. Despite the large local support and the range of organizations involved, the city's formerly-daily paper generally refuses to cover the protests - even when hundreds of demonstrators are right outside the newspaper's offices, as happened in 2009.
Protestors have pointed to links between the struggles of New Orleans and Palestine, both of which call for the Right of Return for their displaced residents, and both are facing mass home demolitions, mass jailings, and exploitative nonprofits, and both have inspired people from around the world through their creative resistance.

Monday, November 19, 2012

African Americans for Justice in the Middle East and North Africa Statement Regarding the Aggression Against Gaza

The initial signers of this petition include former People's Hurricane Relief Fund director Kali Akuno, and writer and scholar Robin D.G. Kelley. To see the original petition, click here.

African Americans for Justice in the Middle East and North Africa (AAJMENA) strongly condemns Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza. The arguments offered by the Israeli government for its attack on Gaza are nakedly cynical in both form and content. That a truce had been negotiated, with the assistance of the Egyptian government, between Israel and Hamas only to be broken by the Israeli assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari clearly indicates that the Netanyahu government is not interested in peace. Israel is responsible for the escalating violence and for this epic breach of human rights.

This crisis underscores a stunning power imbalance. Nuclear-armed Israel, by far the most powerful military force in the Middle East (and among the mightiest in the world), has unleashed its immense war making capacity on Gaza’s captive population, mobilizing warships and tanks and launching more than 1,000 F-16 airstrikes since the attack began. The use of such weapons on civilians is a flagrant violation of the US Arms Export Control Act.

The aggression against Gaza must be understood as the latest act in the decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government. Blockaded Gaza has been plunged into misery by the Israeli-US effort to thwart the democratic will of the Palestinian people as demonstrated in their 2006 legislative elections. When a coup was attempted against Hamas—and failed—the Israelis sealed Gaza, spinning events to make it appear that those not interested in peace were the Palestinians. As a result, Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the world, with 1.5 million people locked into a roughly 140-square-mile strip of land. This latest humanitarian crisis has caused the disproportionate death and suffering of Palestinians, but casualties on both sides will be the consequence of Israeli aggression.

Rather than taking a stand against the Israeli’s onslaught and issuing an unambiguous demand for an end to the bloodshed, the Obama administration has condemned alleged Palestinian terrorism, repeating the dishonest line that this violent attack is merely in defense of Israel (a position reinforced by the one-sided coverage of the corporate news media). This represents a massive failure on the administration’s part. For all Obama’s denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria, it appears that his administration regards the outright slaughter of civilians in Palestine as acceptable. It is crucial that we recognize the extent of US complicity in the bloodshed; our tax dollars ($8.5 million a day) enable Israeli militarism at a time when those funds are desperately needed to fill gaps in services and infrastructure back home.

As African Americans and people of African descent in the US from academia, activism and various social movements, we cannot remain silent. We call upon all people of good will to:

1. Endorse this statement.

2. Communicate with the White House and the US Department of State to request that President Obama demand that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the IDF cease the bombardment of Gaza and withdraw their armed forces immediately. Insist that the US condition aid to Israel on compliance with U.S. and international law.

3. Contact the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. and demand that Israel withdraw its forces and end the blockade.

4. Send your local media outlet a letter to the editor expressing outrage against the provocative and murderous acts of the Israeli government.

5. Join protests against Israeli aggression.

6. Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and back the efforts of labor unions and student groups to compel their employers and administrators to divest from companies that do business in Israel.

Photo above by Abdul Aziz.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Food Justice Event This Thursday in New Orleans

From our friends at Survivors Village and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement:
Join Survivors Village, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle, and the New Orleans Consulate of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for this critical program about the struggle for food sovereignty in Venezuela and lessons that can be learned and applied in the struggle for food sovereignty in oppressed and exploited communities within the United States.

Growing Change is a documentary that looks at one of the most exciting experiments in the world to grow a fair and sustainable food system. In Venezuela, from fishing villages to cacao plantations to urban gardens, a growing social movement is showing what’s possible when communities, not corporations, start to take control of food.



