Rebuilding After Katrina




O

n December 10, International
Human Rights Day, survivors of Hurricane Katrina together with hundreds
of supporters took buses from Jackson, Mississippi and nearby states
to a rally in New Orleans. A two-mile long march began at Congo
Square, with a jazz music march to City Hall to present a Declaration
of the People to Mayor Nagin, declaring, “New Orleans hurricane
survivors want to return to their homes.” 


The Hurricane Katrina assembly and rally was organized by the People’s
Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition (PHRF), a New Orleans
and Gulf South umbrella coalition. Their message is “From outrage
to action, the people must decide.” 


Three months after the hurricane many poor black, Asian, indigenous
American, and white survivors are still out of jobs, building contracts,
and other aspects of the city’s rebuilding. Some estimate that
over 100,000 immigrants— many of them undocumented—have
been directly affected by Hurricane Katrina in the southern states.
Before the hurricane, they worked at sweatshop jobs across the city;
after the flooding, they fled the city with no chance of receiving
any federal assistance because of their immigration status. Several
were arrested by immigration officials for deportation because they
asked for government assistance. Though some of them were re-hired
by private contractors to help rebuild the city, in several cases,
they were cheated of their pay after the work was done.







With FEMA cutting Katrina survivors’ hotel vouchers in early
January 2006, activist collectives like Common Ground and Community
Labor United have built support centers to offer food and legal
aid to returning hurricane survivors and the ACLU of Louisiana and
Mississippi is considering complaints of constitutional violations
from hurricane victims. With the need for long-term humanitarian
operations in the Gulf region, the PHRF decided to call an emergency
conference to discuss how to build a long-term nationally coordinated
effort to support the victims. The one-day December 9 assembly in
Jackson, Mississippi (210 miles north of New Orleans) attracted
400 activists from across the country—including approximately
150 hurricane survivors—to strategize how displaced people
could rebuild their communities and how supporters  could help. 


Throughout the assembly and rally, everyone agreed that the key
issue for post-Katrina recovery was helping survivors find permanent
housing. After the assembly, the survivors presented the following
list of demands to New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the
U.S. government: 


  • Local, state and federal governments must make conditions possible
    for our immediate return. 

  • The government must provide funds for all families to be reunited,
    and the databases of FEMA, the Red Cross, and any organizations
    tracking our people must be made public. 

  • There must be open, public accountability for and oversight of
    the over $50 billion FEMA funds and the money raised by other
    organizations, foundations, and funds in our name. 

  • Survivors must have representation on all boards that are making
    decisions about relief and reconstruction. Those most affected
    by Hurricane Katrina must be present in every stage of the planning
    process. 

  • No commercial Mardi Gras will take place until the suffering of
    the people is lifted. 



In addition, the survivors and activists agreed to work on the following
areas: 


  • Nationwide local support groups to help survivors with long-term
    needs.  

  • Counseling services for youth survivors. 

  • A community tribunal to hold the government accountable for the
    disaster. 



The conference and the rally generated positive energy for the activists
and hope for the survivors. The coalition is working to develop
follow-up strategies and implement a vision for long-term national
coalition building. 




 









Lee
Siu Hin is the co-founder of the National Immigrant Solidarity Network
and ActionLA Coalition. In memory of Common Ground volunteer Meg
Perry who was killed during a bus accident on December 10.