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Letter Of Support For Black Reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Catherine Jones
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001
    Here in New Orleans, one year after Katrina, many of us say that we are still drowning. However, in the midst of the despair the catastrophe has continued to create, several strong, local people of color-led organizations have been providing extraordinary grassroots leadership and a broad vision for liberation in our battered community. Letter in Support of a Black Reconstruction is a beautiful and timely gift, arriving at the anniversary of the catastrophe. The book is at its best a crucial tool for our movement and because of its context, also serves as a microcosm of this larger dynamic between on the ground leadership and respected allies from elsewhere.

One of the great strengths of this book is its guiding potential as a broad strategy document for the struggle for justice and self-determination in New Orleans and beyond. Mann outlines a sweeping strategy for Black liberation, using the struggles in the Gulf Coast after Katrina as a framework for a national, if not global, anti-racist anti-imperialist movement.

He also names what he sees as the four major components of this strategy: self determination and significant material aid to Black people in the Gulf Coast; an environmental justice/public health framework; a “frontal challenge” to the national security state and the prison system; and the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. According to Mann, this strategy and the struggle emerging from the grassroots level in New Orleans both have the potential to galvanize a “Third Reconstruction,” where counter-hegemonic political demands for racial, economic and environmental justice and an expansion of the social safety net, among others, have the potential to be realized.

Mann reminds us that “history can guide us,” and he chronicles US history in terms of the First and Second Reconstruction periods and the times of harsh white supremacy and counterrevolutionary backlash that followed. Though meticulously detailed, this section stayed accessible and proved to be an enjoyable and engaging piece of the book.

Precise arguments

He also proposes that the struggle around the issue of right of return for displaced Black evacuees can be the centerpiece for a “broad anti-racist united front for self-determination.” He then suggests a dozen counter-hegemonic demands centered on Black collective status as a racially oppressed people. They range from a broad expansion of the social safety net, especially for Black women, to broad demands for racial, economic and environmental justice, as well as Black majority Congressional districts and reparations.

The strength of this section is its well-thought-out analysis, and again Mann showcases his ability to craft precise arguments with a strong anti-racist anti-imperialist framework and broad revolutionary vision. At times, however, when I was reading this section I found myself forgetting that this was a book about New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Katrina, and not a programmatic vision for a movement strategy that could have originated from anywhere.

Reading this book can feel somewhat overwhelming at times when you consider the amount of work that still needs to be done. But when Mann mentions the work of Safe Streets, the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, and other strong local groups, it not only gives much needed props to often underfunded, underappreciated local groups who are doing extraordinary work in a harsh context, it also reminds the rest of us on the ground that this kind of work is not only necessary, it’s actually happening.

Like many other fierce allies of the struggle for justice based in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Mann continually asserts that the leadership and vision for this struggle must emerge from the region itself. The book shines when he highlights the instances where local people of color are taking such leadership. But in those instances where clear connections are not drawn between on the ground leadership and the programmatic demands Mann is advocating, we are all at a loss.

In the midst of our collective and ongoing tragedy, the people of New Orleans and the Gulf region continue to struggle for justice and dignity with a spirit and vibrance that’s unique to our home. Even though there were times when the book did not capture this constant unique spirit, it will remain an invaluable tool for our movements, now and in the times to come.

Frontlines Press, 2006