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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

On Tuesday December 6, 2011 we took a stand. We took a stand against stealing people’s property in the name of recovery. We also took a stand to save a space we care enough about to rebuild with our own hands. This is a space that was active before I arrived in New Orleans, but I am determined to work with my family of comrades to get it back in fighting shape. Survivors’ Village isn’t just community space; it is a home base for those who understand the radical transformation necessary for us all to achieve liberation. And in this realization and the impending detriment that a loss of this space could be to realizing our vision and bringing it into the everyday reality bit by bit, we knew we had to stand up and shout “Stop!”

Sometimes a battle is dropped on your front door and demands that you are the one(s) to make change happen, you are called as the one(s) to start/finish/progress this fight. Well that is what happened when we were told that the City of New Orleans was trying to sell New Day Survivors’ Village through a Sheriff’s Sale. Not only was a piece of our livelihood being threatened, but we were also alerted to the injustice that is being illegally perpetrated against unable homeowners.

Survivors’ Village was not served notice that it was one of the properties to be auctioned at a forthcoming Sheriff’s Sale until less than a month before it was to be held. A $575.00 blight fine that had ballooned to over $9,000 after daily penalties were tacked on was what put the sale into motion. The amount of the daily penalties, being greater than half of the initial fine, per day. Months before the decision to put the property up for auction, the initial blight sighted had been remedied and improvements on the rest of the property were constantly being planned and carried out. We had not been notified that there was an ever increasing fee being lobbied against the property, nor were we aware that they decided to sell it.

Does the city really believe this is the best way to deal with blight? It appears to be an easy way to remove property from the hands of those that are poor and limited in their resources and ability to finish the necessary work on their homes. And with the lack of due process, in getting a judge’s order (a law has been implemented making this obsolete) or hiring a non affiliated curator to receive court documents on behalf of the defendant, who never receives them, the city is making it apparent that they are not concerned with reconnecting homeowners and displaced New Orleanians with their homes. But instead are satisfied being a huge obstacle for poor and displaced homeowners while placing advantage in the hands of the privileged who can buy, renovate and make a profit on these homes, further gentrifying New Orleans in the process.

As this picture became clearer we knew that the issue wasn’t just Survivors’ Village, it was this whole corrupt process. In a serendipitous fashion Occupy Wall Street declared December 6, 2011 a day of action against foreclosures. And since the City decided it was a creditor that was going to perform code lien seizures and then auction off these foreclosed upon homes after subsequent non payment of unfair fines. The Sheriff’s Sale was a perfect platform from which to decry the lopsided favor of the City. Many of the volunteers working to restore Survivors’ Village had been in some way or at some time engaged with the Occupy NOLA encampment, so reaching out to link our actions was the natural next step.

There was immediacy in the planning due to the impending sale, so we congregated together with a crew of dedicated activists that were willing to sit through long meetings and democratically come up with a strategy to stop this sale. It can be difficult to achieve consensus and a unified vision for how things should be done. We didn’t always agree on what we were hoping to realistically achieve, how confrontational we should be with the bidders or the wording of our message, but in the end consensus was reached, which is necessary reinforcement to further our fight for the reclamation of true democracy and must be practiced as a pinnacle radical value.

As a group we thought that our action to disrupt and possibly prevent the Sheriff’s stolen property sale could be disbanded quickly and we would be threatened with arrest, so we prioritized the language that needed to be delivered first. We had decided that this was not the most strategic time to take arrests, we would get in there, say our piece while holding it up for as long as possible and then either be off or stay in a silent protest with signage, depending on the level of police suppression; a guerilla strategy for the initial incitement.

Every time the auctioneer spoke through his microphone to begin the auction, our mic check illuminating and vilifying the process leading up to and including the auction would begin. The auctioneer would try to speak over us, but “the people united will never be defeated.” We mic checked, sang and chanted intermittently and rotating, deciding that if he wasn’t trying to proceed then we could save our voices and just be present in protest. After an hour and a half of this back and forth, start and stop, the police finally gave us a warning. We overestimated how long we would be tolerated and perhaps they overestimated how long we were willing to stay, which was longer than many of the potential bidders did. We gave two collective speeches after the first warning and then remained silent throughout the rest of the auction.

The auction did go on after two hours delayed, but we felt successful. Our will was felt and our home base was spared, it being virtually unsaleable due to taxes placed on it, which are not even applicable to the New Day nonprofit which owns Survivors’ Village (sometimes not doing paperwork on time is a benefit).

Another success was in connecting with people who are directly affected by this practice and these sales. A man at the auction asked for our help in stopping his house from being sold, so his property was included in the mic check, “do not bid on property…” was the demand. And even though his house opened at a low cost, it too was not bid on.

