of Civil Disobedience in Post-Katrina New Orleans
By Elizabeth Cook
Citizens of New
Orleans are taking it upon themselves to enforce the
right of return with everyday acts of civil
disobedience. Public housing residents in particular are
fighting back. HUD is attempting to shutter all of
public housing in New Orleans, but residents have forced
the reopening of Iberville Housing Development, and have
attempted reoccupation of two other developments.
From the "looting"
that occurred as people scavenged for food, water and
medicines, in the days following Katrina, to the refusal
of thousands to leave, despite a mandatory evacuation
order by gun point, civil disobedience has taken its
place as a survival tool in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Two incidents of civil disobedience in New Orleans that
involved arrests went virtually unreported in the local
and national media during the Katrina anniversary
events. This is no accident, in my view.
On Monday, August 28, nine people were arrested,
including Jay Arena of C3/Hands off Iberville, at the
Lafitte Housing Development, after attempting, with
Lafitte resident D.J. Christy, to reoccupy Christy's
unit. I was present on that day, and witnessed the
One day later, several men entered the Six Flags
compound in eastern New Orleans and attempted to take a
FEMA trailer for a female resident of the lower 9th
ward. Curtis Muhammed of the Survivor's Council, a
senior citizen who walks with a cane and founder of the
People's Hurricane Relief Fund, was arrested in the
The "Lafitte Nine" event received exactly two sentences
at the end of the article in the Times Picayune
that addressed the recent Yes Men Hoax at Lafitte
Housing Development on the same day as the attempted
National media, to my awareness, has given virtually no
coverage, though members of the national press were
The Six Flags incident received no notice in local
traditional media, although it found its way onto
Lafitte incident was ignored by that same web site.
In contrast to the corporate owned media, alternative
media is recognizing the importance of incidents of
civil disobedience in New Orleans. The international
Independent Media website picked up the Lafitte incident
and put it on its front page.
The virtual, corporate-owned, media blackout is a sure
sign that those in power feel intimidation. The ignoring
of public housing in the local media, and now apparently
acts of civil disobedience, is a sign the ruling class
doesn't want the word to get out.
What word would that be?
Would it be this message: That the federal government is
waging a war against the working class citizens of New
Orleans by its refusal to reopen public housing and
adequately fund the rebuilding of affordable housing,
and vital infrastructure.
The word is also that people have been fighting back
since before the floodwaters receded, in everyday acts
of civil disobedience. These efforts, by the people,
have continued as people exercise their right of return,
despite incredibly difficult, government imposed
The war on the working class involves endlessly delaying
funding for rebuilding, as in Louisiana citizens not yet
receiving a penny of funds from the Road Home Program.
It is a war in the form of FEMA dragging its feet when
it comes to rebuilding our vital sewerage and water
board infrastructure. It is a war on the working class
when Charity Hospital is shut down and no adequate
infrastructure created in its place to insure an above
crisis level of available health care.
Road Home Recipients will now have to be finger-printed.
All recipients of government contract funds for
rebuilding, including the major CEOs of Fluor,
Halliburton, Shaw Group and Bechtel, all of whom have
received millions in clean-up and reconstruction
"projects," and all state, local and federal officials
who have hampered and delayed reconstruction, should be
fingerprinted as well.
Desperation and determination can often work hand in
hand, and those two traits are driving acts of civil
disobedience in New Orleans.
Public housing residents have been in the forefront of
the grass roots movement to enforce the right of return.
They have staged numerous acts of civil disobedience
since Katrina to reclaim their apartments.
Constructed as a result of the passage of the Fair
Housing Act of 1937, the Lafitte Housing Development was
originally built for African Americans, and remained,
until Katrina, a predominantly African American
The attempted reoccupation of a Lafitte unit was in
defiance of a recently announced HUD partnership with
the Catholic Church, MIT and Chase Bank, and several
non-profit entities, among others, to "redevelop"
Lafitte, which means the demolition of 865 units of
affordable, public housing. I have seen several of the
units myself, since Katrina, and besides a good hard
scrubbing and painting, there is very little that needs
to be done to the units. They are built out of masonry,
and won't need the extensive gutting required by much of
the private housing stock.
Hundreds of Iberville Housing Development residents have
been staging everyday acts of civil disobedience by
returning to their units. The Housing Authority of New
Orleans (HANO), under the auspices of HUD, since
Katrina, has mounted an intense and intimidating public
relations campaign, well-financed with your tax dollars,
against the reopening of public housing.
