One would think it has, given the recent flurry of press releases from notables and politicians condemning the proposed demolition of the C.J. Peete, Lafitte, B.W. Cooper and St. Bernard public housing developments.
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter of protest to George Bush on December 14, hours before the demolition was set to begin. Presidential hopeful John Edwards, who was in New Orleans in mid-November, issued a statement on December 11, calling the housing crisis “the result of government policies that have failed the people of the Gulf since Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.” Edwards went on to charge that the Bush administration was trying to “make a bad situation worse.”
Pelosi cited a 2007 UNITY study which estimates the number of homeless in New Orleans has doubled from January 2005 to 12,000. 50% of the 200,000 displaced who want to return are earning less than $20,000 per year. Meanwhile, Brookings Institution estimates there has been a 9,000 unit decrease in housing since Katrina.
Whether by luck, hard work of local activists like Kali Akuna of People’s Hurricane Relief, or election year political design, officials with the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) agreed in the eleventh hour on Friday December 14 to partially halt the demolition. On Friday, a Louisiana State Court Order postponed all de-construction at C.J. Peete, Lafitte, and St. Bernard housing developments until the New Orleans City Council approves the decision. The New Orleans City Council announced it will take this matter up on Thursday December 20, 2007. Under the agreement, HANO will proceed with demolition work, approved in November 2003 by the City Council, at the B. W. Cooper (Calliope) housing development.
The issue of public housing, the poor, and a face-lift for New Orleans is at least as old as 2003, meaning the hurricanes and floods provided motive and opportunity for corporate interests to remake the Big Easy in their own image. This is not a conspiracy theory. A coalition of 200 human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, formed the U.S. Human Rights Network and prepared a “shadow report” in order to rebut a more positive report prepared by the US State Department and quietly submitted to the United Nations with no publicity or fanfare.
In no uncertain terms, the shadow report condemns the State Department Report as a “complete whitewash,” and charges that the Bush administration is contributing to “racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in the United States.”
Abuses include including voting rights, health care, housing, education, homelessness, police brutality and fairness in the criminal justice system.
Most outrageous is the charge, according to IPS (Inter Press Service) reports that the “official” US report "misrepresents and/or cherry picks data demonstrating ongoing racial disparities and discrimination" and "suffers from glaring gaps clearly aimed at covering up the most egregious examples of persistent racism and racial discrimination in the U.S. today."
Local Profiles in Courage
The most stunning observation for a writer upon arriving in Southern Louisiana is the lack of writers researching what may well become the biggest story of our time. We figured the place would be crawling with media, since the area looks like Katrina hit two months ago instead of two years ago. It was a shock to learn that being an outside journalist was a novelty. People wanted to meet you, to tell their stories, and went out of their way to do so. Local bars on the bayous had beers waiting as we walked in the door. Writers realize that everyone has a story and everyone likes to talk, but the narratives in New Orleans were epic and soon became emotionally and tactically overwhelming, even for reporters fresh from the complications and obfuscations of Africa.
That being said, local media, especially the Times-Picayune is doing a yeoman’s job covering post Katrina issues. What the national media pick up are the pronouncements by Pelosi and Edwards in the minutes before the bulldozers roll. The political media machine is a behemoth. It doesn’t take much courage for a politician to say what is obvious and popular at the moment.
However, what was extraordinary was the courage possessed by activists, artists, and entertainers that enabled them to tell the dark side of the story from the beginning and before the story became fodder for national media. Why courage? Because, unlike politicians who emote when the media cycle is “just so” and favorable, we had well-known people with a lot to lose in terms of “marketability” factors come forward to tell it like it is in New Orleans.
Many of you read popular Cajun Blues musician Tab Benoit’s eloquent plea for the wetlands and his brave statements in opposition to the agenda of Shell Oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Benoit was not afraid to take on the sponsors of IMAX’s Hurricane on the Bayou, and said that FEMA exercises were not about saving people, but about saving oil infrastructure.