He was basically in the same position we were in, and the city refused to waive the extra outrageous daily fees and have him just pay the $575 even though he had complied with blight removal. It’s these people who don’t have the resources that we have (limited as they are) to fight the city, that are the most vulnerable and need to be represented; it’s for these people that we stand up and shout “STOP NOW!” It is for them and with all of those struggling with housing injustices that we will continue to fight until it is acknowledged and purported, that housing is a human right.

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The Katrina Commemoration Committee will sponsor its annual march from the base of the Industrial Canal in the 9th ward to Hunters Field on the 29th of August 2011.

Last year the prevailing thought was that the 5th year event was going to be the last chance to really make a statement because after that the media and others around the country/world would definitely move on to other events and disasters. That is probably true from a media marketing perspective, but for those of us that lived and are still living the disaster, moving on is not an option. The storm that brushed by New Orleans on August 29, 2005 was never the cause of the disaster. The shoddy work of the U.S. Government that led to the levee failures and flooded the city was only the beginning of our troubles. The real disaster began immediately after the storm when the city’s white supremacist economic elite and its “colored” collaborators decided to remake the city in their image, which strongly resembles a 21st century plantation. These collaborators which included the mayor, city council, head of HUD, and almost every black elected official, thought that the plan would only affect the poor, who they never represented anyway! They were not only unprincipled, but pretty misguided in not realizing that the majority of people in New Orleans were working poor and anything that affected them would change all the power relationships in the city.

It started almost immediately with the governor labeling blacks in New Orleans looters and giving the police department and National Guard the power to shoot to kill. This was parroted by the then mayor. We now can see how that worked out. Then the state took control of the public school system, firing all the experienced teachers and breaking the union. This was done for the expressed purpose of privatizing the industry, so now profit is the goal, not serving the children. Then it was decided that certain areas in the city should not be repopulated; all of these areas such as New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth ward, and all of the traditional public housing developments were areas that were almost exclusively black and working class. Then the decision was made to not open the public hospital that was a critical life line for the black working poor community.

Then the political attacks began, and are still going on!! Though the city is only 30% white, the white supremacist economic elite has used the weakened state of the black community— as well as the failure of blacks, other people of color, and progressive whites to forge any kind of united front–to take away any semblance of power by blacks and people of color in the city.  All of the major power bases in the city that were majority black are now majority white. This includes the mayor, city council, district attorney, police chief, school superintendent, and judges elected since the storm; in fact any position of power that has been filled since the storm has most likely been filled by a white person or a non New Orleans native. This has been accompanied by a sustained war against the poor, the homeless and all other lower working class persons in the city. Since New Orleans was declared a blank slate, we are the social experimental lab of the world. Anyone with money and a new idea…come to New Orleans…”they will accept anything.”

 This is just meant to be a sample of what has happened to the city since the storm. As a native New Orleanian and a Black person, I could go on and on with examples of how sad it feels to be politically and economically powerless in my own city. Suffice it to say calling this a 21st century plantation is not meant to be a joke.

 All people that believe in social justice should make it a point to march on August 29th. We cannot afford to move on because the disaster is not over; it’s an ongoing living event that seems to get worse each year since 2005. Therefore we must march each year in order to remind ourselves that we are in a fight and cannot rest!! We have lost many battles, but the war is ongoing and we must not quit!

I hope to see you at the levee breech on the 29th! 

AND after the march and program at Hunters field, everyone is invited to join the residents and former residents of the St. Bernard community in their annual

“UNITY IN THE COMMUNITY

CELEBRATION OF LIFE”

AT

3820 Alfred St

(the 3800 block of St. Bernard Ave.)

4pm-until

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As Survivors Village and May Day New Orleans begins its campaign to oppose the destruction of the last traditional public housing development in the city of New Orleans, a deep sense of dread and fear courses into my mind. Its been only a few years since the last major battle to preserve the four other developments was fought and ended in the brutalizing of activists from across the country and a total violation of the rights of all involved. Since December 20, 2007, many have come to believe that organizing public housing is a lost cause. Others have moved on to other areas of injustice that need to be addressed as much as public housing. Those of us who have organized in public housing for decades and feel that the attack upon Iberville cannot go unanswered must try to find a new approach and apply the hard-learned lessons of the anti-demolition struggle to the conditions that currently exist in Iberville.

