Letter to Community

Lewis Wallace
Date Published: 
August 29, 2007

August 29, 2007


Dear friends and family,


I am writing to ask you to remember New Orleans.  Not as a city of the past, but as a vibrant important community that is struggling to rebuild now, two years after Katrina.  I'm sure you remember the storm, the images of survivors of the brutal economic impacts after Katrina, and the racist smearing of black New Orleanians as "looters".  But I'm guessing that most of what you see now about New Orleans makes little mention of the tens of thousands who have been prevented by economic injustice from coming back to their powerful city, and those who are still barely scraping by living in toxic FEMA trailers and gutted homes.  I'm guessing you have heard about the French Quarter's revival, but not as much about the boarded up public housing complexes throughout the city being squatted by their former residents. 


When I was in New Orleans for three weeks in May, I divided my time between a project attempting to detoxify soil in areas near levees, two over-full homeless shelters for women and families, and a project protesting the local and federal treatment of former public housing residents, most of whom now have no place to go in the city. 


I was shocked and pained by what I saw, and I will never see this country the same way.  New Orleans is being attacked from all sides by gentrification, condo developments, and a full-on takeover of the homes and spaces that a vibrant black community used to occupy.  I spoke to many New Orleanians who can't pay rent now in their own former neighborhoods.  FEMA has long since cut off most of its support to residents and the city is in the process of demolishing as many homes as they can get away with, many of which belong to people who have never been able to come back and don't even know their houses are being demolished.  Imagine coming back two years later to absolutely nothing. 


New Orleans has been an important location of struggle for racial justice for hundreds of years.  Organizations led by people of color and working-class people from New Orleans are still demanding basic self-determination for communities of color from NOLA, and asking for financial, political and moral support from the broader left in building a more just city. Some of these organizers are also doing the important work of visioning cities in which justice is fundamental to the structure, where a disaster like Katrina would be met with a truly humane response. 


I am asking you to support these organizations in any way you can.  Financial support in any amount is huge, but so is signing petitions, organizing events, and volunteering your time and energy in this struggle against racism and economic injustice.  


Please check out http://www.peopleshurricane.org/ to support the important political work of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Committee.  Please go check out http://www.survivorsvillage.com/  to find out about the amazing work of the Survivor's Village around public housing.  I would really encourage you to join the email list at http://www.colorofchange.org, a low-volume but high-impact online network fighting racism in the Gulf Coast and beyond. Finally, take the time to read a compelling letter from New Orleans organizers asking for our support, published earlier this year in Left Turn Magazine: http://leftturn.mayfirst.org/?q=node/573 


Two thousand people died during Katrina's assault on the Gulf Coast, and the lives of many more are still threatened by the lack of access to food, power, water, and home. 


Please, please join me in honoring these lost lives two years later, and supporting the people of New Orleans to keep on in their powerful and historic struggle.  Our futures are absolutely intertwined with theirs.