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report from the occupied west bank of new orleans

report from the occupied west bank of new orleans
18 sept 2005
algiers
occupied west bank
louisiana
usa
my friends, i am writing to you under military curfew, with helicopters flying overhead and armed personnel carriers patrolling the streets, from the occupied west bank. but this time it is not the occupied west bank of palestine that i write from, but the west bank of the mississippi river. a few hours ago, i watched about 30 helicopters take off from an aircraft carrier in the middle of the oil-slicked mississippi and roar through the sky low overhead. soon after, i was stopped by police who were sternly enforcing a curfew that hadn't even officially begun for the night. the police and military tear through the streets all night, taking shots at any dark-colored figure who they see out on the street.

i have only been here since yesterday, but already i have heard story after heartbreaking story of the incompetence and negligence of the US government at the local, state and federal level in response to this crisis. from the man who had to rush out of a relief center where volunteers were using the internet to help him locate his family because it was 7:30, and he had to rush across town to his half-ruined home before eight, or he would be shot for breaking curfew, to the family whose landlord took their last $400 rent money for this month even though their home had been completely destroyed, to the many stories of people wading through neck-deep water, floating their grandmothers in refrigerators to try to escape the flooded-out city of new orleans, only to be turned back at the bridge by police with shotguns.....the stories are horrendous, sad and infuriating, especially infuriating - because this disaster was preventable.

even now, a full 3 weeks after the hurricane hit, the red cross has yet to arrive in this and many other neighborhoods around new orleans. many suspect that the red cross will never arrive here with medicine and supplies, because they hope to force people to leave this area. it is absolutely unconscionable, and a violation of every human rights treaty to which the US is a signatory, for the government to use food and medicine as a weapon to try to force people out of their homes. yet that is exactly what they are doing.

everyone is aware that the water is completely contaminated, and many streets are covered in contaminated mud. but no government agency has provided drinking water -- it is as if these people are expected to simply lay down and die. but now, thanks to the efforts of many independent volunteers who came here despite the government's warnings and naysaying, many lives have been saved that would otherwise have been lost. many more lives are precariously close to being lost, but new volunteers, water, supplies and medicine keep arriving every day, staving off death another day for those folks the government 'left behind'.

contrary to the popular image promoted by the media, those who were 'left behind', unable to evacuate before the hurricane, were not looters, thugs and criminals. they are, for the most part, the elderly -- the most vulnerable members of our society, and poor families with young children who could not afford to evacuate. after being ignored by the government for the first few days of the disaster (a period in which they thought surely they were being left to die in the muck and mud), they were subjected to a massive military occupation, an operation described by the brigadier-general in charge as "turning this place into a 'little somalia'". those who didn't die in their attics waiting for help to arrive have been tormented by a massive military presence that, for the most part, would rather shoot than help them. sure, there are some notable exceptions -- national guard units who have distributed food and water on their own - but these are rogue units, not following the 'shoot-to-kill' orders from their superiors.

perhaps i sound a little bitter...... but arriving here, meeting all these elderly, sick and poor people who all tell me the same story, and realizing that story is completely different from the one being shown on television and in the news around the country -- it makes a person feel sick, literally sick, and disgusted at the lies that are being spread to try to justify the shameful inaction of the government in this crisis.

there are so many people and places that have been left out of all the news reports, left out of the red cross relief efforts......i have just seen video from the coast of Bay St. Charles, Mississippi, a town that was completely wiped out - of those who stayed in their homes, there are no survivors. The Houma Nation of Indians on the Louisiana coast has also had most of its members' homes completely destroyed. These are pictures taken just a few days ago -- the whole place is still underwater:
www.unitedhoumanation.org/KatrinaAerial.htm

the official death count is unbelievably low - but most bodies have not even been recovered yet. it may take a long time before we figure out the real numbers of how many people have died in this disaster. and very little is being revealed about all the contaminants that are in the water, including massive oil spills that have been estimated to total half the size of the infamous Exxon-Valdez oil spill:
www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/0,16441,1566152,00.html

I have just watched camera footage a friend just took a few days ago of a medical research plant in mississippi that was under 30 feet of floodwater. with no testing of the level of contamination, mexican immigrant workers were cleaning the place, wearing no protective gear at all.

so when news came through this area that bush has suspended the minimum wage, it was just another blow for the weary, tired and (many now) homeless residents who have come to expect government neglect and animosity as common practice -- so none were surprised at this move, which would benefit (as usual) the most wealthy, while further impoverishing these, the most impoverished citizens of the united states.

i have been busy since i got here, using my tech skills to help with internet connectivity, phone (over internet) and other communication. any volunteers (especially doctors, nurses and trained medics) who are willing to work hard and spend more than just a few days here would be able to help a good deal in this relief effort. in fact, a number of people who originally volunteered with the red cross and have become frustrated with the inaction of that organization have been contacting the grassroots clinics and organizations that are actually feeding and providing medicine to the thousands of people 'left behind' by the disaster.

there is also an effort to rescue abandoned pets underway:
neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2005/09/5435.php

i am currently working with the common ground collective:
www.commongroundrelief.org

if you can listen to audio, here is an interview i did in algiers with a doctor in the free clinic
neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2005/09/5437.php

love!
jenka

ps - here is part of a message from my friend ryan about why NOT to donate to the red cross:
I urge you to NOT send any money to the red cross, and instead to consider sending it to other groups. The Red Cross has a history of mis-using funds and not helping to people who need it most. There has been so much racism going on in New Orleans right now and the Red Cross is fitting right in with it.

There is a terrific list of local, people of color, low-income, and
grassroots groups the are doing direct relief effort, no strings attached.
Please consider them and see this list:
katrina.mayfirst.org

The Red Cross has been trying to evict groups like Vets for Peace from
feeding groups of evacuees in Covington, LA. They also have been known for keeping most donations they get for themselves and paying their CEOs
6-digit salary. For more info and resources, please see:

RED CROSS 9/11 SCANDAL (CNN):
archives.cnn.com/2001/US/11/06/rec.charity.hearing/

RED CROSS CEO's NEARLY 700,000 A YEAR SALARY (FORBES)
www.forbes.com/finance/lists/14/2004/LIR.jhtml

ANOTHER ARTICLE
www.newmediaexplorer.org/chris/2005/09/05/red_cross_ceo_pulled_down_651957_salary_bush_strafes_new_orleans.htm
 
 


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