"Every resident must have a voice in the
rebuilding process. This will take a coordination of community
town halls and meetings to an unprecedented level given the
geographic dispersion of residents. Community involvement will
be a challenge, but one that cannot be ignored. To truly rebuild
communities of lasting value, residents, business interests
and elected officials must make decisions about their community
together." - Paul Farmer, AICP, Executive Director, American Planning Association
"All displaced persons should have the
right to participate in the rebuilding of the city as owners,
producers, providers, planners, developers, workers, and direct
beneficiaries. Participation must especially include African-Americans
and the poor, and those previously excluded from the development
process." - Point Four of the New Orleans Citizens
Bill of Rights
"Elsewhere in the Gulf, you can see commercial
transactions, people doing business, and cleanup. But in New
Orleans you don't see people." - Rep. Cynthia McKinney
New Orleans has emerged as a 21st Century political
cauldron for Black America, a gaping wound that exposes African
American vulnerabilities and institutional weaknesses in the
face of both super-predatory capital and Old South racial oppression.
A shocked and outraged community - and by this, we mean the
national Black polity as well as the hundreds of thousands directly
affected by the Katrina phenomenon - is now challenged to fight
on many fronts simultaneously.
Two events this week in the Crescent City serve
to illuminate the emerging order-of-battle in what will surely
be a multi-year struggle - one that must ultimately engage every
sector of Black America.
On Monday, November 7, New Orleans police first
tried to prevent, and then peacefully escorted, a cross-bridge
to the two-thirds white city of Gretna, on the east bank of
the Mississippi River.
During the first week of hell in New Orleans,
Mayor Ray Nagin told desperate residents seeking to escape the
city that busses were waiting on the other side of the river.
However, Gretna police, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies
and assorted white vigilantes, fired shots over the heads of
the would be evacuees, halting the exodus. Gretna's police chief
declared: "If we had opened the
bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now:
looted, burned and pillaged."
For organizers of this week's protest - an impressive array of
regional and national activists - it was a nightmare flashback
to a bridge outside Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
"The Gretna City Bridge incident will live on in civil
rights history just as does Bloody Sunday at the Edmund
Pettus Bridge," said Rep.
Cynthia McKinney, the lone congressperson among the 100
or so marchers who successfully passed the "Welcome to
Gretna" sign on Monday.
The event was a civil rights affair, with marchers
singing "We Shall Overcome." Congresswoman McKinney's
legislative response to the Gretna outrage also harkened back
to what many think of as a past era: She has demanded a Justice
Department investigation, and that Gretna's police department
be denied federal funds.
Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther who co-founded
the local social justice group Common
Ground, understood that the past was also the present. "What
happened here showed the old way of doing business in the state
of Louisiana is alive and well," he said. "The world
needs to know what happened."
But the world didn't learn about the protest on
Monday - of how Jim Crow's supposedly dead hand had reached
out over two generations to replicate 1965 Selma in 2005 New
Orleans. Although CNN and other national broadcasters were on
the scene with their cameras, and the Associated Press issued
two brief reports, the march received virtually no national
broadcast or major newspaper coverage - a clear sign that corporate
media editors consider the Black "rights" aspect of
Katrina a non-story.
Katrina proves how fragile the tissue of Black
rights has become. The debacle takes us back to pre-civil rights
days, when any white man with a gun possessed both power and
impunity; back to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when
thousands of African Americans were purposely left stranded
on levees surrounded by water, so that they could not leave
the region and deprive rich whites of their labor; back to the
days of near naked slavery.
Katrina should forever silence the voices of those
who, through ignorance, delusion, or in return for a check,
proclaim the struggle for civil rights, over. Yet even as we
are forced to reaffirm the bedrock civil rights to freedom of
movement, to security in our homes and persons, to due process,
Katrina challenges us to demand other rights not recognized
by the captains of capital and their servants in government,
as enumerated in the New Orleans Citizen Bill of Rights. (Full
text at bottom of this page.)
Which brings us to the other significant event
in New Orleans, this week.
Official commissions proliferate in the wake of
Katrina, none of them adequately - if at all - representing
the interests of Black New Orleans. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco's Recovery and Rebuilding Commission's "planning
and visioning" conference begins on Thursday, November
10 at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel. Four hundred notables
were invited to register by last Friday's deadline; other citizens
will occupy an over-flow room. According to a press
release of the American Institute of Architects, which is
presenting the conference in collaboration with the American
"Louisiana citizens in attendance will be
able to provide instant feedback on a range of planning and
design principles and to rank their importance. This feedback
will be tabulated and analyzed in real-time by AmericaSpeaks
(a non-partisan, non-profit organization that conducts citizen
engagement projects) and will be part of the conference's final
recommendations (results will be shared with media during daily
press briefings… Professional facilitators will assist small
‘table' discussions, as well as the regional break-outs. They
will help participants move through the process efficiently
and smoothly, making sure that everyone's voice has an opportunity
to be heard.
Absent, of course, will be the hundreds of thousands
of displaced persons scattered throughout the region and nation
- the people who demand the "Right to Return" should
they choose to exercise it.
A bright red flag appears on the architect group's
conference literature. Among four assumptions that will underlay
their discussion on the future of New Orleans, right alongside
projected demand for labor, petroleum prices, and the cost of
construction materials, is the following assumption:
"Less than half of the lost housing stock
in Louisiana is expected to be rebuilt due to decreased population
Clearly, the planners begin the conference with
the assumption that huge numbers of the city's Black and poor
- who suffered the most devastating housing losses - will not
be returning. The assumption reflects the received wisdom that
permeates the (white) national discussion of Katrina - an assumption
that is, in fact, the fervent wish of corporate America and
most of its media.
A Plan for Permanent Exile?
It is patently obvious that, if a city is rebuilt
on a plan that only accommodates a limited number of displaced
people, it does not welcome their return; there will be no place
for them to return to. There will not be enough schools to serve
their children, nor public transportation to get them to and
from neighborhoods that will have been "planned" out
of existence. In effect, if you are not in the plan, you have
no future in New Orleans; you are erased.
The architects foresee a two-stage, three to five
year reconstruction period. "Close to a quarter million
housing units are estimated to have been destroyed in the New
Orleans metro area alone," says a report by AIA chief economist
Baker. "Declining population levels in the near term
will limit the need for replacement housing units, so not even
all of the units lost in the storm will need to be immediately
replaced to house its population."
Working from data compiled by consulting firm
Economy.com, the architects expect that Baton Rouge and other
Louisiana cities will absorb many of the displaced, and note
that, historically, 40 percent of out-migration is to Texas.
"By 2008," writes Baker, "probably only about
100,000 of the housing units lost to the stock will have been
replaced." That leaves 150,000 housing units that will
not be replaced, representing a huge number of Black people.
Based on these assumptions, the people who once lived in those
houses will not be part of the planning process; they are the
Responding to questions from BC, Baker explained
that the low-return assumptions also assume an "unsupported"
economic environment - that is, the reconstruction of New Orleans
will be based solely on market forces, without government intervention
and subsidies. "This is what unsupported growth would look
like… Private markets can't build" housing for rental at
"$250 or $300 a month," he said.
Of course they can't - or rather, won't - a fact
known to urban planners for generations. But what about the
many tens of billions of federal dollars that are targeted for
the Gulf region? Clearly, this is not going to be an "unsupported"
reconstruction. The question is: who will be recipients of "support,"
and who not. Certainly, those who are left out of the plan will
receive no support. Plans are not neutral - they both include
and exclude, and are the basis for funding.
At this point Baker, a PhD., offered: "If
you are asking if the [availability of] free housing would change
our conclusions - absolutely!" The same would go for subsidized
housing "if that's the vision we want."
Unfortunately, planners who assume that New Orleans'
fate will be left to private markets and that a population
that once filled 150,000 housing units, will not return, will
inevitably put forward a self-fulfilling "vision"
- a city with no welcome mat for the unplanned Black and poor.
Planning as Valuable as Voting
The architects' partners in organizing Governor
Blanco's conference, the American Planning Association (APA),
are no strangers to public-supported development "environments,"
since so many of their 38,000 members work with or for governments.
At an October 18 hearing of several U.S. House subcommittees,
APA executive director W. Paul Farmer sounded like a social
"Planning provides a way for engaged citizens
to exercise their voice about how they want their community
rebuilt. In this way, planning is just as valuable to democracy
as voting privileges. No other public process allows citizens
to become so directly involved in helping shape the future of
the places where they live. Planning is truly democracy in action.
Part of this democratic process involves residents, development
interests, and other stakeholders coming together to create
a shared vision of their community's future."
Farmer warned that "communities cannot afford
to forgo planning in the rush to rebuild…" - an interesting
thing to say to Republican committee chairmen, given that the
Bush administration rushed, Iraq-style, to award no-bid New
Orleans contracts to construction giants Halliburton, Bechtel
and others before the elemental needs of Katrina's human victims
had been even minimally addressed. Moreover, said Farmer:
"Public financing must be provided for
neighborhood and community planners to assist residents in
planning and financing their reconstruction, to provide an
opportunity to develop creative strategies for neighborhood
improvement and evacuee community building, and to provide
a communication link between local government and residents."
