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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

This coming week, Christians around the world will commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do you have plans to commemorate this Holy Week? I’d like to urge you to spend part of your Easter Sunday joining with Survivors Village for a Right to Return March and Rally. When you think of Easter, you probably don’t think of a political rally. You probably think of church services, Easter parades, the Easter bunny, Easter baskets full of sweets, egg hunts and family gatherings. What does a “Right to Return March and Rally” have to do with Easter??

The word commemorate comes from the Latin “commemorāre” which means “to be mindful of.” During Holy Week, Christians should be mindful of how Jesus lived his life, how that got him killed, and how his resurrection demonstrates that the ability to kill and destroy posssessed by this world’s “powers that be” does not have the final word.

So how did Jesus live his life? What did he do that so alienated and enraged the religious and political leaders of his day, enough so that they decided the best option was to kill him? What does following his example in these things mean for us in 2010? In what way are we called to “live out” the final word of resurrection? These questions are ones that I believe all committed Christians need to struggle with.

When I think of Jesus’ life, I think of his first public proclamation of what his life was all about: “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4: 16-21). I think of how he “hung out” with poor folks and others who the society of the day saw as undesirables (the kind of folks that many folks might want to clear from their neighborhood or city if given the chance to create a “new” New Orleans) (cf: Mark 13: 41-44; Luke 7: 36-49; Mark 5: 24-34; Mark 1: 40-43; John 4: 1-27). I think of his saying “You cannot serve both God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24), telling the rich man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor (Matt 19: 16-24), and claiming that we would be judged by how we respond to the poor (Luke 17: 19-31). I think of him overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple just a few days before he was killed (Matt 21: 12-18).

Survivors Village is a group of former St. Bernard Housing Development residents and their allies. The demolition of St Bernard and other public housing developments in New Orleans was “justified” with the promise that residents would be granted newer, safer, and more modern housing. Instead, residents are being systematically excluded from the land they lived on prior to the storm using income requirements, credit and background checks and other oppressive rules. This is on top of the fact that from the beginning, plans excluded them from 75% of the rebuilt apartments which were reserved for mixed income (non-poor) tenants.

So on Easter Sunday, April 4 at 5 pm, Survivors Village will be hosting a Right to Return March and Rally. The rally at 3800 St. Bernard Ave. will also serve as the starting point for the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC)’s march from New Orleans to Detroit Michigan for the US Social Forum. Come live out your commitment as a follower of Jesus on this day when we commemorate ressurection by joining with Survivors Village and PPEHRC and sending a message to today’s “powers that be” that their plans to destroy the former St. Bernard neighborhood will not have the final word.

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This was a very rich year for me.  True, I didn’t have any money most of the time.  Further, I didn’t acquire any significant material objects.

But I have never determined richness based on money or material things.  All my children are well and moving forward.  My immediate family is generally healthy.  My younger brother has finally decided to battle and defeat a demon that has diminished the quality of his life for two decades.  And I am ending the year strong and determined.

I have had the support of good friends and comrades from Copenhagen to Ghana to Thailand.  I have met and bonded with people of good will from all over America.  I have fought with good, strong and generous people of all cultures, races, and religious beliefs from all types of backgrounds across the U.S. and the world.

I really believe the most important things in life money can’t buy. On this eve of a new year, I challenge everyone to evaluate life minus the taint of materialism and see how great things are for those of us who have found a true purpose for living!

I also would like to make a prediction for 2010:  the sun will shine, grass will be green, flowers will bloom, AND…THOSE OF US WITH A MISSION WILL CONTINUE THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE.

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Recently, three people from Bluffton, Ohio –Wendy and Andy Chappell-Dick and Jonah Agner–traveled to New Orleans to complete three days of work on the Fight Back Center.  Pictures of the work these folks completed on the building will be COMING SOON to the blog! In the meanwhile, below are Wendy’s reflections on the trip.

The Situation as We Currently Understand It by Wendy Chappell-Dick

The poorest people living in New Orleans don’t need volunteers. They need money. Not that highly skilled folks or willing college students aren’t nice to have around, but there is such a thing as the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.  The fed, state, local, celebrity, and charity programs are not reaching the majority of people who need it most: renters, former public housing residents, and families who have owned homes for generations but do not have the legal red-tape paper trail to prove it. When neighbors or observers asked what we were doing there and we told them we were working on re-building a community center, the first thing people said was, “got jobs?” New Orleans has the biggest construction project you can imagine and thousands of willing workers in the destroyed neighborhoods that have no jobs.

Why? Poor people have no capital. No money to pay for supplies or hire their friends and neighbors to help with labor. Those of you who sent money~ thank you! It paid for our work crew’s food, gas, and the building supplies needed to re-build the outside wall of the Fight Back Center, repair the broken and missing windows, buy and install a working, secure front door, and clean and paint one room in the gutted building that will become Endesha’s until the center is ready to re-open. In short, it saved the building from becoming condemned.  Perhaps more important than our small three days of labor, thanks to you we left over $1000 in the bank. The Fight Back Center can use this money to hire someone to fix the roof, haul away the wreckage piles around the building, and do plumbing and electrical to get a working bathroom. All of this doesn’t just fix up a community center. It allows neighbor to help neighbor, seeding a new local economy of mutual aid and small scale business.

