Notes From Inside New Orleans


Richard Moore

From: "Westaway" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Notes From Inside New Orleans
Date: Sat, 3 Sep 2005 11:01:54 -0700

Notes From Inside New Orleans
by Jordan Flaherty
Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from
the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a
refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of
federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane
Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near
Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor)
stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades,
under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing
guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop
at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the
barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no
information given about where the bus was going. Once inside
(we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking
them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other
locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for
Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to
stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus
as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go
to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come
to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17
miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers,
Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and
although they were friendly, no one could give me any details
on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to,
or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of
journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to
get any information from any federal or state officials on any
of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to
local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized,
non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me "as someone
who's been here in this camp for two days, the only
information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You
don't want to be here at night."

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the
camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system,
for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact
information or find family members, special needs services for
children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible
disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to
look at New Orleans itself. For those who have not lived in
New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital,
city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else
in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to
white supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and
unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop,
to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz
Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans
is a place of art and music and dance and sexuality and
liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down
the block can take two hours because you stop and talk to
someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together
when someone is in need. It is a city of extended families and
social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and
federal governments that have abdicated their responsibility
for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk
past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear.
The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000
and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered
on just a few, overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police
have been quoted as saying that they don't need to search out
the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting,
the attacker is shot in revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust
between much of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police
Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of
everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In
separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were
recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have
been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth,
including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired
ongoing weekly protests for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black
ninth graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana
spends on average $4,724 per child's education and ranks 48th
in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of
more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana
schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from
school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New
Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave
plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over
90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city
where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are
low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics.
This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism,
neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable
spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From
the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the
refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this
disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies
of this week our political leaders have defined a new level of
incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor
urged us to "Pray the hurricane down" to a level two. Trapped
in a building two days after the hurricane, we tuned our
battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations,
hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had
called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule,
they was no source of solid dependable information. Tuesday
night, politicians and reporters said the water level would
rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread
like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go
and no way to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the
wound, the local and national media have spent the last week
demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New
Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy
that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from
indefinitely closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a
"looter," but that's just what the media did over and over
again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops
protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were
transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if
taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured
against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect
and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and
destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the
eighties focus on "welfare queens" and "super-predators"
obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the
Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited
people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover
up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals
here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the
danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927,
which, like this week's events, was more about politics and
racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated exactly
the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently
refused to spend the money to protect this poor,
overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others warned of
the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward
proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the
Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or
refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored
scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of
global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines,
the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the
callous disregard of our elected leaders. The aftermath from
the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US
President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist
politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood
into New Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a
"New Deal" for the city, with public investment, creation of
stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing
restoration, or the city can be "rebuilt and revitalized" to a
shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and
with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former
neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of
poverty, racism, disinvestment, deindustrialization and
corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane
will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are
focused on Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people
take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice.
New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its

Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left
Turn Magazine ( He is not planning on moving
out of New Orleans.

Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based
resources, organizations and institutions that will need your
support in the coming months.

Social Justice:

Cultural Resources:

Current Info and Resources:


If you find this material useful, you might want to check out our website
( or try out our low-traffic, moderated email 
list by sending a message to:

You are encouraged to forward any material from the lists or the website,
provided it is for non-commercial use and you include the source and
this disclaimer.

Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Escaping The Matrix - 
Global Transformation: 
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
cj list archives:

newslog list archives:
Informative links: