New Orleans: Marching Across the Crescent City Connection
Revolution #023, November 20, 2005, posted at revcom.us
On November 7, 150 people marched across the Crescent City Connection bridge, along the footsteps of those who had tried to escape the flooded city of New Orleans two months earlier. A leaflet from march organizers said, "We march with our fellow citizens displaced by Katrina to reclaim our right to cross that bridge to Gretna, and in crossing the bridge in the name of the right to safety and self determination, to racial and economic justice--we march in support of the Peoples continued reconstruction process in the Gulf Coast."
The three-and-a-half-mile-long Crescent City Connection spans the Mississippi River, between central New Orleans and the town of Gretna in Jefferson Parish. For five days in late August and early September, it represented one of the few possible ways out of the devastation and flooding that had turned New Orleans into a living nightmare for tens of thousands of people.
As tens of thousands of people were driven from their homes and neighborhoods throughout New Orleans into the relatively unflooded areas close to the river, many sought shelter in the Superdome and Convention Center. For several agonizing days people went without water, food, medicine, toilet facilities. People struggled to help each other survive through this ordeal.
According to the Times Picayune, city officials announced that "the only way people can leave the city of New Orleans is to get on the Crescent City Connection."
But on September 1, when hundreds of people tried to walk across the bridge in the searing late summer heat, they were met by massed, armed police who fired warning shots over their heads, threatened them with police dogs, and told them they couldnt cross the bridge. Gretna police chief Arthur Lawson's shameful justification for this outrage was that "If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned, and pillaged."
The callousness and cruelty of the Bush regime and all levels of government have continued and even escalated since then. Entire housing projects have been vacated, and entire blocks are covered with debris and garbage as if the hurricane happened yesterday. House after remaining house has an X across the front, indicating that they've been declared no longer habitable. And as is becoming increasingly evident, the authorities have no intention of building housing for the people.
At the November 7 march, people were determined, with or without official permission, to get across the same bridge where people were shot at and turned back two months ago. Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther Party member, said, "The world needs to know what happened." Mama D, a prominent community leader, said, "This disaster that were under now is man made... Mass murder. Thats what happened to the poor people. Mass murder... Were still being terrorized."
The march was initiated by the Hip Hop Caucus and endorsed by the Black Leadership Foundation, Code Pink, the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, World Cant Wait, and many others. Marchers included Black students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, artists, community activists, ministers, supporters of the RCP, lesbian and gay activists, and professors. Some people who had been involved in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement said the march reminded them of the famous march over the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. A young woman with a beautiful voice sang an updated version of "We Shall Not Be Moved," which took on a powerful meaning in a context where Black people continue to be driven from the city and prevented from moving back in.
Traffic backed up in both directions as the march took over the westbound lanes of the bridge. The marchers stopped to rally about a third of the way over the bridge, at a marker indicating where Jefferson Parish begins. Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., who had helped organize the march, said,
"This is where the police stood, with shotguns and dogs. The people had been through a nightmare. The people standing before them had lost everything. They said, all we want to do is survive. They were carrying their children. They had seen their grandmothers go without their diabetes medicine. But instead of those police meeting us, and greeting us, and saying come on, they were shot at and turned around."