[News] People of New Orleans bring the streets to life on the anniversary of the Great Flood

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 7 08:52:42 EDT 2006

People of New Orleans bring the streets to life on the
anniversary of the Great Flood


It was almost 10AM and all three drawbridges—the only
entry points into the Lower 9th Ward—were up. A line
of cars piled up, waiting impatiently at the main
bridge, anxious about being late to the start of the
day’s events. A Memorial Ceremony was set to start at
10,  at the very place where a barge broke thru
Industrial Canal Levee sending up to 20 feet of water
crashing into the homes of thousands of people.

Following a few angry calls to the New Orleans Police
Department, the Mayor’s
Office and the City Council, at a few minutes after
10AM,  cars were finally allowed onto the St Claude
Bridge.  For months while the Army Corps of Engineers
patched the levee, a wall of barbed wire ran parallel
to it, preventing visitors or any unwanted levee
critics from approaching. But on the 29th, someone cut
the barbed wire and hundreds of people gathered in
front of the useless new wall that could not resist
the force of even a Category 2 storm .

At the levee, one of the community’s spiritual
leaders, Mama Olayeela, offered libations in front of
an altar with hundreds of candles. A solemn drumbeat
accompanied her. “Open the way, Great Mother, for the
healing spirits to enter,” she responded to the
drumbeat. Zion Trinity offered songs for “the warrior
spirit in us to rise.” And as the crowd filed away
from the levee to join the commemoration march, a
number of people lining the road read the names of
each of those who passed in the Flood. Commemoration
organizers had collected some 900 names.  That day, in
their memorial edition, The Times Picayune printed 850
names.  Close to 600 are still unidentified or
missing.  Many in the crowd carried photos of their
loved ones who had passed. Others carried signs,
“Remember the dead, fight for the living”.

Death and Rebirth
Many have reported that the Lower 9th Ward looks,
feels and smells like a dead zone.  Only a hand full
brave pioneers have reclaimed their homes in the midst
of block-after-block of devastated, abandoned
homes—where the city still does not supply water,
sewer or garbage service. But, as the crowd trudged in
95 degree heat up the rutted dirt road, past fields
overgrown with weeds where piles of rubble (formerly
houses) had recently been bulldozed, life returned to
the Lower 9th Ward.

Veteran New Orleans activists were thrilled to be
marching along side people they may see on their jobs,
on buses, on street corners, but until then, never on
political marches. A weathered man with a tambourine,
Mr. Johnson, who had to be at least 80, walked
stiffly, as if he had wooden legs with no knee joints.
He refused an offer to ride in the air conditioned
vans available at the end of the march for people not
able to walk three miles in the tropical heat.
Although the 29th was a work day, it was also the
anniversary of the Storm that took so many people’s
lives and flooded 80% of New Orleans. Nearly 2000
people joined Mr. Johnson because they still ache for
public recognition of their grief and they still
seethe with fury for the injustice they’ve
experienced. Young, old, people in wheelchairs,
children in strollers, young men with t-shirts down to
their knees and others wearing dashikis stared down
the National Guard perched in their humvees at each
corner—some of the 300 who occupy the Black
communities of New Orleans.

For a few blocks, this writer walked with  Mrs.
Anderson. Exactly a year ago, as the water rose to the
second floor of her Lower  9th Ward home, she sought
refuge on her roof. She began sobbing as she described
how rescue helicopters, made eye contact, then passed
her by as they headed for the white section of town.
Finally, the raging waters pushed her home off its
foundations and she clung to the roof until it crashed
into a tree. She doesn’t remember how many hours she
waited in the tree, not for help, but for death. “I
urinated on myself for warmth”. Her sister interrupts,
“you mean you were so scared, you pissed yourself.”

Ms Anderson is one of the 250,000 low-income Black New
Orleanians who were displaced by the storm and don’t
have the means to come home. She’s been staying in La
Place, some 25 miles west of New Orleans.  “The doctor
told me not to come back for the anniversary, that it
would be bad for my blood pressure, but I had to come
just for this day.” Most displaced New Orleanians are
living a few hours away from New Orleans and want to
come home.  But the state is systematically denying
their right to return by withholding housing
assistance, favoring below-minimum-wage jobs,
privatizing health care and education. One of the
demands of the Commemoration is for the right to
return to New Orleans—reconstructed with social

As the somber march reached a street that divides the
9th Ward from the 8th Ward, the Hot 8 Brass Band
interrupted Ms Anderson’s story with an upbeat version
of “I’ll Fly Away.” She, her sister and daughter, as
soon as they heard the music, broke into the
traditional Second Line dance, along with the rest of
the crowd. The energy of the music lifted the grief
and anger off the shoulders of the crowd. Everyone
—those holding “Right to Return” signs and those with
gold caps on their teeth, who heard about the event on
the local hip hop station, chanted together to the
beat: “New Aw-lins” over and over.  Sess 4-5, a local
hip hop artist who worked hard to promote the
Commemoration, was exultant. “Now it’s gonna happen,”
he told this writer, before he yelled into his
bullhorn, “No justice, no peace!”

At Congo Square
Energized by the music and hydrated by free water
distributed along the route, few seemed to mind the
three-mile march at the peak of tropical heat. They
were more relieved by the disappearance of any threat
from Hurricane Ernesto.

Nine hundred names, imprinted on huge black banners
greeted people as they entered Congo Square—since
slavery, the historic center of people’s resistance to
oppression in New Orleans. Drums welcomed the
marchers. Some lingered at an altar with 1600 candles,
writing the names of loved ones under a candle, some
dancing in the flickering glow. Across the square, a
Healing Tent offered massage, acupuncture and
counseling. And bordering the square, people could
visit a variety of tables with information about the
new Women’s Clinic, the Workers’ Justice Coalition,
the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Association, Peoples
Hurricane Relief Fund and others.

Well-known New Orleans DJ, Wild Wayne from Q93,
nationally recognized poet Sunni Patterson and poet
producer Asali DeVan shared MC duties.  The
speech/performance of Mia X—a New Orleans native and
first female rapper on the No Limit Record label--
was the highpoint of the afternoon.  She told the
crowd, “I have a baby father in the cemetery and a
baby father in the penitentiary and no family left to
come home to in New Orleans.” She lost five family
members in the Flood. “That’s why we have to have a
Cease Fire among our people. We need to figure out how
to meet our mental needs
 We have a culture and
history here—we gotta support each other.” The crowd
gave her much love.

Other speakers -- including Nikkisha Napoleon whose
Uncle passed in the Flood,  more people who lost
family members, local Black community leaders and
Malcolm Suber who represented the United Front that
organized the Commemoration -- all contributed to the
message of the day. Members of the International
Commission of Inquiry for the upcoming Tribunal on
Katrina Crimes against the People—from Brazil,
Venezuela and South Africa—spoke of their common
experiences on the slave ships of yesteryear and
today.    They were committed to honoring those who
passed and shared a consensus that the needless death
and destruction that followed Katrina was a genocidal
attack on Black people. The continued forced
dispersion of Black people—the largest since the
betrayal of Reconstruction-- must be resisted.  They
also demanded that the City rescind any threat to
subject peoples’ homes to seizure under eminent domain
and that public housing be opened. In short: displaced
people have the right to return to affordable, safe
homes, quality schools, jobs with dignity, quality
health care and recreational facilities. All committed
to working for reconstruction of New Orleans and the
Gulf according to the right to social justice and self

By Arlene Eisen, an activist and long term volunteer
with Peoples’ Hurricane Relief  Fund in New Orleans.
arlenesreport at yahoo.com

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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