Guest Speakers include:
Kali Akuno, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
William Camacaro, Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle
Jorge Guerrero Veloz, Consul General of New Orleans

Growing Change: the Struggle for Food Sovereignty in Venezuela
Thursday, November 15th, 7:00pm
St. Bernard Community Baptist Church
3938 St. Bernard Ave.

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Orleans City Council Candidate Launches Anti-Obama Attack

District B City Council candidate Eric Strachan sent out a mailer this week attacking one of his opponents for supporting Barack Obama. While President Obama is not popular in Louisiana, he is popular in New Orleans, including in the district Strachan seeks to represent. In 2008, Obama easily carried the city with 79% of the vote in New Orleans. Strachan, a Republican who switched his registration to Democratic in 2011, presents himself as a Democratic candidate, while also seeking Republican support.

In the mailer, which was paid for by the Strachan campaign, District B candidate Dana Kaplan is also attacked for being a liberal, a community organizer, and for her work with Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Strachan also overreaches in claiming credit for establishing the Office of Inspector General. In fact, the office was approved by voters in 1995, long before Strachan's career in government began, and implemented a decade later through a push by Councilmember Shelly Midura, among others.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Want to Help People Recovering From Hurricane Sandy? Don't Give to the Red Cross

In response to Hurricane Sandy and those who are looking for places to donate, we are publishing below an edited excerpt/combination from articles about the Red Cross and relief previously posted on this site.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reports that if you donated money to the Red Cross for Sandy relief, you helped pay for 45 Red Cross workers to stay at the Soho Grand Hotel, at a rate of $310 a night, for a total of $181,000, while people most in need received garbage bags of broken hamburgers.

Perhaps nowhere in the US is Red Cross as unpopular as in New Orleans, where the memory of post-Katrina discrimination and corruption by the aid agency is still fresh.

No disaster is natural, and hurricanes and other devastating events end up revealing systemic injustices already in place. Unfortunately, many aid groups actually end up contributing to these systemic problems. Although Red Cross, religious charities, and others are to a great extent filled with well-meaning and hard-working individuals, and these groups have helped many people in need, any effort at aid that does not address the deeper structural problems actually contributes to reinforcing those structures. In other words, despite best efforts, they become part of the problem.

After Katrina, churches and other religious charities—from Salvation Army to Scientologists—coordinated many of the relief efforts. This was a furthering of the Bush administration’s goal of privatizing social services and increasing the social role of religious institutions. Some groups provided essential and vital aid, but their overall effort contributed to the re-positioning of relief as a nongovernmental and profit-driven function.

A February 2006 report from New York City’s Foundation Center points out that the Red Cross, which raised perhaps two billion dollars from Katrina appeals despite widespread accusations of racism and mismanagement, “ranked as by far the largest named recipient of contributions from foundation and corporate donors in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” receiving almost 35 percent of all aid, while grassroots and locally-led projects received virtually no support. However, communities across the Gulf Coast reported that the aid was not reaching those most in need, and there were widespread accusations of racism at Red Cross facilities.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, foundations “seem to have been preoccupied with the issue of accountability. Many foundations wondered how they could be certain that grants to local groups would be well spent and, therefore, publicly accountable.” While those are reasonable concerns, it also reveals a double standard. The Chronicle writer goes on to state, “the question of accountability didn't seem to bother the large foundations that gave so generously to the Red Cross, which had a questionable record of competence to begin with and attracted even more criticism in the aftermath of Katrina over its unwise use of funds, high administrative costs, and lack of outreach to minorities.”

In Haiti post-earthquake, similar concerns were raised almost immediately. In addition, when the vast majority of post-earthquake aid went to NGOs like Red Cross, it played the role of further undermining the government’s sovereignty. In the final analysis, a report from Associated Press found that less than one percent of US aid was distributed to groups in Haiti.

Red Cross and other large and bureaucratic aid agencies that function without and means of community accountability were quick to fundraise for Haiti. But did their aid reach people on the ground? The Associated Press reported that for every one dollar of US aid to Haiti, "42 cents is for disaster assistance, 33 cents is for the US military, 9 cents is for food, 9 cents is to transport the food, 5 cents to pay Haitians to help with recovery effort, less than 1 cent for the Haitian government and ½ a cent is for the government of the Dominican Republic."

