Still Winter in New Orleans
Photos by Li Onesto
Revolution #044, April 23, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Seven months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is a city of “withouts.” Buildings without roofs, neighborhoods without residents. People without homes, houses without electricity. Kids without schools, teachers without classrooms. Doctors without hospitals, sick people without medicine. A government without solutions, official promises without results.
The devastation in New Orleans is incredibly widespread and deeply heartbreaking. You can drive all over the city—from the poor Black 9th Ward, to middle class areas to white working class neighborhoods—through mile after mile of empty homes. Bodies are still being found. Endless piles of bits and pieces of people’s lives, strewn about the ground. People sleeping in their cars. A tent city in the park where immigrants and workers of all nationalities are living, looking for work. Some have come back and are trying to rebuild. But hurricane season starts in June and the levees are still not fixed.
“I cried—to see young people coming together for one common cause and that is to help humanity as a whole and they’re all over the place… I came over there because I wanted to see where they were sleeping. They have tents set up outside. I saw children washing, hanging things up on the line. I saw them getting their clothes together. And I just sat in the car and stared at them, I was just spellbound just looking at these young people. And then what really impressed me was this guy, he and this other fellow was putting together bikes that were broken and needed to be repaired so that those who wanted a bike could get around. I said, the skills these young people have, and coming together, so that they can get to and fro.”
Resident of the 9th Ward, speaking about volunteers at Common Ground Relief who helped gut out her house
Before the hurricane, African Americans made up about 70% of New Orleans. After Katrina, Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson said: "New Orleans is not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker said: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did." In the Black neighborhoods of the 9th Ward, hit the hardest by floods, the government has basically done nothing to rebuild. When people tried to move back into the St. Bernard Development, the city’s largest housing project, the city put up a barbed wire fence to keep people out.
The continuing neglect, abandonment, abuse, and brutality of Black people in New Orleans is connected to a whole legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws—and a continuation of the way this system has always treated Black people as exploitable, expendable, and undesirable.
The situation in New Orleans shows not only the need but also the possibility of revolution, and of a radically different society. The government has left thousands to suffer. But right after the hurricane, and as residents have returned to try and rebuild, people have helped each other and showed their humanity in many ways — putting to lie the slanders that portray them as criminals and animals. And they have been supported and assisted by people all over the country. In all this can be seen the potential for a society where relations among people are radically different than the daily dog-eat-dog this capitalist system pushes people into.