Zichronam livrachah.

Disasters like this one provide a dramatic reminder of why we need a social contract through which people commit to mutual sacrifice for mutual prosperity and security. They make pronounced the limits of a worldview in which people are atomized entities threatened by the oppressive restrictions of a government which would have the gall to spend their money. The outrage of ordinary citizens at our leaders’ failure to take reasonable measures to ensure their safety is not the sign of weakness the radical right would have us believe any call for government action to be – it’s the rightful grievance of people who know they deserve a better deal which makes the investments necessary to protect them and their families. Hurricanes are a reminder that our interests are interconnected, and that justice demands finding common cause in common challenge, not appealing to the charitable private impulses of individuals as the single means to confront public crises. We may a thousand points of light, but we share the same space.

But even as these horrific events remind us of our common vulnerability, they demonstrate yet again how deeply the impact of such threats is determined along lines of race and class. By and large, those who have been unable to make it out of the devastated city have certain things in common – and contra Bill O’Reilly, they don’t include a desire to lay in wait so they can rape and plunder. A week ago, a friend was defending the old idea that property requirements for voting make sense because they restrict voting to those who have something to lose and therefore have a stake in what government does. I suggested that if we were really to assign votes based on one’s stake in what government does, the poorest would get the lion’s share because they’re the ones who have only voice, not exit, at their disposal when the government fails them. This week shows all too graphically how high the costs can be when elite decisions and oppressive poverty make a terrible situation that much worse.


2 thoughts on “TWO THOUGHTS

  1. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 5, 2005, 3:30 p.m. CST

    Press conference:

    Tuesday, September 6, 2005

    4:00 p.m. CST outside the Reliance Center at Kirby and McNee

    New Orleans Black Community Leaders Charge Racism in Government Neglect of Hurricane Survivors

    Press conference to announce plan to save lives and demand role in rebuilding effort

    HOUSTON – A national alliance of black community leaders will announce the formation of a New Orleans People’s Committee to demand a decision-making role in the short-term care of hurricane survivors and long-term rebuilding of New Orleans.

    Community Labor United (CLU), a New Orleans coalition of labor and community activists, has put out a call to activists and organizations across the country to work on a “people’s campaign” of community redevelopment. Organizing efforts will take place across hundreds of temporary shelters.

    The population of New Orleans is 67 percent black and over 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, reflecting the current demographic of hurricane survivors displaced all over the South.

    While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, and Governor Blanco attempt to regain the public’s trust by evading the question of who’s to blame, a short and long-term plan for New Orleans hurricane survivors has remained in a political vault of silence.

    “This is plain, ugly, real racism,” states Curtis Muhammad, CLU Organizing Director. “While some politicians and organizations might skirt around the issue of race, we in New Orleans are not afraid to call it what it is. The moral values of our government is to ‘shoot to kill’

    hungry, thirsty black hurricane survivors for trying to live through the aftermath. This is not just immoral—this has turned a natural disaster into a man-made disaster, fueled by racism.”

    Leaders of CLU, in alliance with nearly twenty other local organizations and several national organizations will discuss their plan at a press conference on Tuesday, September 6, 2005, at 4:00 p.m. CST outside the Reliance Center at Kirby and McNee. The coalition will announce:

    · The formation of the New Orleans People’s Committee composed of hurricane survivors from each of the shelters, which will:

    1. Demand to oversee FEMA, the Red Cross, and other organizations collecting resources on behalf of the black community of New Orleans

    2. Demand decision-making power in the long-term redevelopment of New Orleans

    · Issue a national call for volunteers to assist with housing, healthcare, education, and legal matters for the duration of the displacement

    Tax-exempt donations for the People’s Committee and the national coalition can be made out to: Young People’s Project, 440 N. Mills St., Suite 200, Jackson, MS 39202 or visit

    Community Labor United is a coalition of progressive organizations in New Orleans formed in 1998. Their mission is to build organizational unity and support efforts that address poverty, racism, and education.

    CLU organized in the areas hardest hit by the hurricane.

    Curtis Muhammad is a veteran Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee

    (SNCC) organizer and co-founder of CLU.

    For more information, please contact:

    Curtis Muhammad

    Community Labor United (CLU)

    Becky Belcore

    Quality Education as a Civil Right (QECR)

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