"That's just not going to happen," said
one of the crafters of the New Orleans Citizen Bill of Rights,
when informed of the APA director's remarks. Neither the mayor,
the governor, nor the federal government are willing to finance
the work of community activists struggling to give voice to "the
unplanned for" and displaced. Many of these long time activists
have themselves been displaced and "find it physically impossible
to attend" planning conferences - "we're scattered throughout
the United States."
Organizers like Mtangulizi Sanyika, of the African
American Leadership Project, who was willing to speak for the
record, say they have their hands full trying to save the heavily
Black lower Ninth Ward from bulldozers. "The important
task is organizing the dispersed population [in 44 states] and
the neighborhoods," said Sanyika. "We are starting
to witness a bubbling up from the bottom."
The "bottom" is nowhere to be found
on city and state reconstruction commissions. Although racially
integrated, Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin's commissions are
top-heavy with boardroom Blacks - like Nagin, himself - a Democrat
in name only who attempted to privatize everything in sight
immediately upon assuming office.
But Black New Orleans has millions of allies who
are engaged in a multitude of projects on their behalf. In truth,
most African Americans see their own fate in the muck of the
Ninth Ward, and the cruel exile of their brothers and sisters.
The Necessary Focus
Katrina has set African American forces in motion
on a scale not seen since the Civil Rights Movement entered
its mature phase in 1963, when, according to NAACP Chairman
Julian Bond, "there were more than 10,000 anti-racist demonstrations."
Just three months into a Gulf saga that will unfold over a period
of years, we are already witnessing an impressive mobilization
across the political spectrum of Black America, and among many
traditional allies. So deep and wide has the Katrina wound cut,
it seems clear that activity among high-profile organizations
represents only the "tip of the iceberg," so to speak.
Every consciously Black grouping appears to be working on, or
is contemplating, a Katrina-related project, and numerous non-Black
organizations are engaged in solidarity activity.
Although a host of separate campaigns do not (yet)
constitute a "movement," the sheer volume of Katrina
activities has every potential to galvanize broad sectors of
Black America into something that resembles a movement - and
There must, however, be a focus - and that focus
should be to create a Movement for Democratic Development of
the cities. The threatened cataclysmic gentrification of New
Orleans is but a high-speed version of what is occurring, nationwide,
as capital seeks to seize back the centers of urban life.
At the same time, the images and events of Katrina
have demonstrated beyond doubt that Blacks' civil rights are,
to put it mildly, insecure. Activists must now engage the long-neglected
battle for Democratic Development of, not just New Orleans,
but their own cities, while also confronting old-style racism
in the raw. The Black condition has not fundamentally changed;
it has become more complicated.
Above all, the configuration of our cities must
not be left to others - even well-meaning others.
29, 2004, in the last of a five-part series titled, "Wanted:
A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves," BC proposed
that Black labor take the leading role in creating "flying
squads" of urban experts to assist local activists in developing
a practical blueprint for urban development that serves and
empowers the masses of residents. "The pool of talent available
to us" in this project, we noted, "is far larger than
that which the activists of the early 1960s could call upon."
The article continued:
"We must disrupt and supersede corporate
development schemes, by becoming city planners in the service
of the people. We must take the initiative away from the corporations,
who are currently in possession of all the data that make
up the life of a city, and who use it selectively to present
their self-serving brand of ‘development' as the only option
available. We must redefine the term ‘development,' to mean
change that benefits the people impacted by the project.
Development that does not meet that definition, is unacceptable….
"We must halt the corporate-imposed triaging
of urban America, that accepts the incremental expulsion [in
New Orleans' case, catastrophic expulsion] of populations
based on corporate promises of a ‘greater good' in the future
- for those who somehow manage to hang on to their addresses….
"Relatively small teams of people, equipped
with specialized knowledge of how cities function, and having
gathered the widest possible specific information on targeted
cities, can provide the basic outlines for comprehensive urban
Plans that serve the inhabitants. These Plans, created in a
process that intimately involves the people themselves -
eliciting their dreams - will serve as the basis for democratic
discussion, negotiations, and struggle over the development
of the city."
Had such a team been created, white trade organizations
and planners would not be monopolizing the public discussion
of New Orleans' future. But who knew that nature and the Bush
regime would combine to visit such devastation, so soon?
