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August, 2006

New Orleans One Year Later: Government Continues to Abandon the Poor
Katrina survivor searching for clothing in Waveland, Mississippi last year.
Katrina survivor searching for clothing in Waveland, Mississippi last year.

It's been a year since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast while the government stood by and did nothing. For the poor of the Gulf Coast, especially of New Orleans, not much has improved, and what is being done to the poor of New Orleans could represent the future for most of us, if it hasn't happened to us already. New Orleans is being remolded to suit the corporate interests that run our country.

Many of the poor of New Orleans are still dispersed - they're locked out of the city by the corporate government, or if they've returned, they're locked out of their old neighborhoods. Over 200,000 people have not yet made it back to New Orleans.

No federal housing repair or home reconstruction money has reached New Orleans yet. Seventy thousand families in Louisiana live in tiny FEMA trailers. Rents are skyrocketing, forcing thousands to move into homes without electricity. People have been evicted from hotels where they were staying at FEMA's expense, and then been arrested for trespassing when they sought shelter in abandoned buildings in New Orleans. While a handful of wealthy people and contractors will profit from the "rebuilding" of New Orleans, the city is being remade according to the corporate vision: with no poor people.

What little remains of public education in New Orleans is being privatized. The teachers union, the largest in the state, has been told there will be no collective bargaining. Public healthcare is in crisis; the city's big public hospital is still closed.

Using the excuse of "fighting crime," the state has brought the National Guard back into New Orleans to contain the poor.

Public housing has been boarded up and fenced off, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in June announced plans to demolish 5,000 public housing units. HUD plans to let private companies develop the sites as what they claim will be "mixed income" communities. Yet the 4,000 families locked out of public housing since Katrina are not allowed to return.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee held a conference in New Orleans in April to discuss its midterm election strategy. And they said nothing of any substance about what is being done to the poor of the Gulf Coast, making more clear than ever that the Democrats are just another party of big business.

But the people of New Orleans are fighting back. Public housing residents recently filed a class-action suit against HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans to try and halt the demolition plans. Public housing residents and their supporters have marched on the French Quarter, the city's main tourist area, to publicize their plight and give mock "eviction" notices to residents of that wealthy area, calling for "mixed income" development of the French Quarter. A tent city has been created across from the St. Bernard public housing development, to draw attention to the struggle. The poor are taking matters into their own hands, and this is how the struggle has to be waged.

The protesters demand the basic human right to safe, decent, and sanitary housing; the unconditional Right of Return for all people displaced by Hurricane Katrina; the preservation, not privatization, of all current public housing stock; and the reopening of all public housing.

The fact is, there are mini-Katrinas going on across the country. Public education, housing and healthcare are being demolished across the country. As globalization and labor-replacing technology eliminate jobs and drive down wages, the giant corporations that really govern this country are eliminating services for labor they don't need, and privatizing formerly public services as new sources of profit. The entire country will be turned into some version of New Orleans unless we fight to stop it.

We are not just up against bad people, but a bad system, a capitalist system that is creating poverty. Advanced technology in the hands of the corporations creates poverty and unemployment. That same technology in the hands of the people can guarantee all of us everything we need to thrive. Either the corporations are going to run the country in their interest and destroy it in the process, or we, the people are going to take these corporations over and run them in the interest of the working class, which is the majority. It's that simple. The future is up to us.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, info@peoplestribune.org.
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