Though we probably made many other mistakes that need to be addressed I am putting my focus on three areas. These areas are as follows:

  •  We cannot fight for the people, we must fight with them. As hard as this job will be, we must build a core group of Iberville residents to lead and fight for themselves. Of course, everyone agrees with this, but doing it is hard work. It is much easier to get a few residents to stand in front of the camera while activists do all the real work and decide on what is to be done. The major weakness of the anti-demolition struggle was that although in the beginning there was a strong core group of residents, as residents got scared off, bought off, or just discouraged, and quit, we decided that we had an obligation to move forward without them. That was a failed strategy. In Iberville the hard work to build a core group of residents must be our first step, and every step taken from that point must be decided by that group.
  • We need to diversify our strategy & provide numerous ways for residents and others to be involved: The anti-demolition movement was fueled by a group of extremely sincere and courageous people. It was clear that nothing would happen if we did not disrupt the normal operations of the city – so that’s what we did. Direct Action became the strategy instead of a strategy. All of our efforts were put towards this one form of struggle. We must have a much more diversified approach in Iberville –and one that is chosen by the residents themselves–if we are to make a significant impact. Many people are not in a position to go to jail, get brutalized, or lose their homes, but that does not mean that they don’t want to participate. We must find a way to get them involved.
  • We must have a plan that comes from the people: During the anti-demolition struggle, everyone knew that we were against the demolition of public housing. But it was never clear what we were for. Going into Iberville, once the group of residents are identified and organized, the next step will be those residents making decisions about what they want their community to become. We will then organize around what the people want, and not just be perpetual anti-everything gadflies in the eyes of those we are trying to organize.

These are some of the things that I have identified that we can do better in Iberville.

Many of you that will read this on the blog fought in the anti-demolition struggle, or have been involved in other housing struggles: what are your thoughts on these issues? Going into Iberville we need all the fresh Ideas we can get, please share yours.

by M. Endesha Juakali, JD

See the flyer being used in our work organizing Iberville here

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The property at 3820 Alfred Street has always been the focal point of the St. Bernard community. As the headquarters of the New Day Black Community Development Organization, it provided economic assistance, advocacy against injustice, day care services, job banks, GED programs, a youth club and many other social, political, and recreational services. There is not much left of what used to be our community physically, but the spirit, culture, and love for St. Bernard still lives. The FIGHTBACK center is the perfect place for the yearly Mothers’ Day reunions that the Big 7 parade has become.

Below are some pictures from this year’s parade and an interesting commentary by Endesha…..

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Regaining our culture of cooperation and struggle!

by M. Endesha Juakali

New Orleans and the St. Bernard community has always been a place where people enjoyed each other and loved a good party. But there is another part of our culture that I remember that seems to have disappeared lately. The original purpose of social aid and pleasure clubs was to assist the community and those who needed help. They were also called benevolent clubs because they were used to feed the hungry, help with rent and assist those in the community who were in need. A very large part of their benevolent activity was to bury indigent members of the community. The concept was that poor people could pool their pennies, nickels , and dimes into a sort of safety net for everyone. Therefore when they would come out yearly to embrace the pleasure side of the equation, the entire community had a good reason to party with the membership.

It seems that the current generation of participants have forgotten the original intent of these SOCIAL AID AND PLEASURE CLUBS. The aid part came first and the pleasure is at the end. Since the hurricane and levee breaches, the black community and all neighborhoods have been under constant attack by the forces of white supremacy and injustice. They have thus far been successful in their plan to turn back the hands of time.

 This necessitates a return to our roots, not only with helping each other, but also the community spirit to struggle against injustice.

The same brothers and sisters that put together the second line clubs also challenged the national guard tanks in 1968 with rocks and bottles after the murder of Martin Luther King. They were the ones that put together the Black Youth for Progress (BYP), and represented us in the historic period that saw segregation fall and issued in the Black political progress that has been overturned since hurricane Katrina.

The culture of St. Bernard has been based on helping each other, fighting for our rights, and having a good time. We are still having a good time once a year, but life is not about just partying…even in New Orleans!


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On Saturday, February 12, 2011 there was another spirited and successful work day at the FIGHTBACK center. The amount of work that has been accomplished in the last year is amazing, and I am truly grateful to the group of volunteers who have become passionate and consistent workers at the center.


The building at 3820 Alfred Street is the last vestige of the history of the struggle that was waged for decades in the St. Bernard community. It was really wonderful interacting with the many former residents of the community who came over to discuss the history of the building with the Delta corps volunteers during an earlier workday on MLK Day. I had forgotten some of the contributions that this building has made to the community and how many people had special times and events associated with it that they were anxious to share with others.


Since 1989, when the building was purchased by the New Day Black Community Development Corporation until now, this building has had only one purpose, to serve the people. Based on what was shared on MLK day it did its job well. As the headquarters for the movement, a daycare center, open office space for community residents, drug prevention services, youth recreation and social services, sponsoring sports teams and Sunday functions, headquarters for armed struggle against drug dealers during the crack epidemic, church services and other functions that even I didn’t know about.