Had Katrina not occurred, the Black grassroots
movers-and-shakers of the Crescent City would probably not have
refined their New Orleans Citizen Bill of Rights, an exquisite
Democratic Development document, born of dire necessity, and
applicable to every urban center in the nation. Adversity is
one route to maturity, in which case, progressive Blacks must
begin acting like elders.
Unless we have learned nothing from Katrina, Democratic
Development be must be at the top of the agenda at the March,
2006 national Black convention, in Gary, Indiana.
Without a Plan, we will never beat The Man.
African American Leadership Project
& The New Orleans Local Organizing Committee & The
Greater New Orleans Coalition of Ministers
New Orleans Citizen Bill of Rights'
1. All displaced persons should maintain the
"Right of Return" to New Orleans as an International
"Human Right." A persons' socioeconomic status,
class, employment, occupation, educational level, neighborhood
residence, or how they were evacuated should have no bearing
on this fundamental right. This right shall include the provision
of adequate transportation to return to the city by the similar
means that a person was dispersed. THE CITY SHOULD NOT
BE DEPOPULATED OF ITS MAJORITY AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND LOWER
INCOME CITIZENS, and must be rebuilt to economically include
all those who were displaced.
2. All displaced persons must retain their right
of citizenship in the city, especially including the right
to vote in the next municipal elections. Citizen rights to
the franchise must be protected and widely explained to all
dispersed persons. The provisions of the Civil Rights Act
of 1965 should be examined and enforced in this regard.
3. All displaced persons should have the right
to shape and envision the future of the city. Shaping
the future should not be left to elected officials, appointed
commissions, developers and/or business interests alone. We
the citizens are the primary stakeholders of a re-imagined
New Orleans. Thus, we MUST be directly involved in imagining
the future. Provisions must be included to insure this right.
4. All displaced persons should have the right
to participate in the rebuilding of the city as owners,
producers, providers, planners, developers, workers, and direct
beneficiaries. Participation must especially include African-Americans
and the poor, and those previously excluded from the development
5. In rebuilding the city, all displaced persons
should have the right to quality goods and services based
on equity and equality. Disparities and inequality must be
eliminated in all aspects of social, economic and political
life. It should be illegal to discriminate against an individual
due to their income, occupation or educational status, in
addition to the traditional categories of race, gender, religion,
language, disability, culture or other social status.
6. In rebuilding the city, all displaced persons
should have the right to affordable neighborhoods,
quality affordable housing, adequate health care, good schools,
repaired infrastructures, a livable environment and improved
transportation and hurricane safety.
7. In rebuilding the city, workers, especially
hospitality workers should have the right to be paid a
livable wage with good benefits.
8. In rebuilding the city, African-American
should have the right to increased economic benefits and
ownership. The percentage of Black owned enterprises MUST
dramatically increase from the present 14%, and the access
to wealth and ownership must also be dramatically improved.
9. In rebuilding the city, African-Americans
and any displaced low income populations should have the right
to preferential treatment in cleanup jobs, construction and
operational work associated with rebuilding the city.
10. In rebuilding the city, the right to
contracting preference should also be given to Community
Development collaboratives, community and faith-based corporations/organizations,
and New Orleans businesses that partner with nonprofit service
providers and people of color. No contracts should be let
to companies that disregard Davis-Bacon, Affirmative action
and local participation. Proposed legislation to create a
"recovery opportunity zone" should specifically
include Community Development organizations and minority firms
as alternatives to the no bid multi-national companies. Over
the last 30 years, such firms have demonstrated their capacity
to successfully build hundreds of thousands of quality affordable
housing, and neighborhood commercials and businesses and service
11. In rebuilding the city, priority must be
given to the right to an environmentally clean and hurricane
safe city, rather than the destruction of Black neighborhoods
or communities such as the lower 9th ward. Priority must also
be given to environmental justice, disaster planning and evacuation
plans that work for the most transit dependent populations
and the most vulnerable residents of the city.
12. In rebuilding the city, priority must be
given to the right to preserve and continue the rich and
diverse cultural traditions of the city, and the social
experiences of Black people that produced the culture. The
second line, Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, creative music,
dance foods, language and other expressions are the "soul
of the city." The rebuilding process must preserve these
traditions. THE CITY MUST NOT BE CULTURALLY, ECONOMICALLY
OR SOCIALLY GENTRIFIED. INTO A "SOULLESS" COLLECTION
OF CONDOS AND tract home NEIGHBORHOODS FOR THE RICH. We also
respectfully request that the CBC initiate its own Commission
to thoroughly investigate all aspects of the physical and
human dimensions of the Katrina disaster.
Spokesperson: Mtangulizi Sanyika, AALP Project
Manager can be reached via Email: [email protected]
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