Tracy Kidder, of the Haiti-based organization Partners in Health/ Zanmi Lasante, said it very well: "There are 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti, and Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world - then something‘s wrong with the way things are, the way aid is being administered."

A statement signed by six human rights organizations brought these concerns to the discussion of Haiti relief. "There is no doubt that Haiti's hungry, thirsty, injured, and sick urgently need all the assistance the international community can provide, but it is critical that the underlying goal of improving human rights drives the distribution of every dollar of aid given to Haiti," said Loune Viaud, Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at Partners in Health, one of the drafters of the letter. "The only way to avoid escalation of this crisis is for international aid to take a long-term view and strive to rebuild a stronger Haiti -- one that includes a government that can ensure the basic human rights of all Haitians and a nation that is empowered to demand those rights."

Anyone who sees the devastation caused by a disaster wants to help. But keep in mind that it is local grassroots organizations who are based in communities that are best positioned to know who needs aid and how to get it to them. And, in the long term, what communities need is the support to be able to lead their own recovery and reconstruction.

New Series of Short Videos on Al Jazeera Highlight Election Issues

Al Jazeera English is a 24-hour news channel available in more than 250 million households in over 130 countries. They have 65 bureaus across the globe, mostly rooted in the global South. As part of their US election coverage, they are airing this series of short videos focused on some of the issues that have shaped this election. The videos were produced by a team that includes New Orleans journalist Jordan Flaherty and filmed in cities across the US.

Miami - Immigration

Washington, DC - Foreign Policy

Arlington, VA - Health Care

Chicago - Money in Politics

Fort Lauderdale - Economy

Milwaukee - Economy

The channel has also been airing shorter versions that can be seen at the following links: Miami, Washington, Arlington, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and Milwaukee.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Bounce Nation" Holds Protest at Local Radio Station, Station Management Threatens Arrest

Reposted from the Alliance Institute:

Supporters of bounce music culture rallied on Oct. 18th in front of 201 St. Charles, home of Cumulus Broadcasting and 102.9FM Radio, asking that station management reinstate the “Power Posse” morning show.

Recently the “Power Posse” was taken off the air to make room for the “Rickey Smiley Show,” a nationally syndicated radio program.  “We don’t oppose syndicated radio, however, we just want to keep our local musicians and artists working,” said Bounce Nation community organizer and bounce rap artist Crystal “Crowd Mova” Dixon.

Supporting local musicians and artists and keeping local jobs here in New Orleans should be a top priority of all groups, organizations, and companies doing business here in the city, said Dixon.

The Bounce Nation rally brought together bounce rap artists and supporters, as well as ministers from several local churches.

“We know that our future is inextricably bound up and linked with young people,” said Pastor Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church, addressing the crowd gathered in front of the building entrance. “This bounce phenomenon is not something that’s going to go away, but the jobs are going away. If we don’t pay attention to what is necessary to keep the local jobs here and support the local efforts, we’re going to lose our young people.”

Bounce Nation collected over 1000 signatures from New Orleans youth and other bounce music supporters calling for the reinstatement of the “Power Posse” morning show. In addition to being the only local morning radio show targeting New Orleans Youth and Bounce Culture, the “Power Posse” promotes local artists who in turn create jobs for youth and positively contribute to the local economy.

Bounce Nation representatives attempted to turn in the petitions and a letter to the 102.9 program director at the Cumulus Broadcasting office on the 2nd  floor, but were barred from entering by building security personnel. The head of security said that Cumulus management did not want to let Bounce Nation and rally participants inside the suite and refused to accept the petitions, and then asked the contingent to leave the building altogether or risk being arrested.

Bounce Nation is a youth empowerment project of Alliance Institute that uses bounce music culture as a way of helping young people establish a voice for themselves and impact the future of New Orleans.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Librotraficantes Mark Opening of New Latino Cultural Space in Central City


From a press release from friends of the Librotraficantes:
Join the Librotraficantes for an evening of contraband prose at Casa Borrega, 1719 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Friday, November 2, from 7-8:30pm.

Imagine the New Orleans School Board banning African American books. Well, the equivalent of this happened just this year in Tucson where the Latino population is comparable in size to that of the African Americans in New Orleans.

