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O2 Dispatches From New Orleans

Oxygen Collective Arrives in New Orleans

12/8/05 - After a long trek across the country, covering 2600 miles in three days, the Oxygen Collective bus finally arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday. We made our way to the Common Ground Media Center, where we connected with our dear friend Kerul who has been hard at work here for over 2 months. From there, we took a short tour of the heavily damaged 9th Ward. It is hard to describe what we are witnessing. After more than 3 months since the storms hit, it is shocking to see the state of this neighborhood. Trash and debris are piled everywhere. There is no electricity on most streets. With residents discouraged from returning home by military blockades, curfews, and the perception that everything is destroyed, It feels a ghost town.

We made our way to our home for now, at the Common Ground Collective 9th Ward Community Center. This space is one of many operated by Common Ground across New Orleans. Less than 2 weeks ago, the Community Center was a flood damaged church center filled with black mold. Now it is an ever evolving Community Center housing and feeded the volunteers who have come to New Orleans to help out.

12/10/05 - I am in a surreal and deeply inspiring hell- New Orleans is a post apocalyptic wonderland where utter devastation is everywhere and all relationships of culture, race, society and politics are richly counter-intuitive, nuanced and have gone from backward before to upsidedown now. I am floored. No account of what is occurring here can be given without a brief review of the stunning reality on the ground. The scale and scope of the destruction is really not possible to grasp if you have not driven the streets here. There are over a hundred thousand cars that will never drive again that have yet to be moved- they are in all manner of disarray- on curbs, upside down, in front lawns and perhaps most eerily- parked right where they were left when their drivers suddenly fled more than 3 months ago. There are currently 1.3 million households from the Gulf Coast still residing elsewhere. Bodies are still found every day. Vast areas sit festering, powerlines strewn across streets, trees sliced right through houses, two story homes crushed to the height of their front door. Tens of thousands of homes are filled with rotting furniture, warped floors and swollen drywall.

12/12/05 - I just wrote yesterday but each day here feels like a week of life experience. Today we joined with the People's Hurricane Relief Network, Common Ground and a number of black power groups for a march on City Hall- or what's left of it anyway. We gathered first in Congo Square- a park with ancient live oaks who were already mature trees when slavery was in effect here and this was the only place in the city where slaves were allowed to gather freely and play their drums. Today, a rocking drum circle like none I've ever seen accompanied a vibrant consortium of black leaders as they gave stirring speeches to a crowd that reached thousands by the time we took the streets towards City Hall.

The march was in support of the Right to Return of the scattered residents of New Orleans, who are overwhelmingly poor and black and who are soon to be kicked out of the temporary housing FEMA has thus far provided. It is clear that were this California destroyed by an earthquake, or New York by another 9-11, there would be no protracted debate about whether or not to rebuild, it would just be done and it would be done quickly with massive federal aid. The cost of a day of war in Iraq would be enough to retrofit all New Orleans levees to withstand a category 5 storm. The people of this richly historic city are rightfully outraged and today they raised strong and eloquent voice to their demands for equality.


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