Iberville residents have particularly been targeted with
disinformation manufactured by HANO. The 900 unit
complex itself was barely touched by flood waters on the
interiors of the units. There was little reason not to
reopen, but that didn't stop HANO from manufacturing
Notices were sent out by HANO to the handfull of
Iberville residents who had returned in early spring,
that the soil was contaminated and residents would have
A long-time Iberville resident called in the media, and
the support of other residents, and HANO retreated.
HANO soon regrouped and sent out notices that mold was a
problem and residents, again, would have to move.
Residents responded to this intimidation by simply not
moving. Again, HANO retreated.
Residents have waged the most difficult civil
disobedience by reoccupying their units. Many residents,
because they returned "on their own", have not gained
"official" recognition that they are indeed back. HANO
invariably condemns these actions as "illegal", refusing
to recognize the right of return, in a timely manner,
for these residents.
Residents who are "illegally" back are subjected to
everyday harassment. This harassment has included
unexpected and adrupt visits from HANO managment, visits
from and accompanying threats of eviction from HANO
security, refusal by HANO to have services adequately
restored, such as gas service for cooking and heating,
and HANO refusing to provide appliances for those who
Undaunted by the harassment by HANO, residents are using
plug-in hot plates, heating bathing water in pots,
filling coolers with ice, many sharing refrigerators
with neighbors. Some, who can afford it, are simply
buying their own appliances.
C.J. Pete Housing Development in the Central City
neighborhood of New Orleans, which did not flood, was
home to 300 residents prior to Katrina. On September 12,
a resident with supporters attempted to reoccupy her
unit, with the intention of setting up a generator. HANO
security was there however to block the attempt. A
handful of residents had begun to clean their units with
the intent of reoccupation. They would be doing so
without public services: no electricity, no gas and no
water, and no information as to when those services
would be restored.
St. Bernard Housing Development residents and their
supporters risked arrest on April 4 of this year when
they broke through a police barricade to begin the
clean-up of their units. The 1500 apartment units remain
closed, however, due to HANO policies .
Several dozen B.W.Cooper Housing Development residents
mounted a phone campaign in the months after Katrina,
and were able to secure the reopening of at least 300
Early on in this recovery process, when news started
getting around about the Bring New Orleans Back
Commission's (BNOB) recommendation that certain areas of
the city be converted to green space, residents began
lining up for permits to rebuild, and publicly thumbing
their noses at the BNOB, corporate-heavy commission
When the BNOB recommended shutting down the permitting
process, Mayor Ray Nagin balked, he was running for
re-election, and shelved the BNOB Commission report.
The biggest fear of the "powers that be", in relation to
New Orleans right now, is that enough members of the
working class and working poor will return, and begin to
organize and fight for the restoration of the city's
infrastructure. More people home means more pressure on
the federal government to rebuild the public
infrastructure, and more pressure on local and state
officials to pressure the federal government for the
The government knows there is less dissent with fewer
people, particularly fewer working class people who
might be inclined to tip the balance in favor of the
rebuilding and full restoration of public services.
A policy to reinvent public housing in New Orleans fits
right in with the agenda of fewer working poor, or
working class in New Orleans. In the name of so-called,
"mixed income" housing, the demolition of viable public
housing is proposed, backing the time table up
indefinitely for the right of return for our low-income
The neighborhood rebuilding process taking place now,
has residents participating with the resources to return
and rebuild already. These select few are planning the
doggie parks, lush landscaping and Lincoln Beach
revitalization, and pushing for "mixed income"
neighborhoods to replace public housing. There is also a
push to restructure zoning laws to restrict, for
example, the rebuilding of dense apartment complexes in
New Orleans East. These apartment complexes were a
source of affordable housing for thousands.
A slightly watered down, New Orleans City Council
gutting ordinance, passed recently, that simply extends
the time of notification before the process begins to
take your home from you, further damages the rights of
private property owners in a capitalist system, and will
prevent the return of affordable rental property, as
landlords scavenge for the crumbs thrown at them by the
corporate heavy Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA).
New Orleans residents heavily relied on rental housing
for affordable housing prior to Katrina. The LRA is
planning the disbursement of funds that will rebuild
just 18% of the rental stock in south Louisiana that was
severely damaged. It is also making these funds
available to new investors and non-profit entities,
ensuring a competition driven process that places the
homeowner at probably a purposeful disadvantage to
organized entities already on the ground groping for
Regarding public housing, in effect, the Federal
Government, with the blessing of state and local
officials, have confiscated 4000 affordable housing
units for the working poor. HUD has couched its plans
for public housing in language that expresses that what
is to come will somehow be "better" for the residents.
