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Letter From the People of New Orleans to Our Friends and Allies

By: 
New Orleans-based Activists
Date Published: 
April 01, 2007

We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of grassroots New Orleans organizers, activists, artists, educators, media makers, health care providers and other community members concerned about the fate of our city. This letter is directed to all those around the world concerned about the fate of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but is especially intended for US-based nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other institutions with resources and finances that have been, or could be, directed towards the Gulf Coast.

In the days after the storm, there were many promises of support made to the people of New Orleans. Promises from not only the federal government, but also an array of nongovernmental organizations, such as progressive and liberal foundations and nonprofits. Small and large organizations have done fundraising on our behalf, promising to deliver resources and support to the people of New Orleans.

Many organizations and individuals have supported New Orleans-led efforts with time, resources, and advocacy on our behalf, and for this we are very grateful. These organizations followed through on their promises and offered support in a way that was respectful, responsible, and timely.

However, we are writing this letter to tell you that, aside from these very important exceptions, the support we need has not arrived, or has been seriously limited, or has been based upon conditions that become an enormous burden for us.

While we remain in crisis, understaffed, underfunded and in many cases in desperate need of help, we have seen promises go unfulfilled. From the perspective of the poorest and least powerful, it appears that the work of national allies on our behalf has either not happened or if it has happened it has been a failure.

In the days after August 29, 2005 the world watched as our city was devastated. This destruction was not caused by Hurricane Katrina, but by failures of local, state and national government, and institutional structures of racism and corruption. The disaster highlighted already-existing problems such as neglect, privatization and deindustrialization.

As New Orleanians, we have seen tragedy first hand. We have lost friends and family and seen our community devastated. More than 15 months later, we have seen few improvements. Our education, health care and criminal justice systems remain in crisis, and more than 60% of the former population of our city remains displaced. Among those that remain, depression and other mental health issues have skyrocketed.

While many nationwide speak of "Katrina Fatigue," we are still living the disaster. We remain committed to our homes and communities. And we still need support.

In 15 months we have hosted visits by countless representatives from an encyclopedic list of prominent organizations and foundations. We have given hundreds of tours of affected areas, and we have assisted in the writing of scores of reports and assessments. We have participated in or assisted in organizing panels and workshops and conferences. We have supplied housing and food and hospitality to hundreds of supporters promising to return with funding and resources, to donate staff and equipment and more. It seems hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in our name, often using our words, or our stories.

However, just as the government's promises of assistance, such as the "Road Home" program, remain largely out of reach of most New Orleanians, we have also seen very little money and support from liberal and progressive sources.

Instead of prioritizing efforts led by people who are from the communities most affected, we have seen millions of dollars that was advertised as dedicated towards Gulf Coast residents either remain unspent, or shuttled to well-placed outsiders with at best a cursory knowledge of the realities faced by people here. Instead of reflecting local needs and priorities, many projects funded reflect outside perception of what our priorities should be. We have seen attempts to dictate to us what we should do, instead of a real desire to listen and struggle together. We have heard offers of strategic advice, but there have been very few resources offered to help us carry it out.

We are at an historic moment. The disaster on the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, has highlighted issues of national and international relevance. Questions of race, class, gender, education, health care, food access, policing, housing, privatization, mental health and much more are on vivid display.

The South has been traditionally underfunded and often exploited by institutions, including corporations, the labor movement, foundations, and the federal government. We have faced the legacy of centuries of institutional racism and oppression, with little outside support. And yet, against massive odds, grassroots movements in the South have organized and struggled and won historic, inspiring victories with international relevance.

In New Orleans, against incredible odds, despite personal loss and family tragedies, people are fighting for the future of the city they love. Many are working with little to no funding or support, and have achieved remarkable success.

We are writing this open letter to you to tell you that it's not too late. The struggle is still ongoing. Evacuees are organizing in trailer parks, health care providers are opening clinics, former public housing residents are fighting to keep their homes from being demolished, artists and media makers are documenting the struggle, educators and lawyers are joining with high school students to fight for better schools.

We ask you, as concerned friends and allies nationwide, as funders and organizations, to look critically at your practices. Has your organization raised money on New Orleans' behalf? Did that money go towards New Orleans-based projects, initiated and directed by those most affected? Have you paid New Orleans organizations that have acted as consultants? Have you listened directly to the needs of those in the Gulf and been responsive to them? Have you adjusted your practices and strategies to the organizing realities on the ground?

We ask you to seize this opportunity, and join and support the grassroots movements. If the people of New Orleans can succeed against incredible odds to save their city and their community, it is a victory for oppressed people everywhere. If the people of New Orleans lose, it is a loss for movements everywhere. Struggling together, we can win together.

