On May 30, and 31, 2008 Doudou Diène, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, made a visit to post-Katrina
We at C3/Hands Off Iberville, a New Orleans-based grass roots organization that has worked since before Hurricane Katrina to defend public housing and other public services, have two chief concerns regarding Mr. Diène’s visit that should be included in any report: First, we are deeply concerned about the exclusionary manner employed by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights co-director Monique Harden and her fellow NGO collaborators to organize Mr. Diène’s public engagements. Second, we are disappointed over their failure to address–despite repeated requests–key issues around public housing, including the case of African American female public housing tenant Kim Turner, the larger defense campaign of
NGO ‘Cherry Picking’:
The Exclusion of Grass Roots Organizations and Public Housing Residents
As explained by the ACLU’s Laleh Ispahani–whose organization was a key coordinator of Diène’s national tour–the Special Rapporteur was to meet with governmental authorities as well as ‘civil society’ groups and leaders fighting racism in various terrains during his May 18th to June 6th
A good example of the NGO exclusionary behavior during the preparations for, and visit of, Diène, is the treatment meted out to C3/Hands Off Iberville. This multi-racial group–made up of volunteer grass roots activists, including public housing and non-public housing residents, and almost all Katrina survivors–has been organizing to defend public housing since well before Katrina. C3 activists, who combined have decades of grass roots activism behind them in various struggles, have been in the forefront of the public housing struggle. Furthermore, Public Housing has been recognized nationally and internationally as a key racial-justice battleground in post-Katrina
Despite the central role that C3/Hands Off Iberville activists have had–and continue to play–in the public housing movement, its members were not contacted about, or invited to, the May 30th and 31st public events with Mr. Diène. No phone calls were made. No emails were released on local housing, or social justice, list serves. Furthermore, no significant outreach was made to public housing residents, an effort that C3/Hands Off Iberville could have assisted with since they have one of the closest and broadest links with residents of any group in the city. In fact Sharon Jasper, a grass roots public housing leader (that is, not on the management friendly tenant councils) only found out about Diène’s visit after one of the national organizers informed her. Underscoring how malicious and conscious attempts to exclude C3/Hands Off Iberville were, one public housing resident informed this writer that the local NGO leaders organizing Diène’s visit stated that they did not want C3/Hands Off Iberville to participate and were working to exclude them. Finally, while an individual public housing resident was invited to introduce Mr. Diène at the Saturday key-note event, held at the Sheraton Hotel, she was someone employed by–on the payroll of–the non-profit network. The selection of the vetted public housing representative further confirmed the anti-democratic, non-profit modus operandi of only including those within their orbit, and excluding those not under their control, and enthralled to their politics. The critique of New Black Panther activist Krytsal Muhammed–whose attendance was one of the few exceptions to the standard non-profit etiquette–that the non-profit organizers ‘cherry picked’ the attendees and speakers, graphically captured the strategy at work.
NGO Suppression of the Continuing Public Housing Struggle
The central goal of Mr. Diène’s visit to
As part of the efforts to defend Iberville C3 has worked with Ms. Kim Turner, a black, disabled, female public housing tenant facing an unfair eviction from Iberville. Under the draconian ‘one strike’ policy, she is being evicted for something a guest allegedly did. In April and May 2008 C3/Hands Off Iberville sent out email alerts–and made phone calls–to a host of human rights NGOs, requesting that they take action to oppose the local Housing Authority’s (HANO) eviction of Ms. Turner (see enclosed letter below).
Most of the NGOs–including the key leaders of Diene’s visit–did nothing for Ms Turner. Furthermore, Ms Turners’ case, and the larger issue of Iberville’s destruction, although being a key expression of racism, were not raised during Mr. Diene’s visit. Ms. Turner, who could have testified about her case, wasn’t invited to meet with Mr Diene. This exclusion took place even after Ms Harden, the key organizer of Diene’s visit, was contacted repeatedly about Ms Turner’s case. In a related issue, the repression that has been unleashed against public housing activists, including two women facing felony charges for non-violently resisting the racist demolition of peoples homes–activists Farah ‘Joy’ Koehler and Jamie ‘Bork’ Loughner–were not raised. It goes without saying that these front line soldiers were not invited to testify at any of the hearings.
NGOs and Accountability
In sum, the exclusionary efforts carried out by the NGOs against C3/Hands Off Iberville, public housing residents, and others not ‘in the loop’, as well as the suppression of key issues around public housing, undermined the legitimacy of Mr. Diène’s visit. The Special Rapporteur’s mission, which was, as Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program Jamil Dakwar explained, ‘to shed light on the pervasive and systemic problem of racism and discrimination in the United States’, was undermined by the shenanigans of the New Orleans-based NGO executives. The NGOs honchos, by constructing a local collection of ‘civil society’ human rights groups that conveniently excluded groups that did not fit their organizational style and reformist politics, undermined the stated mission of Diène’s visit to New Orleans. Excluding non-NGO, grass roots organizations in
More broadly this case raises serious questions about the NGOs and the obstacles they and their key operatives present for building any real anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, fight back in the
Letter on Kim Turner Case sent to NGOS
Rosanna Cruz, Safe Streets and Right to the City in
Valerie Tang, Right to the City
Robert Horten and Mayba Liebenthal, Critical Resistance
Paul Troyano and Ben Gordon, Pax Christi/
Bill Quigley, Human Rights Attorney
Anita Sinha, Advancement Project
Tracie Washington, Louisiana Justice Institute
Mandisa Moore and Shana Griffin, INCITE
Sakura Kone, Common Ground
Monique Harden and Nathalie Walker, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights
Tiffany Gardner, NESRI
Jamie Bork Loughner, May Day
Amnesty International, Monika Gerhardt
Dear Supporters of New Orleans Public housing,
Supporters of Iberville Public Housing resident Kim Turner are arranging a meeting with Karen Cato-Turner, the new executive director of the Housing Authority of New Orleans. As I have explained in previous emails to you, and for some of you through direct conversation, Ms Turner is facing an unfair eviction for something a guest, not she, allegedly committed (see attached flier).
The defense of Ms Turner is part of a broader struggle to oppose the privatization schemes now being hatched by developers and city hall. Indeed, HANO is stepping up eviction before they move to ‘redevelopment’.
To defend Ms Turner and her family, we–C3/Hands Off Iberville and supporters of Kim Turner–are humbly requesting the following from you and your organizations. We are contacting you because of the support you have shown for public housing.
- On behalf of your organization, contact HANO executive director Karen Cato-Turner, in writing, and request/demand that the eviction against Kim Turner be stopped. Please email me ([email protected]) the letter. This show of support, from organizations like yours, will strengthen our case when we meet with Cato-Turner.
Housing Authority of
HANO executive administrator, Karen Cato-Turner
670-3300, x 3267 (Ms. Cheryl McMahon is secretary)
Email: [email protected]
- Add your name and organization to the petition calling for HANO to not evict Ms Turner (is enclosed as attachment).
If you any other questions, I can be contacted at 504-520-9521
Jay Arena, C3/Hands off Iberville