Katrina survivors deserve reparations
By Monica Moorehead
Published Oct 13, 2005 2:04 AM

The Oct. 15 rally of the Millions More Movement, with its focus on the Gulf Coast crisis, could not have come at a more opportune time in the U.S. This mass gathering will, no doubt, help to shine a humongous spotlight on the central issues of racism, national oppression and poverty, especially in light of Hurricane Katrina.

The winds and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina did more than physically destroy countless lives and homes throughout the Delta region, including in Biloxi, Miss., Mobile, Ala., and especially New Orleans. Millions of people here and worldwide were deeply horrified to see the insensitive manner in which the Bush administration as well as local and state officials left tens of thousands of poor people, the vast majority of them Black, to suffer and die needlessly during and after Katrina hit, especially in New Orleans.

No other single event in recent U.S. history has more forcefully unmasked the heinous reality that national oppression, a devastating combination of white supremacy and poverty that impacts people of color disproportionately, does exist inside the wealthiest, most powerful, imperialist country in the world. This is what really lies beneath the collective negligence of those in power.

The Katrina crisis helped to expose for so many just who are the haves and have-nots in society. Katrina showed that the have-nots are not just individuals in the ones or twos, or even in the hundreds or thousands, but in the millions. Not only are the have-nots the poor—officially 37 million people who live in poverty and extreme poverty—but many are African American, Latin@, Arab, Asian and Indigenous, out of proportion to their numbers in the overall population.

And sitting on top of the have-nots are those who own and control everything in society, those consumed with capitalist greed—the ruling class. They are the Fortune 500 CEOs—an exclusive club of multi-millionaires and billionaires, mostly white, straight males who worship making profits, not serving human needs. And those who occupy the White House, the U.S. military hierarchy and other seats of power are willing servants for the ruling class.

For African-Americans, Latin@s and other people of color, enduring racist oppression in its overt and covert forms has become a fact of life for many generations. The videotaped brutal beating of Robert Davis, a 64-year-old African American retired teacher, by racist New Orleans cops is an all too familiar reminder that racism is, as the old saying goes, “as American as apple pie.”

The White House and the profit-hungry corporations they represent have made it clear through their actions that Black people, immigrants and the poor, including whites, will not be welcome back to New Orleans. Thanks to their hostility towards the poor and Black people, they want to use the Katrina tragedy to transform New Orleans into a playground for mainly affluent whites. That can not be allowed to happen. In fact, many Black activists from around the country, especially in the South, have quickly come together to say no to this racist gentrification plan.

Grassroots redevelopment plan needed

These Black activists, including leaders of Black Workers for Justice, Million Worker March Movement, Community Labor United, Millions More Movement, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, December 12th Movement and many others have collectively set up the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund as a vehicle for establishing solidarity committees nationwide to build a united front to win real justice for the Katrina survivors.

What kind of justice for the survivors? Justice that includes the right of Black Katrina survivors to return to their respective homes and to rebuild their communities in any fashion that they want; the right to a decent and guaranteed income provided by state and federal governments; the right to a living wage including uphold ing the prevailing wage laws under the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act; the right to decent housing, not the substandard housing that many of the Katrina survivors had before the hurricane even hit; the right to control reconstruction funds to rebuild their communities, not for no-bid Halliburton contracts; the end to martial law including police terror and the right to decent health care and education.

All these demands and more encompass the fundamental right to self-determination and reparations that have been systematically denied to African Ameri cans since the days of slavery and the overthrow of Reconstruction following the Civil War. Some of these organizers and their supporters have called for a national conference of Katrina survivors on Dec. 9 in Jackson, Miss., and a national march in New Orleans to raise the right of return for these evacuees.

All of these demands would be justified even if it weren’t for the Katrina crisis but this crisis has helped to galvanize the Black movement in a such way not seen since the 1960s. But these Black forces need and deserve the full support and solidarity of broader progressive forces and are starting to get it.

The Troops Out Now Coalition, along with some of these Black forces, has helped to initiate a Dec. 1 nationwide day of absence—a day of no school, no work and no shopping—to shut down war, racism and poverty. That day marks the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Black seamstress Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. Her heroic action not only sparked the Montgomery bus boycott but launched the modern-day civil rights movement.

Already, there are many hundreds of endorsers for this day of nationally coordinated protests.

Anti-war activists can play a strategic role in supporting the demands of the Black-led People’s Hurricane Relief Fund by demanding that the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on brutal wars and occupations against Iraq and Afghanistan instead go to provide human needs at home.

There is no better way to show concrete anti-racist, working class solidarity with the Katrina survivors than to support the efforts of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and the actions planned for Dec. 1, 9 and 10.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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