Military requests medics from anarchist relief project

By Chuck Munson
Infoshop News (news.infoshop.org)
September 16, 2005

New Orleans (by way of Kansas City) – Several activists with the Common Ground Clinic visited central New Orleans on Thursday, as officials announced that Algiers would be “open” on Monday and the central business district later next week. They made contact with mutual aid groups that have been organized by locals and attempted to make contact with people in the many areas that haven’t been assisted by the Army, Red Cross or FEMA. The volunteers with the Common Ground Clinic are hoping to set up some satellite street medical clinics around the devastated city. Jamie “Bork” Loughner, a volunteer with the Common Ground Clinic, criticized the authorities for their willingness to sacrifice the health of city residents in order to open a few hotels next week.

The situation in Algiers got a bit more surreal this week when the U.S. military asked the anarchists for help in providing basic services to local residents. A medical military clinic commander asked the folks running the Common Ground Clinic if they could lend a few medics and doctors to the military until the military sets up a “permanent” health clinic on Newton Avenue on Monday.

Infoshop News talked to Michael Kozart, a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, who is volunteering at the Common Ground Clinic.

“Why aren’t you all [the military] helping us transport people to the medical center? Why don’t you provide us with some of the generic drugs that you are paying for with donations? Why doesn’t the military help us with funds? Why don’t your provide some of your personnel so we can train them is some basic medical care?”

“Why are you duplicating relief efforts? This is Bureaucracy 101. They are duplicating our service. We have it worked out. We just need a few resources to expand our service [around the city]. It’s like they are opening up a Starbucks to compete with an effective mom-and-pop operation.”

“The military has been sending military Humvees around our neighborhood, blasting amplified messages in front of the clinic telling people to go to different places for care. The locations change each day and they never give our location. They’ve finally decided to set up a permanent clinic after being so disorganized. We don’t need people in combat gear to provide medical care. Nobody wants to get care from people dressed up in military gear who drive around in shiny new Humvees. They are scaring the shit out of people.”

Residents and volunteers in the Algiers neighborhood focused on neighborhood clean-up on Thursday. Algiers was never flooded—it is across the river from downtown New Orleans and the clinic is in sight of the infamous Convention Center—but the streets are littered with broken glass, trash, and limbs from damaged trees.

Malik Rahim is a local activist who has served as the catalyst for most of the rebuilding and mutual aid work being done by residents and outside volunteers.

“We’ve opened up a clinic [Common Ground Clinic] and are opening up a mobile clinic. We’ve set up a food distro that has fed 300-400 people. We’ve distributed around 500 personal hygiene kits. People have come together to found the Common Ground Collective. There are people from all over the world here: volunteers from Denmark, doctors from France, Veterans for Peace and Cindy Sheehan. We are doing whatever it takes to fill the void of the needs that exist.”

“We need more personal hygiene kits: toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo (small traveler size units). We need more batteries and generators. We could use an RV for mobile clinic that we plan to set up. People here need first aid equipment and vitamins. We need a steady supply of non-perishable food. We need more doctors, medics, and medical supplies. We could us environmental specialists who can do soil testing—we don’t want to take the government's word. We need ice and fresh water. And we could use skilled carpenters and plumbers.”

“The morale here is good now. The volunteers have helped. We ride around on the bikes [brought in by volunteers]. So many of the people impacted by the tragedy have high blood pressure. The people here need people to talk to—the volunteers are talking to people.”

Infoshop News asked Malik what he thought of the visit by George Bush to New Orleans which was scheduled for later on Thursday.

“I have no opinion of him, FEMA or the Red Cross. They are challenging the work we are doing. We opened up the first medical clinic in Algiers [with help from Mayday DC]. They've turned doctors around. Nobody from the state, federal, or local government is interested in helping us.”

“Where were you? Why couldn't you evacuate people out of harm's way? Why can't you do it if Cuba can? Where are the hospital ships? Why is this like an occupation?”

“We are going to the other parishes. It’s hard for people to get around. Some people from Jefferson Parish have visited the clinic. There is no functioning filling station around—people from outside have to bring extra gas with them.”

We also talked to Taahirah Nadir, who is an Algiers resident and small business owner. She was anxious about her future and the future of the city.

“It's like a ghost town. It's scary. I am a small businessperson. I own and operate two day care centers. All the kids are gone. Our area wasn't hit that bad. They evacuated many people. You don't know if they are bringing people back.”

“I tried to contact people. We applied with FEMA. Haven't heard anything. We tried with the Red Cross. The number they gave us was a joke.”

“I’m trying to keep my chin up. We took care of 200 kids a day at the day care centers.”

The Common Ground Clinic and other projects are being organized on a cooperative, non-hierarchical basis, which stresses the importance of solidarity instead of charity. This process requires lots of organization, communication and frequent meetings. The volunteers and residents have two meetings each day. . The first meeting in the morning is similar to the spokescouncil style seen at activist convergences. It brings together people involved in the various collective projects: medical care, food, media, and community clean up. In the evening, clinic volunteers have a meeting that focuses on the running of the clinic.

More information on the Common Ground Health Clinic can be found at their new website:  http://www.commongroundrelief.org/

More information on mutual aid relief efforts can be found at Infoshop:  http://www.infoshop.org/hurricanekatrina.html

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