In January 2012 the Tucson Unified School Board banned Mexican American ethnic studies. This means no history, prose, fiction or other forms of Mexican American culture can be taught in the schools.  This includes classics like Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This anti-constitutional book ban is part of a curriculum change to avoid “biased, political and emotionally charged” teaching. In response to this law, the Librotraficante Caravan to Smuggle Banned Books Back to Tucson grew and blossomed into a movement. In March of 2012, the group organized six cities, smuggled over 1,000 “wet-books” donated from all over the country, and opened four Under Ground Libraries.

According to their website, “The Librotraficante movement is the tip of the pyramid. It stands on the base created by its parent organization Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. Nuestra Palabra has been promoting Latino literature and literacy in Houston, Texas since 1998. “

The original Librotraficante and founder of Nuestra Puebla is professor and writer Tony Diaz, the author of novel The Aztec Love God, which was selected as the 1998 Nilon Award for Excellence in Minority Fiction. Ishmael Reed called Diaz “Relentlessly brilliant.”  Diaz has just completed his second novel The Children of the Locust Tree.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Diaz is the impresario behind an inspiring act of indignation and cultural pride.”  Tony explains, “My first job as a child was to translate the outside world for my parents. Now, I translate our culture for the rest of the world.”

Tony and fellow Librotraficantes Liana Lopez and Bryan Parras are travelling the country to raise awareness sharing their mind altering prose, news, and writing-before it is confiscated.

With its growing Latino population, Greater New Orleans has been desperately in need of a gathering place to celebrate the cultural life of this important ethnic group. Casa Borrega intends to fill the gap, and this event serves as a sneak preview for the venue, which will open later this year.

Casa Borrega will have an altar installed to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Inmates at Angola Prison Complain of Excessive, Unrestrained, Frequent and Unjustified Use of Chemical Agents on Prisoners

From a letter sent today by the ACLU of Louisiana:

October 25, 2012

Dear Warden Cain:

In the past few months, the ACLU of Louisiana has received numerous allegations of excessive or unjustified use of chemical agents, such as OC (oleoresin capsicum), upon inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP). We write to bring the issue to your attention, and to request that you provide us LSP’s policies on chemical spray use, investigate the matter and immediately correct any unlawful practices.

Background

Specifics vary, but the theme of each account is the same: with increasing frequency and decreasing restraint, corrections officers at LSP are using chemical irritant upon offenders in inappropriate ways. The spray is not being used sparingly to discipline unruly or disobedient inmates, but gratuitously to punish offenders who pose no threat and are engaged in lawful activity.

For example, in several complaints, inmates state that chemical spray was discharged into their locked, unventilated cells and left to linger there, forcing them to breathe the acrid fumes for hours at a time. They add either that they were not given opportunities to decontaminate, or that decontamination followed only many hours later - in some cases only when the trapped inmates were in respiratory distress and required medical attention.

Inmates also allege that they were sprayed for complaining about minor problems, such as not being allowed to shower during a regularly-allotted bathing time; or for requesting emergency medical assistance; or for minor incidents such as failing to clear the cell floor of water that had spilled from a blocked toilet. Inmates state that on several occasions, Without instigation, they were taken in groups to the showers, stripped naked, doused with pepper spray and simply returned to their cells Without explanation.

Perhaps most seriously, quite a few inmates complained that they were sprayed in retaliation for filing administrative grievances, and in some cases were specifically told by corrections  that they would be sprayed again unless they withdrew their complaints.

Law Regarding Pepper Spray Use

As you are aware, the law does not permit use of chemical agents upon inmates for purely punitive or malicious purposes - use must be justified either by disciplinary need or a threat to security. Indeed, the federal courts of both Louisiana and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal have specifically addressed some of the factual scenarios we describe above. For example, the Fifth Circuit on more than one occasion has held it unlawful to spray inmates who are confined to a cell and pose no threat to corrections officers. Chambers v. Johnson, 372 Fed. Appx. 471, 473 (5th Cir. 2010); Johnson v. Dubroc, 3 F.3d 436 (Sth Cir. 1993) (Eighth Amendment violated where an isolation-tier inmate who loudly called out to another inmate
from inside his cell was sprayed in the face, treated and allowed a shower and change of clothes, but then was returned to his still-contaminated cell).