Signed,

    Cherice Harrison-NelsonDirector and Curator, Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, New Orleans

    Royce Osbornwriter/producer, New Orleans

    Greta Gladney4th generation Lower 9th Ward resident, New Orleans

    Corlita Mahr, New Orleans

    Judy WattsPresident/CEO, Agenda for Children, New Orleans

    Robert “Kool Black” HortonCritical Resistance, New Orleans

    Jennifer TurnerCommunity Book Center, New Orleans

    Mayaba LiebenthalINCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, New Orleans

    Norris HendersonCo-Director Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

    Ursula PriceOutreach and Investigation Coordinator, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

    Evelyn LynnManaging Director, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

    Shana GriffinINCITE! Women of Color Against Violence New Orleans Women's Health & Justice Initiative

    Min. J. Kojo LivingstonFounder Liberation Zone/Destiny One Ministries

    Shana SassoonNew Orleans Network Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans

    Althea Francois, New Orleans

    Malcolm SuberPeople’s Hurricane Relief Fund, New Orleans

    Saket SoniNew Orleans Worker’s Justice Project, New Orleans

    Nick Slie, I-10Witness Project, Co-Artistic Director Mondo Bizarro, New Orleans

    Catherine JonesMedical student, Tulane University, Organizer and co-founder, Latino Health Outreach Project, New Orleans

    Jennifer Whitneycoordinator, Latino Health Outreach Project

    S. Mandisa MooreINCITE! New Orleans and the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans

    Aesha RasheedProject Manager, New Orleans Network, New Orleans

    Jordan FlahertyLeft Turn Magazine, New Orleans

    Dix deLaneuvilleEducator, New Orleans

    Courtney EganFilmmaker, New Orleans

    Rebecca SnedekerFilmmaker, New Orleans

    Catherine A. Galpin, RNFACES and Children's Hospital, New Orleans

    Hamilton Simons-Jones, New Orleans

     

    Al AlcazarEducator, New Orleans

    Grace BauerFamilies and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

    Erin Bell, New Orleans resident

    Xochitl BerveraFamilies and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

    Mario E. CarbajalNew Orleans resident living in Houston

    Bess CarrickProducer/Director, New Orleans

    John ClarkProfessor of Philosophy (Loyola University)

     

    Diana Dunn The People's Institut, European Dissent, New Orleans

    Courtney EganArtist, New Orleans

    Lou FurmanTurning Point Partners

    Ariana HallDirector, CubaNOLA Collective

    Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Historianwriter and lecturer, New Orleans and Mississippi Pine Belt

    Susan HamovitchFilmmaker/Teacher NYC/New Orleans

    Russell HendersonLecturer, Dillard University and Organizer, Rebuilding Louisana Coalition

    Ms.Deon HaywoodEvents Coordinator, Women With A Vision Inc.

    Rachel HerzingCritical Resistance

    Rev. Doug HighfieldUniversal Life ChurchCherokee, AL

    Joyce Marie Jackson, Ph.D.Cultural Researcher, LSU Dept. of Geography & Anthropology, and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge

    Elizabeth K Jeffers

    Dana KaplanSafe Streets - Strong Communities / Center for Constitutional Rights, NYC/New Orleans

    Vi Landryfreelance journalist, New Orleans/New York

    Bridget LehaneEuropean Dissent and The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

    Karen-kaia LiversAlliance for Community Theaters, Inc., New Orleans

    Rachel E. LuftAssistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of New Orleans

    Melana Luke

    M. Denise MilesStudent, Tulane University School of Public Health

    Damekia MorganFamilies and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

    Saladin MuhammadBlack Workers For Justice

    Ukali Mwendo(Hazardous Materials Specialist, NOFD),President, Provisional Government - Republic of New Afrika / New Orleans LA (former resident of the Lafitte Housing Development)

    Kalonji T. Olusegun2nd Vice President, Provisional Government- Republic of New Afrika, Founding lifetime member National Coalition Of Blacks for Reparations in America, NCOBRA: Trustee, Div. 330 UNIA/ACL

    Donna PaluchLoyola College of Law, New Orleans

    Thea PattersonWomen's Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans

    J. Nash PorterDocumentary Photographer and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge

    Gloria PowersArts Project Manager NOLA

    Valerie M. Prier

    Bill QuigleyLoyola Professor of Law, New Orleans

    Linda Santi, New Orleans

    Roxanne SaucierStudent, New Orleans

    Tony Sferlazza Director of Plenty International NOLA

    Heidi Lee Sinclair, MD, MPHBaton Rouge Children's Health ProjectBaton Rouge

    Carole Smithfine artiste (and i deserve to be kissed!) Florence, AL

    Justin SteinNeighborhood Relations Coordinator and Community Mediator, Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans

