"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

Welcome to Infoshop News
Sunday, September 21 2014 @ 09:04 AM CDT

Ingrid Chapman: Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans

News Archive

I hope that this article speaks to people who have gone to the Gulf Coast to work in solidarity and those organizing in solidarity around the country. I hope that it clarifies for my allies and friends from and living in New Orleans why I was there and why this struggle and all of you have so deeply inspired me.

This reflection was written over the past year upon my return from New Orleans in the Fall of 2006. This article briefly contextualizes New Orleans before and after Katrina. It gives my reasons for going to New Orleans, the organizations I worked with and some of their strategies for organizing the year following Katrina. It addresses some of the struggles residents and social justice organizations were and are up against. In particular I focus on how racism hinders the work of social justice organizers, activists and volunteers in the relief and reconstruction effort and how that racism creates barriers for movement building. I look more deeply at the racism internal to one of the organizations I worked with and our strategies and attempts at challenging it. I then get into more detail about the particular work I was involved with over the course of two 3-month periods in New Orleans in the spring and summer of 2006. In particular, I highlight anti-racist organizing with other white people and the Black led struggle for justice in the Lower Ninth Ward. I then share some of the key lessons I drew from this experience and why I am deeply committed to the struggle against racism and for collective liberation.

Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans

Reflections on anti-racist organizing, solidarity and collective liberation

By Ingrid Chapman

From the forthcoming Catalyst Project book “Towards Collective Liberation”

I hope that this article speaks to people who have gone to the Gulf Coast to work in solidarity and those organizing in solidarity around the country. I hope that it clarifies for my allies and friends from and living in New Orleans why I was there and why this struggle and all of you have so deeply inspired me.

This reflection was written over the past year upon my return from New Orleans in the Fall of 2006. This article briefly contextualizes New Orleans before and after Katrina. It gives my reasons for going to New Orleans, the organizations I worked with and some of their strategies for organizing the year following Katrina. It addresses some of the struggles residents and social justice organizations were and are up against. In particular I focus on how racism hinders the work of social justice organizers, activists and volunteers in the relief and reconstruction effort and how that racism creates barriers for movement building. I look more deeply at the racism internal to one of the organizations I worked with and our strategies and attempts at challenging it. I then get into more detail about the particular work I was involved with over the course of two 3-month periods in New Orleans in the spring and summer of 2006. In particular, I highlight anti-racist organizing with other white people and the Black led struggle for justice in the Lower Ninth Ward. I then share some of the key lessons I drew from this experience and why I am deeply committed to the struggle against racism and for collective liberation.

New Orleans Before and After Katrina

Before Katrina, New Orleans was a majority Black, culturally vibrant city with strong communities as well as intense racism and economic exploitation. The city of nearly 500,000 was two thirds African-American. Racism fueled deep structural neglect and abandonment of public institutions such as health care and education. This created a forty percent illiteracy rate among Black residents, and over half of African American ninth graders didn’t graduate from high school. Ninety thousand people earned less than $10,000 a year, and around the same number of people, nearly 20 percent of the population, had no health insurance.

One year after the storm the African-American population of New Orleans was just 37 percent of what it had been before the storm. Nearly half the Black population had been unable to return. Two years later the city is at a total of 66% of its pre-Katrina population, and a majority of the people still unable to return are African-Americans.

People can’t come back because they can’t afford to come back. There is little housing or employment for people to return to. Some people had gotten FEMA trailers, but at nowhere near the rate of the housing needed. There is no rent control, so landlords have doubled and tripled the rents.

National, state and local governments have not acted adequately to meet the housing needs of displaced New Orleanians. In the name of “environmentalism,” parts of New Orleans that had a majority Black population with high home-ownership rates (like the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East) were designated by city government immediately after Katrina as future “green space.” Plans for “greening” New Orleans acted as a cover for what would have been a massive racist land grab. Fortunately this plan was defeated and is no longer on the table.

As of May of 2007, nearly two years later, about 75 percent of public housing ---most of which had no major structural damage from the storm--- is still closed and despite protest from residents of public housing and legislation in congress to halt these plans, most of the public housing in New Orleans is still slated for demolition. One year later, no federal funds had been disbursed to homeowners to rebuild their homes. Now two years later only 22% of applicants have received federal money for rebuilding. The most wide spread assistance the government has given homeowners is free (and in some neighborhoods unauthorized) bulldozing of their homes and debris removal.

Read more

Share
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Ask
  • Kirtsy
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Twitter
  • SlashDot
  • Reddit
  • MySpace
  • Fark
  • Del.icio.us
  • Blogmarks
  • Yahoo Buzz
Ingrid Chapman: Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Ingrid Chapman: Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans
Authored by: engine summer on Friday, September 07 2007 @ 02:48 PM CDT
when i was in new orleans feb-apr 06, the analysis that CG was presenting seemed to be heavily focused on race/white supremacy, nearly to the exclusion of any discussion or action on patriarchy, hierarchy, and class. the responses to sexism and patriarchy at CG - which extended far beyond the issue of sexual violence mentioned in one short paragraph near the end of this article - that i saw were without exception coming from rank and file or other marginal figures. i was part of the attempt at the time to start holding anti sexism and consent workshops and to form a mens caucus, and was repeatedly asked by people within the organization why we were rocking the boat by focusing on something they considered pretty much irrelevant. someone even told me "we're an anti racist organization, not an anti sexist organization" as if patriarchy had less of an impact on katrinas victims than white supremacy, and as if sustaining a sexist culture within the organization is really going to help anyone anyway! the same people who were talking about common ground as "the beginning of a new social movement to dismantle white supremacy" defended males who perpetrated overtly sexist behaviors despite the efforts of some to assert a greater need for safety and to open dialogue about what was going on, usually because "hes such a hard worker!" or "but hes been here for 6 months and he did X and etc!".

anyway, i suspect this all has something to do with the fact that race is perceived as the most obvious elephant in the room and as the simplest tool to wield in terms of "movement building". its interesting that ingrid points to numbers-boosting as a hallmark of short-term organizing, but isnt it a key trait of much leftist organizing strategy? the bigger the base of the "mass movement" pyramid, the higher it lifts the party chairman. anti racism at CG was apparently considered (by some) as a fait accompli because, while a "white majority organization", it was (is?) directed by a small clique of black males, or so it seemed. as was pointed out to me even before i arrived, CG had serious emerging issues with hierarchy, authoritarianism and non-transparency of process. but the impression i got was that malik was the boss, and the decisions made in his circle were filtered down through various management tiers.


just some thoughts, im glad this article is here, the gulf coast is an extremely important situation, and its very important to talk about how things have been unfolding there, especially with regards to the many different interventions brought by those with many different agendas.
Ingrid Chapman: Hearts on Fire: The Struggle for Justice in New Orleans
Authored by: engine summer on Friday, September 07 2007 @ 02:52 PM CDT
yeah, scratch that elephant in the room line. what i meant to point out was that having more of an emphasis on anti-patriarchy would inevitably entail challenging hierarchy itself, which is always a trait of patriarchy.