Similarly, the Middle District of Louisiana has stated that chemical agents cannot be used against inmates maliciously or for no apparent reason. Causey v. Poret, 2007 WL 2701969 (MD. La. 2007) (Eighth Amendment violated Where officers maced, choked, and kicked inmate in the shower  removing him from the kitchen area, where he had been accused of looking at a female officer).

Likewise, the Middle District has recognized excessive force where corrections officers pepper­sprayed an inmate after commanding him to take off all his clothes and locking him in a segregation cell, where he then became argumentative but still posed no threat. Young v. Huberl, 2008 WL 2019576 (M.D. La. 2008).

And of course, retaliation against an inmate for filing a grievance is unlawfull in any form, including retaliation by chemical spray, as it violates the First Amendment. Morris v. Powell, 449 F.3d 682, 684 (Sth Cir. 2006) (prison officials may not retaliate against a prisoner for exercising his First Amendment right of access to the courts or to complain through proper channels about a guard’s misconduct through the grievance process).

Relief

All of the scenarios we have listed above seem to be increasing in frequency, and all cross the line into excessive force, and therefore violate the Eighth andfor First Amendments. We therefore request the following:

(1) That you investigate the use of chemical agent at LSP to ensure that such use comports with applicable regulations, state and federal law;
(2) That you immediately curb any unlawful chemical spray practices at LSP and take all measures necessary to ensure that such practices do not recur including training all appropriate personnel on the lawful use of chemical agents;
(3) That you provide this office with a report of your investigation, including a report of any remedial or corrective measures taken; and
(4) That you provide this offìce with a copy of all guidelines, rules and regulations applicable to chemical spray use at L-SP3.

I will expect to hear from you within 48 hours. Please do not hesitate to Contact us if you have any questions. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Marjorie Esman

Reflections on the Protest at Walter L. Cohen High School, By Parnell Herbert

While in Houston TX. to attend a convention on reparations I began receiving phone calls, text and email messages describing a situation back home in New Orleans. It appeared that juniors and seniors at Walter L. Cohen walked out of school on Thursday October 4, 2012. Students say they are “Tired of the lies and misrepresentations” of New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) administrators and Future is Now (FIN), a national charter school organization. The last straw was RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard’s decision to fire Cohen’s principal, his staff and several teachers who students say they had grown to love and look upon as members of their Cohen High School family.

Students say that decision, coupled with Dobard’s unilateral decision to turn over governance of Cohen’s 11th and 12th-grade classes to FIN was the final straw and prompted them to walk out and refuse to return to class until a list of demands were met. Student Demands appear basic and reasonable to some, while unacceptable to others.

As a community organizer I wore my Peace Keepers shirt and spent the entire day with the students, parents, and other organizers. Monday October 8th was probably the coldest day since last winter. At 8:00AM students braved the cold in their school uniforms prepared for class they anxiously gathered around the front door of their school to hear the decision of school administrators.

When administrators offered access to the building but failed to address their demands, students refused to enter. Administrators retreated to the inside of the building and soon returned to offer the protesting students access to the school’s library to escape the cold. Students declined the offer. Some began chanting “NO, NO. WE WON’T GO.” They all laughed at the imitation 60’s chant as I realized they had no idea of how similar they were to the movement of the 60’s.

During the half hour we lingered in front of that door, students selected five facilitators. We decided to shift our headquarters to the corner and warmth of the sun. One of the adults suggested we get chairs from the school for the students to sit. As I walked with him to request the chairs we were met by Dana Peterson, one of Dobard’s assistants. We asked him who we would need to speak with to get the chairs. He said “They will probably say no.” I asked Peterson why they would say no to chairs when they invited the students into the library earlier. He replied “That was to get them into the school. He became irritated as I charged “You mean you were using the warmth of the library to lure the kids into the building?” He appeared irritated at my charge and said “You can phrase it however you want to.” As he turned and started to walk away we noticed students walking out of the school with stacks of chairs to bring to their classmates. He then relented “Obviously you can” as he stormed away.

