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Katrina Survivors Demand Justice

By Chapin Gray

New Orleans, LA – Instead of the usual Independence Day celebrations, over 350 New Orleans residents and activists gathered at the St. Bernard Housing Project in the Ninth Ward district to demand the right to return to their homes and to voice their opposition to the Iraq war.

Protesters marched through largely vacant neighborhoods destroyed by the hurricane and flood, chanting, “The projects united will never be defeated!” and carried banners demanding justice for Katrina survivors.

Speakers included community organizers who have been putting pressure on the local and state officials to do something about the housing and community demands. A coalition of lawyers has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the survivors and community. According to Bill Quigley, one of the lawyers who spoke at the rally, there are currently 90,000 families still in FEMA ‘refugee’ trailers. Thousands more have simply not been allowed to return home. “The right to return to homes is guaranteed by international law,” said Quigley. “Whether they rent or own their homes, they have a right to return!” he declared. “Give the people brooms, buckets and supplies – they will take care of themselves.”

Though some money has been allocated to the Louisiana state government to rebuild the coast, the hardest hit communities, predominately working-class and African-American, have seen little of these funds. Many residents believe this is not simply a matter of incompetence, but amounts to a deliberate attempt to ‘whitewash’ New Orleans.

Robert Richardson, a resident from the Lower Ninth Ward, held a sign which read, “Stop ethnic cleansing.” He is convinced the government is attempting to remove the African-American and poor people from New Orleans. Richardson has heard talk of the government’s plans to expand Bourbon Street, encroaching on nearby neighborhoods. Failure to have your house “gutted and boarded” by an August deadline will result in seizure and demolition of your property, meaning that thousands of New Orleans residents will lose their homes for good. “They’re trying to discourage us, weigh us down,” said Richardson. “But we’re going to survive this. We’re not going to walk away.”

Richardson is furious with the condition of his neighborhood and the criminally slow response of state and local authorities to rebuild New Orleans. “I still don’t have water or plumbing,” Richardson said, “My taxes are five times as much as they were last year. It’s unreal.”

The crowd’s demands consisted of public housing, the right of survivors to return home and for community and people’s control over relief efforts and funds to end the crisis in New Orleans. The African-American and working-class people of New Orleans, finding themselves ignored by state and local governments, want control of the reconstruction process and want to be in charge of rebuilding their communities so that residents can finally return. “This is a people’s struggle,” one speaker emotionally stated. “I’ll be dead sleeping in my grave before [they] tell me I can’t return to my home! Poor, middle class, whatever. We all have a right to return home.”

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