Our Projects, United, Shall Never Be Defeated!!
Join the Summer of Struggle in New Orleans to Reopen and Expand Public
Housing in the City and Across the Country.
Most attention on New Orleans, of late, has focused, on the unfair local
elections, particularly the Mayoral race. Although some 300,000 New
Orleanians, overwhelmingly African American, are still in exile, the state
government, with federal court approval, have decided to go ahead and hold
elections for local office holders.
For the April 22nd first round, and May 20th run-off, elections, evacuees
outside the state, which are disproportionally African American--102,000
blacks compared to 48,000 whites eligible to vote--have no polling stations.
Instead, an absentee voting system, which is very difficult to navigate,
especially for those with poor reading levels, are offered as the only
option. As voting rights activist Beulah Labostrie noted, "The way [the
instructions are] written, it's complicated and not that easily understood.
The people will maybe be scared off by that". Kwame Asante, Louisiana state
director for the NAACP, added that "information was confusing at best," for
absentee voting. Many thought, Asante added, that requesting an absentee
ballot meant they would need to have it notarized, and that they would have
to spend "some amount of money." Also since many evacuees have had to move
several times, many never even received a ballot.
In what Glen Ford and Peter Gamble correctly call "a farcical exercise in
faux democracy," the ruling elite in New Orleans have decided to dump their
pre-hurricane savior, former Cox cable executive Ray Nagin. Many of the
corporate donors that poured money into Nagin's 2002 run have switched
horses to Ron Forman and Mitch Landrieu, two white candidates close to the
dominant tourist industry. Although Nagin has made it into the May 20th
runoff election, the quarter century strategy of corporate elites relying on
African American bourgeois politicians to manage their affairs in the city
may be coming to an end. The ruling elite are now pushing for the return of
white-dominated political rule to oversee their neoliberal, privatized
"reconstruction" plan for the city.
The Other Struggle
While the elite engineer the disenfranchisement of Black working class
voters through 21st century poll taxes and other measures, people continue
the fight to get back to the city. This struggle--Black working class
efforts to reclaim their city and homes and official efforts to block that
return--was visualized on April 4th at New Orleans St Bernard housing
complex. Although the well built 1940s and 1950s constructed brick 2 and 3
story townhouses only received water on the first floors, local and federal
authorities have made no commitment to repair the over 1300 desperately
needed rent controlled apartments. Instead of repairs, the local housing
authority has spent millions fencing off the St Bernard and other
Realizing the agenda of authorities, St Bernard housing project residents
decided to take matters into their own hands on April 4th, the 38th
anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. Working with C3/Hands
of Iberville and the United Front for Affordable Housing--two local groups
that have received little national attention on those writing about New
Orleans--scores of residents drove in from exile in Houston and Atlanta to
take back their homes. After a short rally over 100 residents and
supporters began marching behind 70 year-old wheel-chair bound St. Bernard
resident Gloria Irving, and her escort, long time activist Endesha Juakali.
Irving and Juakali, followed by about a dozen other residents, rushed past
the housing authority security officers and New Orleans cops that were
blocking the entrance into the development. Those that did not make it in
began pushing and tearing against the fence as the cops desperately tried to
prevent more residents from entering the project.
Although residents did not permanently occupy their apartments, they sent a
clear message: they want to, and will, return. As Gloria "Mama Glo" Irving
exclaimed after she broke through the police lines, "If I have to die, let
me die in New Orleans...I wants to come home!!" The action, which received
extensive local, and some national, media coverage, erased the carefully
constructed message that black working class evacuees were content in their
new homes and had no plans to return. To further show their resolve
residents are now planning a tent city in front of the development. As FEMA
rent support payments begin to end for evacuees, more are expected to join
The Public Housing Movement Grows
The St Bernard action has inspired other public housing residents. On April
18th residents of the Iberville project marched to the local HUD office to
demand the reopening of all the apartments at the development. They were
joined by St. Bernard project residents who chanted, "the projects, united,
shall ever be defeated," as they marched through the city's central business
district. Even the official, city-wide, tenant leadership, which has been
relatively silent since the hurricane, held a press conference to demand the
reopening off all ten of the city's public housing developments. They also
have called for a rally at the next housing authority board meeting to
demand that the federal government end their receivership and return the
city's housing authority to local control.
The Struggle for Public Housing: Local and National Implications
The struggle to reopen public housing is key to the immediate return of
African American working class families and stopping the ruling elites class
and racial cleansing agenda. It is critical since, one, the city's over
7,000 public housing apartments are rent controlled and in relatively in
good shape compared to the private housings stock. They can, and must be
repaired and reopened to provide a real chance for people to return. A
second key importance for re-opening New Orleans public housing is that
works to contain rent prices in the private sector, which have doubled and
tripled since the hurricane.
The attempt to use the hurricane to destroy New Orleans public housing
cannot be seen in isolation from political developments across the country.
Recent federal budget cuts--which are directly related to the war in
Iraq--are hitting public housing across the country. For example, in New
York City public housing authority officials are responding to cuts from
Washington by jacking up rents and cutting back on services. These cuts are
coming at a time when housing costs have skyrocketed across the country and
made the search for well located affordable housing a virtual impossibility
for many working class people.
What we need now this country is not the destruction, but the massive
expansion, of well built, located and democratically run public housing. We
must reverse the attack that both Democrats and Republicans have carried out
for a generation. The struggle in New Orleans to defend public housing is a
key part of turning that tide. Join us this summer in this important fight!!