As the day progressed more parents and organizers began to arrive. Later neighbors, Cohen alumni and other concerned citizens joined us. More puzzle pieces were discussed. Some questioned why would this RSD superintendent sell these Cohen High School juniors and seniors to FIN? Others theorized; FIN has acquired John McDonough High but fell short in their commitment to enroll 300 students as their current enrollment is closer to 100. By acquiring Cohen’s 120 juniors and seniors FIN gets closer to the needed 300 students although the students would remain housed at Cohen they would be added to FIN’s head count which would bring FIN closer to their million dollar payday.    

Several retired teachers arrived to hold class with the students who were eager to resume the process of learning. Around noon the students, who were amazingly well disciplined and controlled, were obviously growing cold, tired, hungry and confused. We all were. But much of the student’s confusion was intensified by administrators planting false seeds into their minds as they attempted to turn the students against their adult supporters.

Chad Brousard introduced himself to organizers as a Breaux Bridge resident who was brought in as principal of John McDonough and later shifted to Cohen. Brousard began with what sounded like a canned speech about students exercising their rights to protest as our ancestors had done…  he said he wanted to speak with the students in small groups. We asked in the spirit of transparency if he would speak with them as one group, they were all assembled just a few yards away in front of our faces. He agreed to do so but turned back as we approached the students. We later found that he had somehow managed to get a few students into the library and had them sitting at a table writing out a list of demands.

We asked administrators if they planned to feed the student’s lunch. They said the students were welcome to eat lunch inside, in the school cafeteria. The large majority of students declined the invitation. Adult supporters hurriedly worked it out and bought food and drink for the children to eat.

A group of seven or eight boys huddled near a car decided to break ranks with their classmates. They walked around the other students and headed to the door. One of the teens tapped Brousard who was standing near the door who immediately followed them inside.

After a half hour another organizer and I went into the school library where we found some of the boys seated while eating doughnuts. A group of FIN teachers were lounging on the other side of the room. The students told us they had gone inside the school because they were concerned and wanted to study for the test they would soon have to take in order to graduate. My colleague then demanded the teachers to relinquish their seats and to begin the process of educating the students. They hurriedly complied.  

As the cameras assembled for the scheduled 3:00PM press conference a woman (some say she was an obvious provocateur) was sent to disrupt by accusing an organizer of betraying the students by working for the RSD. Again the awesome students held their composure and proceeded with their press conference as scheduled.

Many of the students remained seated and composed after the press conference because they intended to remain for the RSD scheduled meeting with parents and students.

An obviously nervous Superintendent Dobard convened the meeting by telling the students “We as adults like to keep doing things as before…” as to imply they were being manipulated by their adult supporters. He informed us all that “A contract has already been signed.” He promised the students that “All seniors and juniors will graduate from Cohen High School from this building.”

He said “I made a decision because I could not standby to watch students not being educated,” He threatened that “Staff will be available to work on transfers tomorrow for students who want to transfer elsewhere.” He responded to shouts from students regarding books “We will address books.” When students complained about ceiling tiles on one side of the cafeteria designated for New Orleans College Prep (a charter school that shares the building with Cohen) and missing tiles on the Cohen student’s side of that same space he said “We will evaluate the ceiling tiles.”

Adults in the audience became disruptive and started yelling complaints to him. I could not hear the questions but I did hear his responses which were “I will work on that and I will address that.”

As I spoke to students to ask for clarity on some of their complaints I learned that they do not have individual books and must share books in the classrooms. When they need to go to the restroom they must go to the office to request toilet paper. I began to reflect on my days in the Orleans Parish school system during the Jim Crow era. We did have toilet paper in the restrooms and every student had a full set of books although most of them were handed down out dated books from white schools when they became tattered, worn and too old for white students. I began to wonder if we were better off during Jim Crow days. Now that African Americans hold executive positions in our education system are we now in “Tom Crow Days?”

One former teacher (Black male) said he holds a master’s degree and was fired by State Superintendent John White who has a bachelor’s degree. He further stated that proven certified teachers are being replaced with uncertified/under qualified teachers. Upset adults went off again when Dobard responded with “Everything is not about qualifications.”

A newly fired Cohen teacher became emotional when he spoke. He said “I was hired on Friday, my first day was Monday, I was evaluated on Tuesday and fired on Wednesday. Students later rushed over to embrace their teacher and assure him that everything will be alright.