    Audrey Stewart

    Paul TroyanoCarpenterNew Orleans

    Tracie L. Washington, Esq., Director, NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Center, New Orleans

    Scott Weinsteinformer co-director of the Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans

    Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

    Jerald L. WhiteBottletree Productions, New Orleans

    Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

    George "Loki" WilliamsFounder, New Orleans Oral History Project / Humid City

    Morgan WilliamsStudent Hurricane Network, Co-founderNew Orleans

    Tyler Wilson, Rn,Pediatric Registered Nurse

    Gina WomackFamilies and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

    Signatures from Activists and Allies outside the Gulf region:

    Jim AceUNtraining White Liberal RacismSan Francisco

    Ujju AggarwalCenter for Immigrant Families, New York City

    Kirsten Angel-LambertArt EducatorPhiladelphia

    Denise BarnesPrison Families Community ForumNYC

    Scott A. BartonBoard Member, Southern Foodways Alliance, Willie Mae’s Scotch House Restoration Project

    Beverly BellCoordinator, Other Worlds collaborative, Albuquerque/New Orleans

    Charles BoylanProducer/Co-Host Wake Up With Co-Op!CFRO 102.7 FM Vancouver, BC

    James M. Branum GI Rights Lawyer / Texoma Regional Vice President, National Lawyers Guild, Oklahoma City, OK

    Ingrid ChapmanCatalyst Project and Critical Resistance Oakland

    Kym ClarkFounder, Prison Families Community ForumNYC

    Chris CrassCoordinator, Catalyst Project San Francisco

    Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizWriter and University Professor, San Francisco

    Hannah Eller-Isaacs Unitarian Universalist Association St.Paul, Minnesota.

    Cathey Goldennative New Orleanianresiding in Boston, Massachusetts

    Ramon GoldenBoston, Massachusetts

    Priscilla GonzalezCenter for Immigrant Families, New York City

    Kevin Alexander Grayorganizer & writer, Harriet Tubman Freedom House ProjectColumbia, South Carolina

    Saib IsaSoftware Quality Assurance EngineerMontreal, Quebec, Canada

    John Janovy, Jr.Lincoln, Nebraska

    William M. JohnsonNew York Rep. Common Ground

    Chris KrommExecutive Director, Institute for Southern Studies

    Prita LalCenter for Immigrant Families, New York City

    Jen Marlowefilmmaker/authorSeattle

    Sharon MartinasChallenging White Supremacy workshop, San Francisco

    Pilar MaschiCritical Resistance, membership and leadership development director, nyc

    Molly McClureCatalyst Project,Oakland

    Saiya Millerstudent, Simon's Rock College of BardGreat Barrington, MA

    Meshá Mongé-IrizarryIdriss Stelley Foundation , Law Enforcement Accountability

    Christopher MonsonArchitect and educator, Starkville, Mississippi

    Claudia MontesiniosArchitect, Atlanta

    Jovita NatalPrison Families Community ForumNYC

    Donna Nevel Center for Immigrant Families, New York City

    Cheri O'DonoghuePrison Families Community ForumNYC

    Ricky O'DonoghuePrison Families Community ForumNYC

    Beatrice ParwatikarPax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace / INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Shoreham, VT

    Ed Pearlformerly of SNCC's Free Southern Theater, Los Angeles

    Lydia Pelot-Hobbsstudent Oberlin College, Ohioformer member of Common Ground Anti-Racist Working Group

    Kyung Ji Kate Rhee Executive Director | Prison Moratorium ProjectBrooklyn

    Marc RodriguesStudent/Farmworker Alliance Immokalee, Florida

    Marion RodriguezOrganizer, NY Campaign for Telephone Justice/Prison Families Community ForumNYC

    Gabriel SayeghProject Director, Drug Policy Alliance, NY

    Mikell Grafton SkinnerattorneyLouisville, KY

    Susan SlohmOrganizer with SEIUAlbuquerque, NM

    Matthew SmithArchitect, Seattle Right of Return Committee(formerly representing Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility)

    Rebecca SolnitwriterSan Francisco

    Hon Andrew L. Somers Jr. (ret.)retired Judge , Fitchburg, Wisconsin

    Stephen SteinbergProfessor, Urban Studies Department, Queens CollegeNew York City

    Ken StowarProgramme Director for CIUT 89.5FM the University of Toronto Community Radio station, Toronto, Canada

    Uda Olabarria Walker Left Turn Magazine San Francisco, Ca.

    Ivey WaltonPrison Families Community ForumNYC

    Sara Williams PACCarolina Peace Resource CenterColumbia,SC

    Emily WinkelsteinHarm Reductionist and activist, Brooklyn, NY

    Daniel Wolffwriter/producerNyack, N.Y.