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


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.


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

No comments: