Sunday, May 20, 2007

Letter From the People of New Orleans to Our Friends and Allies

By New Orleans-based Activists

We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of grassroots New Orleans organizers, activists, artists, educators, media makers, health care providers and other community members concerned about the fate of our city. This letter is directed to all those around the world concerned about the fate of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but is especially intended for US-based nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other institutions with resources and finances that have been, or could be, directed towards the Gulf Coast.

In the days after the storm, there were many promises of support made to the people of New Orleans. Promises from not only the federal government, but also an array of nongovernmental organizations, such as progressive and liberal foundations and nonprofits. Small and large organizations have done fundraising on our behalf, promising to deliver resources and support to the people of New Orleans.

Many organizations and individuals have supported New Orleans-led efforts with time, resources, and advocacy on our behalf, and for this we are very grateful. These organizations followed through on their promises and offered support in a way that was respectful, responsible, and timely.

However, we are writing this letter to tell you that, aside from these very important exceptions, the support we need has not arrived, or has been seriously limited, or has been based upon conditions that become an enormous burden for us.

While we remain in crisis, understaffed, underfunded and in many cases in desperate need of help, we have seen promises go unfulfilled. From the perspective of the poorest and least powerful, it appears that the work of national allies on our behalf has either not happened or if it has happened it has been a failure.

In the days after August 29, 2005 the world watched as our city was devastated. This destruction was not caused by Hurricane Katrina, but by failures of local, state and national government, and institutional structures of racism and corruption. The disaster highlighted already-existing problems such as neglect, privatization and deindustrialization.

As New Orleanians, we have seen tragedy first hand. We have lost friends and family and seen our community devastated. More than 15 months later, we have seen few improvements. Our education, health care and criminal justice systems remain in crisis, and more than 60% of the former population of our city remains displaced. Among those that remain, depression and other mental health issues have skyrocketed.

While many nationwide speak of "Katrina Fatigue," we are still living the disaster. We remain committed to our homes and communities. And we still need support.

In 15 months we have hosted visits by countless representatives from an encyclopedic list of prominent organizations and foundations. We have given hundreds of tours of affected areas, and we have assisted in the writing of scores of reports and assessments. We have participated in or assisted in organizing panels and workshops and conferences. We have supplied housing and food and hospitality to hundreds of supporters promising to return with funding and resources, to donate staff and equipment and more. It seems hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in our name, often using our words, or our stories.

However, just as the government's promises of assistance, such as the "Road Home" program, remain largely out of reach of most New Orleanians, we have also seen very little money and support from liberal and progressive sources.

Instead of prioritizing efforts led by people who are from the communities most affected, we have seen millions of dollars that was advertised as dedicated towards Gulf Coast residents either remain unspent, or shuttled to well-placed outsiders with at best a cursory knowledge of the realities faced by people here. Instead of reflecting local needs and priorities, many projects funded reflect outside perception of what our priorities should be. We have seen attempts to dictate to us what we should do, instead of a real desire to listen and struggle together. We have heard offers of strategic advice, but there have been very few resources offered to help us carry it out.

We are at an historic moment. The disaster on the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, has highlighted issues of national and international relevance. Questions of race, class, gender, education, health care, food access, policing, housing, privatization, mental health and much more are on vivid display.

The South has been traditionally underfunded and often exploited by institutions, including corporations, the labor movement, foundations, and the federal government. We have faced the legacy of centuries of institutional racism and oppression, with little outside support. And yet, against massive odds, grassroots movements in the South have organized and struggled and won historic, inspiring victories with international relevance.

In New Orleans, against incredible odds, despite personal loss and family tragedies, people are fighting for the future of the city they love. Many are working with little to no funding or support, and have achieved remarkable success.

We are writing this open letter to you to tell you that it's not too late. The struggle is still ongoing. Evacuees are organizing in trailer parks, health care providers are opening clinics, former public housing residents are fighting to keep their homes from being demolished, artists and media makers are documenting the struggle, educators and lawyers are joining with high school students to fight for better schools.

We ask you, as concerned friends and allies nationwide, as funders and organizations, to look critically at your practices. Has your organization raised money on New Orleans' behalf? Did that money go towards New Orleans-based projects, initiated and directed by those most affected? Have you paid New Orleans organizations that have acted as consultants? Have you listened directly to the needs of those in the Gulf and been responsive to them? Have you adjusted your practices and strategies to the organizing realities on the ground?

We ask you to seize this opportunity, and join and support the grassroots movements. If the people of New Orleans can succeed against incredible odds to save their city and their community, it is a victory for oppressed people everywhere. If the people of New Orleans lose, it is a loss for movements everywhere. Struggling together, we can win together.


Cherice Harrison-Nelson
Director and Curator, Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, New Orleans
Royce Osborn
writer/producer, New Orleans

Greta Gladney
4th generation Lower 9th Ward resident, New Orleans

Corlita Mahr, New Orleans

Judy Watts
President/CEO, Agenda for Children, New Orleans

Robert “Kool Black” Horton
Critical Resistance, New Orleans

Jennifer Turner
Community Book Center, New Orleans

Mayaba Liebenthal
INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, New Orleans

Norris Henderson
Co-Director Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

Ursula Price
Outreach and Investigation Coordinator, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

Evelyn Lynn
Managing Director, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans

Althea Francois, New Orleans

Malcolm Suber
People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, New Orleans

Saket Soni
New Orleans Worker’s Justice Project, New Orleans

Nick Slie, I-10
Witness Project, Co-Artistic Director Mondo Bizarro, New Orleans

Catherine Jones
Medical student, Tulane University, Organizer and co-founder, Latino Health Outreach Project, New Orleans

Jennifer Whitney
coordinator, Latino Health Outreach Project

S. Mandisa Moore
INCITE! New Orleans and the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans

Aesha Rasheed
Project Manager, New Orleans Network, New Orleans

Jordan Flaherty
Left Turn Magazine, New Orleans

Dix deLaneuville
Educator, New Orleans

Courtney Egan
Filmmaker, New Orleans

Rebecca Snedeker
Filmmaker, New Orleans

Catherine A. Galpin, RN
FACES and Children's Hospital, New Orleans

Hamilton Simons-Jones, New Orleans

Al Alcazar
Educator, New Orleans

Grace Bauer
Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

Erin Bell, New Orleans resident

Xochitl Bervera
Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

Mario E. Carbajal
New Orleans resident living in Houston

Bess Carrick
Producer/Director, New Orleans

John Clark
Professor of Philosophy (Loyola University)

Brandon Darby
Director of Relief Operations Common Ground Relief

Diana Dunn
The People's Institut, European Dissent, New Orleans

Courtney Egan
Artist, New Orleans

Lou Furman
Turning Point Partners

Ariana Hall
Director, CubaNOLA Collective

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Historian
writer and lecturer, New Orleans and Mississippi Pine Belt

Susan Hamovitch
NYC/New Orleans

Russell Henderson
Lecturer, Dillard University and
Organizer, Rebuilding Louisana Coalition

Ms.Deon Haywood
Events Coordinator, Women With A Vision Inc.

Rachel Herzing
Critical Resistance

Rev. Doug Highfield
Universal Life Church
Cherokee, AL

Joyce Marie Jackson, Ph.D.
Cultural Researcher, LSU Dept. of Geography & Anthropology, and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge

Elizabeth K Jeffers

Dana Kaplan
Safe Streets - Strong Communities / Center for Constitutional Rights, NYC/New Orleans

Vi Landry
freelance journalist, New Orleans/New York

Bridget Lehane
European Dissent and The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

Karen-kaia Livers
Alliance for Community Theaters, Inc., New Orleans

Rachel E. Luft
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of New Orleans

Melana Luke

M. Denise Miles
Student, Tulane University School of Public Health

Damekia Morgan
Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

Saladin Muhammad
Black Workers For Justice

Ukali Mwendo
(Hazardous Materials Specialist, NOFD),President, Provisional Government - Republic of New Afrika / New Orleans LA (former resident of the Lafitte Housing Development)

Kalonji T. Olusegun
2nd Vice President, Provisional Government- Republic of New Afrika, Founding lifetime member National Coalition Of Blacks for Reparations in America, NCOBRA: Trustee, Div. 330 UNIA/ACL

Donna Paluch
Loyola College of Law, New Orleans

Thea Patterson
Women's Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans

J. Nash Porter
Documentary Photographer and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge

Gloria Powers
Arts Project Manager NOLA

Valerie M. Prier

Bill Quigley
Loyola Professor of Law, New Orleans

Linda Santi, New Orleans

Roxanne Saucier
Student, New Orleans

Tony Sferlazza
Director of Plenty International NOLA

Heidi Lee Sinclair, MD, MPH
Baton Rouge Children's Health Project
Baton Rouge

Carole Smith
fine artiste (and i deserve to be kissed!)
Florence, AL

Justin Stein
Neighborhood Relations Coordinator and Community Mediator, Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans

