Report from BARHC caravan in New Orleans

The caravan of medics from the Bay Area Radical Health Collective and
other local activists arrived in New Orleans on the evening of Monday,
September 12. One truck made it through the checkpoint before curfew,
and the others managed to persuade officers to let them through by
showing their EMT licenses.

The medics on the ground report that the situation is surreal and
extremely militarized, with armed soldiers and police
everywhere. There are still areas underwater or smoldering, travel
after dark is prohibited, and there are reports of armed
vigilantes. Packs of dogs roam the streets, and there are still
uncollected bodies of the deceased. Authorities are doing aerial
spraying to control mosquitoes, and the atmosphere is described as
highly toxic.

Nevertheless, Algiers, a New Orleans neighborhood on the dry side of
the Mississippi River, is largely intact, with any of its beautiful
homes still habitable. The neighborhood has running water and
electricity was recently restored. While there is little working
infrastructure in New Orleans itself, it is possible to drive to open
stores in surrounding parishes for medicine, food, and other
supplies. Communications are described as sporadic, but they've been
able to get messages out via cell phone and wireless e-mail.

Medics have established a clinic near a local mosque, now named the
Common Ground clinic, and activists are also distributing non-medical
supplies like diapers. Days after the initial crew from MayDay/DC set
up the clinic, FEMA finally arrived. "Officials" are providing medical
aid, have set up a relief center near the local public hospital, and
apparently are supplying medications, but many residents find their
heavily armed presence intimidating. One medic reports that military
trucks with loudspeakers are telling residents where to get help, in
an apparent attempt to direct them away from the grassroots
effort. Activists with vehicles have been driving residents with
prescriptions to pharmacies in nearby parishes.

The activists on the ground emphasize that this will be a long-term
effort. While they are pretty well stocked now with medical supplies,
some needs remain, including vitamins, glucose test strips, non-DEET
insect repellent, office supplies, and things like extension cords and
power strips. Herbs and other supplies the "officials" do not offer
will need to be replenished on an ongoing basis. Given the fluidity of
the situation, it is suggested that it may be preferable to donate
money (so activists can buy what they need nearby) rather than
shipping or delivering in-kind donations. Community meetings are held
regularly to decide how to distribute funds. They are in the process
of setting up a bank account and a P.O. box.

The real need is for more volunteers, especially those with medical
training. There are about 9 medics there now. The BARHC team plans to
leave at the end of the week, and by then the MayDay team will have
been there nearly two weeks, so there's a need for new workers to
rotate in as these teams rotate out. Incoming activists should expect
to be self-sufficient in terms of tents, sleeping bags, and food
(though water and food can be purchased in nearby parishes). Everyone
emphasizes the importance of approaching this in a spirit of
"solidarity not charity," as they work with the community to establish
a long-term, locally-controlled operation.

With electricity restored, activists are also now working to establish
a local independent media center. They stress the importance of
bringing in journalists of color covering the local Black community.

(Posted by Liz Highleyman in San Francisco on behalf of the BARHCers
in New Orleans: Michael, Dixie, Bee, Arni, and Lucinda.)