I am looking forward to continuing this history in the future. The entire movement to stand up for the rights of people to safe, decent and sanitary housing post-Katrina was launched from this building, and the upcoming struggle for the right of the community to determine the future of this area will be based at this building.  I am very thankful to those that have seen and accepted my vision for the future use of the center.

On March 20, as spring returns to the earth, I plan to plant a liberation flag in front of the center and fruit trees for Mama Glo and Troy Avery, two passionate and strong community warriors who we lost in the past year. I hope to see you there.

Endesha

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The Survivor’s Village headquarters is located in an old community center on Alfred St. in St. Bernard. On Jan 17, Delta Corps members removed the shutters and began stripping the aluminum siding of paint to prep it for new paint. We scraped window trim and soffit. We deconstructed the back shed area, salvaged and removed nails from the lumber to be reused. We cleaned the back area as much as we could – we filled an entire dumpster until it was spilling over the top. We removed stumps along the south wall, to make way for raised beds of herbs and vegetables. Some things did not go as planned, yet we still got a lot of work done.

Neighbors and supporters told us about the history of this building and this block, as a place where babies were cared for while parents were at work, kids were offered tutoring and mentorship, teenagers would come and dance and socialize, and neighbors could congregate to make groceries and conversation together. SV cooked us lunch – grilled chicken (donated by Magnola Meat Market), salad (donated from Our School at Blair Grocery and Hollygrove Market and Farm), and Stephanie’s white beans and rice (made vegetarian specially for us). Endesha reminded us that Survivor’s Village started 5 years ago on Martin Luther King Day at this center to promote the right to housing, the right to dignity, and the right to self-determination of poor communities in New Orleans. We were led on foot through the new Columbia Parc development, and around the blighted and largely vacant neighborhood adjacent. “St. Bernard and other displaced residents have fought and fought against losing their homes, against losing their community,” Endesha told me. “I want this building to be the center of positive development in the neighborhood, something people can fight for and believe in.”

I am proud that our network took some leadership from Survivor’s Village and leveraged some of our resources to further their mission. I am proud of our ongoing effort to learn from SV and from the residents of New Orleans, to listen and respect the experiences of ordinary people. I am also proud of our effort to engage in an honest dialogue with SV about housing and about their struggle, despite some reservations, confusion, or discomfort we may have experienced.

Reading the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recognize that he always chose love. In the face of white hatred, bigotry, and withdrawal, and African American fury, frustration, and disenchantment, King implored us to love, as a choice and an action, which means to challenge one another, to be humble, caring, responsible, nonviolent, honest, respectful, and committed. This is my favorite quote:

 

“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

There are many people, neighborhoods and organizations in New Orleans and across the world working to change their circumstances for the better, to free themselves from domination and injustice, to create loving community. Our fate is bound up with theirs, “pressed down, shaken together, and running over,” in a larger struggle to realize Dr. King’s dream, to make a world where we can all realize our potential. We all bring valuable knowledge and resources to this mission. Let us be aware, let us learn and teach, let us love, and let us have faith in our potential.

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Sharon Jasper keeps her voucher!!

A major victory for residents and the movement!

The recent failure of the housing authority to take away Sister Sharon Jasper’s voucher is a major defeat for (King) David Gilmore and the regressive forces that are currently managing HUD/HANO. Make no mistake, King David needed his other subjects to understand that not groveling at his feet could have serious and dreadful consequences. When he summoned Ms. Jasper to his throne, and told her that if she would apologize, he would stop the termination process and she showed up with her lawyers, refusing to give up her dignity and self respect, and accepted the threat of homelessness, she set a bad precedent for his other subjects.

The cat is out of the bag now: the king is not invincible. He can be beat. Residents can fight back and win. The Jasper case shows that.

NOW ON TO IBERVILLE!!

This victory also shows that there is still a very strong, diverse group of social justice activists in the city of New Orleans, and the struggle appears to be getting its second wind after the devastation of December 20, 2007 and the great sadness that enveloped all of us after we lost the battle to preserve the public housing communities after Hurricane Katrina.

The local movement has been joined by strong support group of national and international progressive social justice activists. This is a very important development because New Orleans will be the epicenter of the attempt to implement all of the private property related initiatives that the right envision for the next decade. Subsequently, we need progressive forces to continue to support the front line forces and soldiers as we fight to stop the flood of injustice and greed that has infected our city since we were weakened by Hurricane Katrina.

We must stay on the battle field with our swords and shields held high!!

 

FUTURE BATTLEGROUNDS :

  • the “one strike rule” is cruel and unjust on its face and has caused many poor black women to lose their homes. It must go!!
  • Iberville must be preserved for current residents and preserved in a manner in keeping with their right to self-determination!!
  • PETRA must be opposed!!

 

Many thanks to all who have fought these battles with us thus far!!

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES…

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