Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans


From the forthcoming Catalyst Project book “Towards Collective Liberation”

 

“The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, becoming the homeless of countless other cities while our own homes are razed to make way for mansions, condos, and casinos.  We will join together to defend our claim and we will rebuild our home in the image of our own dreams!”

 

(People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition)

 

Introduction

 

I hope that this article speaks to people who have gone to the Gulf Coast to work in solidarity and those organizing in solidarity around the country.  I hope that it clarifies for my allies and friends from and living in New Orleans why I was there and why this struggle and all of you have so deeply inspired me.

 

This reflection was written over the past year upon my return from New Orleans in the Fall of 2006.  This article briefly contextualizes New Orleans before and after Katrina.  It gives my reasons for going to New Orleans, the organizations I worked with and some of their strategies for organizing the year following Katrina.  It addresses some of the struggles residents and social justice organizations were and are up against.  In particular I focus on how racism hinders the work of social justice organizers, activists and volunteers in the relief and reconstruction effort and how that racism creates barriers for movement building.  I look more deeply at the racism internal to one of the organizations I worked with and our strategies and attempts at challenging it.  I then get into more detail about the particular work I was involved with over the course of two 3-month periods in New Orleans in the spring and summer of 2006.  In particular, I highlight anti-racist organizing with other white people and the Black led struggle for justice in the Lower Ninth Ward.  I then share some of the key lessons I drew from this experience and why I am deeply committed to the struggle against racism and for collective liberation.[1]

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