Grassroots Group Plans Thanksgiving Relief Effort in New Orleans

Jessica Azulay
Date Published: 
September 27, 2005

Poor New Orleanians who continue to rely mostly on themselves and on grassroots-level support will get a big helping hand from activists across the United States later this month.

Nov. 10, 2005 – In an effort to help the struggling residents of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward and to pressure authorities to reestablish services in that devastated area, a grassroots relief group is organizing hundreds of volunteers from across the country to converge on the Crescent City over Thanksgiving week. Organizers of the initiative, which is called the Roadtrip for Relief, say they hope the influx of people ready to help will offer hope to the Ninth Ward and other neglected communities in the region.

Kerul Dyer, road-trip coordinator with the New Orleans-based organization Common Ground Collective, said participants will work one block at a time to clean up debris and help residents return to their community. Common Ground also plans to set up a community center in the neighborhood, test soil and water and help people set up generators and other sources of power.

"The Ninth Ward has a history of neglect," Dyer told The NewStandard. "The city, state and federal governments have ignored the situation there. The power is not on there. And there is great need."

The group also plans to send some roadtrip volunteers to the Houma area in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, where communities were devastated by Hurricane Rita. Members of the collective have been running relief supplies to that area – about an hour and a half southwest of New Orleans – since right after Rita hit.

Dyer said the group is hoping for about 300 volunteers and that groups from Maine to California have responded to Common Ground’s call for help. She said there were people working full time in San Francisco and New York to coordinate people from those cities who plan to travel to New Orleans.

Susan King, one of a group of coordinators for people traveling from the San Francisco area said they expect about 50 people to go to New Orleans from there. Activists have held several organizing meetings to offer basic information about the situation in Louisiana and assist with fundraising and logistics for people interested in going. King said they are helping people interested in joining the roadtrip to find and fund their own transportation.

The organizers will also hold an anti-racist training on Sunday in San Francisco for trip participants.

"We're going to stand with these people and their right to return [to the Ninth Ward]," said King of the need for education about racism and its relation to solidarity work. "Most of the people coming are people of privilege because they have the time and the money to go... so the training is designed to give people an awareness of what they don't know."

San Francisco volunteers are also working to obtain donated supplies to take with them. When they arrive, Common Ground will provide places to sleep and food for all volunteers.

"We need to show that people have some sense of civic responsibility," said Dyer. "New Orleans residents need to know that people care. One of the goals is to just provide hope. This part of the city and been devastated and it’s time to take matters into our own hands. We do solidarity work, not charity. We help neighbors help neighbors."

Organizers say the project, which will take place from November 20-27, is still looking for more volunteers. Dyer said they especially need plumbers, electricians, attorneys and doctors.