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Katrina – Act of Nature, Failure of Government: Still No Justice for Survivors

By staff

Two months after Katrina hit the Gulf coast, the disaster is unending for hundreds of thousands of survivors. People are piecing their lives back together, but it is a slow, often frustrating process. The mainstream media is ‘moving on’ and is back to its usual business of ignoring the suffering of poor and working people.

According to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup/Red Cross poll, 39% of New Orleans families are still split up. People recently interviewed by Fight Back! casually mentioned children and grandchildren living in five different states. Parents with children in school are staying in whatever town they landed in after Katrina, at least through the end of the school year. Then a decision has to be made about uprooting again. According the poll, 15% of New Orleans respondents still don’t know where some of their relatives are.

Over 600,000 people were moved from shelters to hotels by mid-October. As of Oct. 14 over 15,000 people were still in shelters. The U.S. government then closed the shelters, sending people mostly to hotels. FEMA trailers are being set up in Louisiana and around the Gulf. Families have priority for trailers, but the waiting list is already months long – shutting out many families and virtually all singles. Being forced to live in a hotel room is not a vacation. Every aspect of living becomes a logistical hurdle: eating, laundry and basic privacy.

Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. People who have worked all their lives are stalled. Many of us have experienced the agony of weeks of job search, knowing the jobs aren’t really there. Add to that having to struggle daily for the basics of hygiene, food, housing and transportation and your chances are grimmer. Over 363,000 people filed for hurricane related unemployment – but many are discouraged about even doing that, since its just another snarl of red tape to be navigated.

The federal Opportunity Zones for ‘rebuilding’ the Gulf offer pathetic wages and overturn affirmative action hiring – ironic when one considers 75% of New Orleans residents are non-white. This opens the specter of white-owned companies hiring oppressed nationality people at less than prevailing wage (less than $7 per hour, in New Orleans) to demolish homes of poor Blacks and Latinos to replace those homes with mansions for the rich.

For homeowners, the struggle with insurance companies has begun. For those who are uninsured, ‘underinsured’ – a term that will come as a surprise to many – or who get swindled by greedy insurance companies, rebuilding will be difficult or impossible. Many are being forced, out of sheer financial desperation, to put their family property up for quick sale. Real estate speculators are already circling like vultures to cash in on people’s tragedy.

The most devastated part of New Orleans is the Ninth Ward, which was submerged under floodwaters from Bush’s broken levies. Many residents are trying to come back, after dealing with the continued nightmare of a FEMA and government failure. But it seems like the government is determined to shut out Ninth Ward residents. Bush’s Housing and Urban and Development secretary, Alphonso Jackson, was quoted in the the Houston Chronicle, Sept. 29, “New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again.” The Chronicle said that HUD Secretary Jackson wasn’t sure if the Ninth Ward should be rebuilt at all. 20,000 people are from the Ninth Ward, almost all of them Black and low-income.

On Sept. 27, Bush gave a fancy speech and moved on. The speech and smirking ‘apology’ were designed to lull us into thinking things were OK, but the Katrina evacuees outside the Reliant Center/Astrodome said, “Too little, too late.” The lives of thousands of displaced New Orleans residents were destroyed because of Bush’s deliberate decision to not fund basic maintenance on the levies, followed by his callous disregard for human life.

Over half of homes in New Orleans (which is 67% Black) were rented. Low wages, even for skilled workers, combined with national oppression have made renting a fact of life. A poll conducted in early October said 60% of folks plan to return to New Orleans. It stands to reason many are people who rented. On Oct. 25, many renters were officially evicted. It is essential that repatriation efforts include not just the construction of affordable rental housing and more subsidized housing – but homes to all former renters who want them. Bush’s call relies on private charities – and we know from bitter experience that charities pick, choose and discriminate. Poor people and Black people in New Orleans deserve reparations from the U.S. – a government that killed hundreds of New Orleans people. Housing should be given to all former residents who want it, no questions asked.

These disasters spawned by Katrina and Bush will continue every day. When the government keeps your life turned upside down, it is a hurdle to demanding the justice you deserve. That is why it is crucial for everyone all over the country to keep up the struggle for justice for Katrina survivors – read between the lines of what the mainstream media puts out and think about the people’s lives behind the government sound bites. It is up to us to keep the truth front and center.

The events following Hurricane Katrina show some basic truths about this country: The government and the economic system – monopoly capitalism – serves the very rich and no one else. African Americans face a system of racism and national oppression that robs Black people of equality, land, democratic rights and political power. The shadow of the plantations still hangs over the Gulf region. Black people in the South need political power, liberation and the right to self-determination. A system that lets people die on freeway overpasses has forfeited its right to exist.

#UnitedStates #PoorPeoplesMovements #Analysis #AsianNationalities #AfricanAmerican #ChicanoLatino #HurricaneKatrina #FEMA #OpportunityZones #monopolyCapitalism