Audrey Stewart

Paul Troyano
New Orleans

Tracie L. Washington, Esq.,
Director, NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Center, New Orleans

Scott Weinstein
former co-director of the Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans

Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

Jerald L. White
Bottletree Productions, New Orleans

Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

George "Loki" Williams
Founder, New Orleans Oral History Project / Humid City

Morgan Williams
Student Hurricane Network, Co-founder
New Orleans

Tyler Wilson, Rn,
Pediatric Registered Nurse

Gina Womack
Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children

Signatures from Activists and Allies outside the Gulf region:

Jim Ace
UNtraining White Liberal Racism
San Francisco

Ujju Aggarwal
Center for Immigrant Families, New York City

Kirsten Angel-Lambert
Art Educator

Denise Barnes
Prison Families Community Forum

Scott A. Barton
Board Member, Southern Foodways Alliance, Willie Mae’s Scotch House Restoration Project

Beverly Bell
Coordinator, Other Worlds collaborative, Albuquerque/New Orleans

Charles Boylan
Producer/Co-Host Wake Up With Co-Op!CFRO 102.7 FM
Vancouver, BC

James M. Branum
GI Rights Lawyer / Texoma Regional Vice President, National Lawyers Guild, Oklahoma City, OK

Ingrid Chapman
Catalyst Project and Critical Resistance Oakland

Kym Clark
Founder, Prison Families Community Forum

Chris Crass
Coordinator, Catalyst Project San Francisco

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Writer and University Professor, San Francisco

Hannah Eller-Isaacs
Unitarian Universalist Association St.Paul, Minnesota.

Cathey Golden
native New Orleanian
residing in Boston, Massachusetts

Ramon Golden
Boston, Massachusetts

Priscilla Gonzalez
Center for Immigrant Families, New York City

Kevin Alexander Gray
organizer & writer, Harriet Tubman Freedom House Project
Columbia, South Carolina

Saib Isa
Software Quality Assurance Engineer
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

John Janovy, Jr.
Lincoln, Nebraska

William M. Johnson
New York Rep. Common Ground

Chris Kromm
Executive Director, Institute for Southern Studies

Prita Lal
Center for Immigrant Families, New York City

Jen Marlowe

Sharon Martinas
Challenging White Supremacy workshop, San Francisco

Pilar Maschi
Critical Resistance, membership and leadership development director, nyc

Molly McClure
Catalyst Project,Oakland

Saiya Miller
student, Simon's Rock College of Bard
Great Barrington, MA

Meshá Mongé-Irizarry
Idriss Stelley Foundation , Law Enforcement Accountability

Christopher Monson
Architect and educator, Starkville, Mississippi

Claudia Montesinios
Architect, Atlanta

Jovita Natal
Prison Families Community Forum

Donna Nevel
Center for Immigrant Families, New York City

Cheri O'Donoghue
Prison Families Community Forum

Ricky O'Donoghue
Prison Families Community Forum

Beatrice Parwatikar
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace / INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Shoreham, VT

Ed Pearl
formerly of SNCC's Free Southern Theater, Los Angeles

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs
student Oberlin College, Ohio
former member of Common Ground Anti-Racist Working Group

Kyung Ji Kate Rhee
Executive Director | Prison Moratorium Project

Marc Rodrigues
Student/Farmworker Alliance Immokalee, Florida

Marion Rodriguez
Organizer, NY Campaign for Telephone Justice/Prison Families Community Forum

Gabriel Sayegh
Project Director, Drug Policy Alliance, NY

Mikell Grafton Skinner
Louisville, KY

Susan Slohm
Organizer with SEIU
Albuquerque, NM

Matthew Smith
Architect, Seattle Right of Return Committee
(formerly representing Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility)

Rebecca Solnit
San Francisco

Hon Andrew L. Somers Jr. (ret.)
retired Judge , Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Stephen Steinberg
Professor, Urban Studies Department, Queens College
New York City

Ken Stowar
Programme Director for CIUT 89.5FM the University of Toronto Community Radio station, Toronto, Canada

Uda Olabarria Walker
Left Turn Magazine
San Francisco, Ca.

Ivey Walton
Prison Families Community Forum

Sara Williams PAC
Carolina Peace Resource Center

Emily Winkelstein
Harm Reductionist and activist, Brooklyn, NY

Daniel Wolff
Nyack, N.Y.

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