Along with Endesha, we met two other men who are each part of local housing initiatives in their various neighborhoods: Sam http://www.maydaynolahousing.org/ (part of our work crew) and Mack http://lower9thwardvillage.org/ (who provided a lot of helpful equipment). They work together in a large network of activists and leaders who come from the areas that are destroyed. They’re funded by almost no outside grants or programs. How can we get money directly to people like them?

Our path to them was through connections with Pam Nath.  When Mennonite Central Committee was preparing to start a relief/development project in New Orleans they realized the many pitfalls that other groups were falling into, alienating the very communities they were there to help. They hired Pam, an anti-racism trainer, to live in New Orleans and to listen. She is there to meet people, to learn from them, and to help them in their struggle without taking it over. After years of this, Pam works and lives in the African American community, still listening, mindful of temptations for white privilege thoughtlessness to take power-over. She is not there to start or take over a project; she is there to guard against MCC falling into that oh-so-familiar pattern. Pam knows people and people who know people. I trust her connections and activist network . When I come back to New Orleans, I’ll come to eat, celebrate, visit friends, and maybe have a good day on the worksite. But meanwhile, to really make a difference, I hope to try to find money to send to Pam’s friends and political community. They’ll know what to do with it.

As for Pam’s friend Endesha, http://www.cwsworkshop.org/katrinareader/node/248 he plans to move in next week, even without running water or electricity. He will finally be back in his neighborhood, a few blocks from the elementary school he went to 50 years ago and across from the razed public housing complex where his mother brought him up along with seven siblings. He’ll keep working to pave the way for others to come home, and “fighting back” in the hope they’ll have a place to come back to.

The people with power in New Orleans have no intention of making it possible for the city’s poor to come home. Recently four of the city’s largest public housing complexes were torn down even though they had no structural damage from the storm. Why should they help people without jobs come home? https://communitiesrising.wordpress.com/

Endesha says it best, “Lately, the politicians and the media have been discussing who should and shouldn’t be allowed to come home. Those without jobs are deemed undesirable. It appears that some people have given up on ridding New Orleans of poverty; now they just want to declare war on poor people. But every citizen has an absolute right to return to his neighborhood unconditionally — job or no job.”

There is no intention to “fix” the levee protecting the poorest area of town. Why would they want a working levee to protect those neighborhoods? If that levee had not broken, the financial district and French Quarter would have been destroyed. We heard from people who swore the levee was blown up the night of the storm, eyewitness accounts of hearing the blasts. Purposeful or negligent, there is good reason for the city to sacrifice the people in the slums. It will happen again (and it happens everywhere).

Think words like ethnic cleansing and apply them to economic and racial injustice.

Conclusion:

I’ve never seen a city like New Orleans. Unique, disarming architecture that gave me an amazingly consistent sense of place (except for the new building developments which look like all the rest of urban sprawl across America, and the Brad Pitt houses which look like modern art spaceship mansions). According to Big Mike, each neighborhood in New Orleans used to have its own special style of cooking, its own scene, soul and spirit. “They say the spirit of New Orleans is back, but it’s not back. It’s not coming back. The soul was in the neighborhoods, and those people are scattered. They’re gone and they’re not coming home.”

But I can sure see why they want to.

Endesha points out that the poor of New Orleans are used to fighting on their own. “The people were left to their own devices to survive the crisis. We will come back using our own devices.”

http://restorehousingrights.org/

Trip to New Orleans: Short Version

Most Fabulous Event: Spoken Word Asia Rainey http://www.asiarainey.com/#/bio/4522435086 and Sunni Patterson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBY0i5DMItA&feature=related and many more

Most Fabulous Surprise: all the natural beauty in this unfamiliar bio-region, huge tropical plants we keep in tiny pots here, bayou, lake, air smelled like water even in the slums, huge wild oak

Most Shocking Sight: the flimsy levee by the poorest area of town compared to the earthworks with rock reinforcements in the rich neighborhoods of town

Best Corner Store: Spider Convenience: headquarters of bathrooms, breakfast, battery charging, coffee, and taxi calls… most of the neighborhood’s only gathering place

Best Eats: Gumbo with crab legs sticking out of it like a delicate flower

Most Fabulous Souvenir: several used Mardi Gras costumes found in the back of the Green Project re-cycled building supplies store

Best Road Tunes:

Sigur Ros http://www.youtube.com/user/sigurros?blend=1&ob=4#p/u/3/Ezc4rcPOqWo

Jim Kweskin and his Jug Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcX0CbqVGVQ

Best Quote: (by Wendy, upon entering a Waffle House in the middle of the night on our drive down) “How can anything be this perfect?”

Biggest Adventure: When Big Mike drove me home in a white stretch limo for free (hmmm, long story)

Most Delightful Thing I’ll Never Tire of Looking At: the gorgeous house style and architecture all over New Orleans!

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It was early January 2008.  After months of planning my return home from Houston, I was finally at the Housing Authority of Houston ready to submit my formal request to return home.  Happily I walked up to the desk and said, “I need to have my voucher transferred back to New Orleans please.”  The lady behind the desk replied, “You need to speak to the person who is currently handling transfers.”  Finally a tall slender white man appears.  Without hesitation, he said, “We are not transferring any vouchers back to New Orleans right now.”  Although I was in a state of shock I replied, “What do you mean? I need to go home! This move was only supposed to be temporary due to the storm.”

After a few minutes of going back and forth, it was clear the Houston Housing Authority had plans on utilizing my voucher indefinitely.  At that moment I completely lost it and began to cry right there in the middle of the office.  It was just inconceivable to me as to how in the United State of America you could be held hostage in a place you were shuffled to during the worst natural disaster in history.

Once the tears dried I went into survival mode, thinking “I will not be held somewhere against my will while someone else cashes in on my despair!” The fight was on! I proceeded to call every agency from Washington to New Orleans screaming “I want to go home and I refuse to be held here any longer!”  After three months of getting the runaround, losing my lease and moving into a hotel for another two months, the call finally came.  The Housing Authority of New Orleans had received my paper work.  I was free!

How could this happen?  Why was there no plan for us to get back home?  Why were there no city officials from New Orleans demanding the release of their citizens?  How many more people are stranded in places all over the U.S.?

They are many of us out there, unable to get home, beaten down physically and financially, while New Orleans needs them to fill vacant houses, to fill job openings by locals who deserve their jobs back and to reinvest resources along with a commitment to rebuild our beautiful city.  Why haven’t we made a way to save our people?  We should be tired of others coming into our city only to make money and complain about the crime, the residents, elected officials etc… while taking money out of the city, only to invest it in their perfect little neighborhoods.

Step up New Orleanians!

Fight to regain control of your city!

Come home with a commitment to rebuild our city, and those of you who are home, stop complaining and actually “do some work” to make things better in your community! We are proud, smart, resourceful people! Let’s show the world that side.

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The power that controls the city of New Orleans has always consisted of an all white political elite and their black political vassals. Since the middle 70’s until now, the city has been an almost perfect example of a neocolonial state as defined by Kwame Nkrumah.  Though blacks were titular heads of state, the real power brokers have always been white men. This group has always had a fantasy that at some time they would have the opportunity to take New Orleans back in time to what they perceived as the good old days. Removing poor blacks from the centrally located,valuable land on which public housing developments were built was always high on the must do list.

Katrina gave these power elites the golden opportunity to implement their plan.  The attack upon public housing was both immediate and total.  Congressman Richard Baker (R, Baton Rouge) was quoted as stating “We couldn’t get rid of public housing in New Orleans, but God did it for us.”  Soon after this, Alphonse Jackson (the Bushie head of HUD with prior business dealings with the company given the contract to redevelop St. Bernard) stated “New Orleans will never be majority black again because black people do not own anything.”  The Times Picayune which serves as a major propaganda organ for the economic elite, published an editorial arguing that opening public housing in the same state as it was prior to the storm would be a major mistake along with a front page article entitled:  The (New) New Orleans:  Smaller, Whiter and more Affluent. Finally, Jackson delivered the death blow by announcing that the four major public housing units in New Orleans would be demolished!

Though this was always the plan of the major players in the city, they were too cowardly to attempt it when the people were here.  It was no surprise that they would use a disaster brought about by a total disregard for the poor and black to further victimize those same people.

These people have no conscience, no morals and no regard for humanity!!

What they do should not surprise us!!!

THE REAL QUESTION IS WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

A very tough battle was fought for almost three years, culminating in an act of repression that has not been seen in a major Southern city since the 1960’s.  The decision by the Mayor and City Council on December 20, 2007 to taser, pepper spray and arrest those who came to speak out in favor of reopening public housing shows how far they are willing to go in order to exclude the poor, the black, and renters from the city’s recovery.

NOW WE MUST DECIDE HOW FAR WE ARE WILLING TO GO!

AS I WRITE THIS ARTICLE, OVER 150,000 NEW ORLEANIANS, MOSTLY BLACK AND POOR HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO RETURN TO THE CITY. Most are living in strange cities separated from family and lifelong friends.  They are in this situation not because they don’t want to come home but due to the fact that either their homes have been demolished or the state, city, and federal governments have created other impediments and withheld support because they were not property owners.

THOUGH WE HAVE LOST BATTLES, THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!!

  1. We must insure that residents have the right to return and occupy as many of the rebuilt units as possible.
  2. We must fight for residents participation in the rebuilding of their communities and share in the economic benefits (something required by federal regulations).
  3. Since only a small part of the land has been funded for development, we must start now to assist in organizing residents to rebuild the rest of their community in their own image.

FIGHT BACK NOW!!

We must be aware that at some point, FEMA assistance to aid our citizens in these far away cities will end.  Let’s not wait until this next crisis occurs to start the battle.

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