An adult supporter who spoke directly to Dobard spoke of a West bank girl who lives six blocks from Landry High School but has to awaken at 5:30AM to be bussed to a school in New Orleans East. He told Dobard “You are guilty of Black on Black Crime.”

The meeting ended abruptly when many of the frustrated students stood up and angrily walked out. I found it ironic that in today’s world with all of the anti-bullying campaigns that a school system would so BRUTALLY BULLY children placed under there care.    

Parnell Herbert is a recently returned New Orleanian who was previously displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina. He is active on many social justice causes, including the right of return for New Orleanians, and freedom for the Angola Three. His new play, Angola Three, has been performed in New Orleans and other cities.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Students at Walter L. Cohen High School Walk Out to Protest Firings of Teachers

From a press release from students and their allies at Walter L. Cohen High School:

See below for the students' demands - written by the students on October 7, and revised by the students on October 10.

See video from protest at Recovery School District offices here.

Students at Walter L. Cohen in New Orleans began a walk out/protest on October 4th, 2012 when their teachers and administrators were dismissed and the announcement was made that Future Is Now Charter (Steven Barr, formerly of Green Dot in California, and Gideon Stein) would be taking over the governance of the school.

This is against the firing of Cohen teachers and administration and the take-over by Future is Now (FIN) charter. Decisions about the governance of the school, including New Orleans College Prep being housed in Cohen's building, must be reversed and remade to include students and parents of Cohen. Cohen students and parents must be made a part of all decisions about Cohen.

Press Conference
Monday, October 8, 3:00pm
Walter L. Cohen High School
3520 Dryades Street, New Orleans, LA
Contact:  Elizabeth Jeffers at 504.237.3741 or Katrena Ndang at 504.701.8783


Official Demands Written by Walter L. Cohen Students on October 7, 2012 (edited to reflect changes made on October 10):

1. Resources and Building repair for Walter L. Cohen High School.
- Photos of building providing evidence of different conditions between NOCPREP and Cohen

2. Graduate Exit Exam (GEE) and End of Course (EOC) waivers given caused by disruption learning.
Students must not be penalized for missing seat time until our demands are met.

3. Students cannot be bought and sold. This situation is very frustrating and opinions should have
been considered, and not done behind closed doors. Walter L. Cohen students and parents
demand real “CHOICE” to determine the governance of the school. Any previous decisions made
determining the governance of Cohen should be reversed and required to go through parent/
student/teacher/administrator committee. If the decision is to return the school to Walter L.
Cohen under Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), New Orleans College Prep students will be
welcome. All current students graduate from Walter L. Cohen.

4. This type of hostile take-over did not just begin with Cohen; it has been going on since the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

5. The Recovery School District (RSD), Future is Now Schools (FINS), and New Orleans College Prep Charter School (NOCP) do not have our best interests at heart. These administrators have their
educations, and yet when we are so close to completing high school, they decide to make this
unexpected decision.

6. ALL Teachers, administration and faculty must be retained. Any faculty member from school
year 2012-2013 fired must be reinstated. We need written documentation demonstrating why
any faculty members were dismissed. We need written documentation of any reprimands of
faculty members. In the future, if a faculty member is to be dismissed, written documentation
and a plan must be created and followed.
ALL teachers and administrators must be fully certified by the state of Louisiana (which
must be documented online at TeachLouisiana.net). Out of State Certifications are
acceptable.

7. Data from New Orleans College Prep, Cohen, and Future is Now Schools must be made available concerning the following information:
- Student testing history
- Suspension / expulsion data
- Police reports
- Attrition rates for students and teachers
- Graduation rate data
- Post-secondary data (admission statistics for graduated seniors)

We, the students of Walter L. Cohen Senior High School, need the RSD, FINS, and NOCP to listen to us. This is a crisis, and everyone should listen. This is real, and it is happening to us right now.

New Orleans cannot be a city with all charter schools. Charter schools do not admit or keep all students.


No unnecessary suspensions and expulsions for students in New Orleans. We need official handbook with policies concerning retention of students developed by parents, students and teachers citywide.

Image above: A handwritten list of demands by Cohen students posted to the school wall Monday afternoon. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)