Soon, we will be profiling Walter Williams, creator of Mr. Bill of Saturday Night Live fame. Williams’ studio in Burbank, California is quiet, since he has all but moved to New Orleans, the city he loves, while he fights for restitution for the wetlands. Williams has put everything on the line, is not afraid to say so, and was sounding the alarm BEFORE Katrina. His checkbook as well as his significant talent as a film maker is solidly behind his truth telling.
Then, there is Cyril Neville. Literally hounded because of early statements he made about government malfeasance and worse in the aftermath of Katrina, Neville boldly stepped up to the plate once again before the bulldozers rolled on his boyhood project home of Calliope and offered a song as well as his heart-felt plea for the city he loves and still calls home.
Consider also the freedom fighter from India whom we cannot name who is working fervently for justice in the poorest of the poor neighborhoods—a neighborhood not only recently devastated by the floods and winds, but a neighborhood filled with toxic waste dumps and concrete factories situated adjacent to playgrounds and nursing homes.
Finally, there is Susan Cowsill, who is probably most well-known for her stint as the youngest member of the Cowsills—The Rain the Park and Other Things—the prototype Partridge Family. The Cowsills were sixties icons, and baby boomers grew up with their feel-good hippie message before the message turned to darkness and swallowed entertainers like Jimi Hendrix and Janis. As a college student, this writer definitely leaned more towards Janis, but as an adult, Susan Cowsill became a personal hero of New Orleans.
In the interest of journalistic ethics I will say that we have become friends. Susan, her husband, Russ, his sister and I bonded like old hippies do. As soon as the family realized they knew a writer who was driving a hundred miles in the middle of the night to get a story somewhere in the sugar cane fields the next morning, they did what old sixties folks do and offered a couch at night and hot tea at dawn. Kindness forges strong bonds between weary travelers.
But it requires more than friendship to form the framework for admiration. Susan lost her brother, Barry Cowsill, to both his mental illness and the flood waters. We have told part of the story in OpEdNews and COA NEWS and the rest will be published soon in Glide Magazine. While formulating Barry’s story for Glide, we put together a slide movie with one of Susan’s original compositions, “Talkin,” as the soundtrack. The movie is an indictment of local, state, and federal inaction and malfeasance during the disaster. The video hits hard and although at first the timing seems comical, the viewer soon realizes the message is no joke.
Through a series of events including the total and legendary devotion of hundreds of Cowsill fans, the movie leaked before publication. People have been asking to see it published in progressive media. Meanwhile, Susan has gained more exposure as a talk show host, and professional advice to her was to think about sitting on the video, since it might cause her harm in the “Marketability” department.
Without missing a beat, Susan Cowsill replied that she was not going to change or censor her feelings or her viewpoint “because of television or radio gigs.” That is true heroism and gives one pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the sixties have survived in spite of GenX and GenY and the altars of money in the entertainment business.
We all have a very good reason to “love the flower girl.” New Orleans sure does.
I guess it is OK to say that. Check out the video/movie here.
Authors Website: http://www.thelegacyofdianfossey.com
Georgianne Nienaber has been an investigative environmental writer for more than thirty years and wrote a column for the Rwandan New Times. She lives in rural northern Minnesota. Recent articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, India's TerraGreen, COA News, The Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Africa Front, The United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer, AllAfrica.com, and Zimbabwe's The Daily Mirror. Her fiction exposé of insurance fraud in the horse industry, Horse Sense, was re-released in early 2006. Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was also released in 2006. She recently worked on the Coleen Rowley for Congress campaign, doing press and campaign events and just returned from Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in DRC as a MONUC-accredited journalist. Nienaber got acquainted with the music biz at Chicago's WLS radio after college and before Africa grabbed her attention. Her first interview was with Grace Slick who reminisced about her days as a card punch operator before Jefferson Airplane took her away.