It is difficult to ascertain how the demolition of their
housing will serve residents' interests in a humane
HUD's policies in effect serve to rip apart the fabric
of whole neighborhoods. Federal, state and local
officials have often touted the redeveloped St. Thomas
Housing Development, now known as River Gardens, as the
model for the future of public housing. 1500 families
were displaced as a result of the demolition of St.
Thomas, and fewer than 100 of those families have been
allowed to return to the "new" River Gardens.
For officials to "tout", cynically, such a project, as
somehow "beneficial" to residents, displays a level of
arrogance, or ignorance, as the case may be, to the real
lives of the working poor.
Thousands have yet to receive the FEMA trailers they
applied for, including many public housing residents.
Families living on top of each other, two, three
families to a household is nothing new. There was a
crisis in affordable housing in New Orleans before
Katrina, its growth coinciding, incidentally, with the
steady neglect, deterioration and boarding up of
thousands of public housing units.
Remember the fire in Chicago? It was just 6 days ago
that 6 children were killed in a fire in a building in
Chicago, the tragedy befalling a family living by
candlelight. It is long past time to connect the dots on
incidents like that tragic fire, and one that claimed
the lives of several members of an extended family in
Harvey, Louisiana, several years back. They were crowded
into one apartment whose services had not yet been
turned on. Connect the dots to the national crisis in
Historically, the private sector has not met the acute
demands for affordable housing for the working class and
very poor, and the Fair Housing Act of 1937 was passed
with at least a tacit acknowledgement of that belief.
Yet stupidly, the federal government has refused to
adequately maintain or increase the numbers of public
housing units that are so needed.
Down from 14,000 units inhabited in the late '80's, to a
little over 5000 prior to Katrina in New Orleans, the
government's war on its own resources for the people
solidified in the Reagan administration. Public housing,
under attack for decades now, has paralleled a growing,
affordable housing crisis that ironically, the Fair
Housing Act was supposed to address. Families having to
double, triple up, like the tenements in the early
1900's, is a crime committed on the working class of
In New Orleans, time is now measured as in days and
months after Katrina.
Katrina is one year plus now, and thousands of FEMA
trailers are still being stored rather than used.
80% of the housing stock in Orleans parish was severely
damaged, and not a penny of federal money for home
owners has yet made its way to New Orleans citizens, one
year later. 70% of its rental stock was severely
damaged, yet plans for rebuilding will be vastly
In the lower ninth ward, residents are still waiting for
drinkable water to return to a huge swath of the
neighborhood, as well as electric and gas services. FEMA
trailers can't be hooked up unless there are services to
hook them up to.
In Houston, in a recent town hall meeting, Houstonians
openly called for Katrina evacuees to be sent back.
New Orleans housing activist Mike Howells said recently
a new underclass is being created, with all of the
attendant blame, scapegoating and stereotypes.
If your heart hasn't already broken enough from the pain
and loss inflicted on our fellow citizens, picture their
forced exile in another city, specifically Houston, and
public airing of hostility directed towards their
Then swing back to the forced closing of public housing
here, and the Fed refusal to adequately rebuild
infrastructure. How apparently easily and quickly the
federal government essentially creates an underclass of
people who are being blocked from returning to their
Citizens necessarily turn to acts of civil disobedience
when faced with the trampling of human rights, when
faced with survival issues.
Affordable housing and vital, public infrastructure is a
/ 17 Sep 2006
posted 23 September 2006
* * * *
Justice Department aims
to help overhaul New Orleans
police force—By Sandhya
Somashekhar—August 1, 2010—In
the five years since the
storm, the department's
standing has worsened. Eager
for a turnaround, the newly
elected mayor did something
nearly unthinkable for
someone in his position: He
called in the feds. . . . "I
have inherited a police
force that has been
described by many as one of
the worst police departments
in the country," Mayor Mitch
Landrieu wrote in a letter
to Attorney General
Eric H. Holder Jr.
earlier this year. "The
police force, the community,
our citizens are desperate
for positive change." . .
At least a dozen Justice
experts have been dispatched
to New Orleans to assist
with a top-to-bottom
overhaul aimed at
department's ability to
police itself, Perez said.
They have applauded
some of the changes instituted by the new chief, who was
Landrieu and has hired a
civilian to head the
internal affairs office and
adopted a no-tolerance
policy toward officers
caught lying. . . .At the
same time, the city's
homicide rate has risen to
the highest in the nation.
* * *
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
7 January 2012