Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Katrina: Ten Years On. Lets not forget.

warnings on the doors
 On this anniversary I dedicate this to all the working people who suffered and are still suffering the affects of Katrina. I also dedicate it to the African American people who fought the Black revolt and changed the world. And to the world's music and culture. Even though it was written ten years ago it still stands. 

 I went to Katrina to fight evictions after the hurricane hit. I was active in a renter’s rights campaign and another activist had gone down there to build links with other activists and also to fight the evictions which were taking place at the rate of 1000 a week at one point.

People, mostly poor black people, were staying in motels as close as Houston and as far away as here in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, landlords were throwing their belongings out in to the streets in New Orleans in their absence. I stayed in a FEMA camp in Algiers along with the two friends I went down there with. I also met there some Muslim women from fresh from Indonesia who had experienced that terrible tsunami and were in New Orleans to help American victims.

This was a far greater disaster than the attacks on 911 but it was the result of domestic failures not foreigners so they would like us to forget it. The Army Corps of Engineers admitted that it was the failed levees that caused much of the death and destruction and although the weaknesses of these structures was known, the money or will to do something was absent. After all, we are talking about poor people here. If my memory serves me right there was not one city bus that took one person out of New Orleans.

Sometime after I met a Katrina refugee up here in the Bay Area who was stuck in the football stadium for nine days, we organized some meetings and fundraisers for the victims here. And we should also remember that entire fishing communities were destroyed in that tragedy and a couple hundred thousand homes along the Gulf coast were uninhabitable or washed away. (I'm not sure of this number without researching it but I know there were a lot of people displaced along the coast. I regret not having the time to write something anew but I am including a piece I wrote when I was there, in 2005. I also took some pictures and some of them are included in this posting.
Public sector housing

The Attack On Our People In New Orleans

Richard Mellor
AFSCME Local 444, Retired
Sept. 2005

I couldn't help thinking about something today that we should all remind, ourselves of. But first; an introduction of sorts.

I came to the U.S. in 1973, to New York City.  I wasn't outwardly political although I was moving in that direction. One thing I was involved in was music.  I loved the blues.  Like a whole section of English kids we were raised listening to the blues and its offspring, Rock and Roll.

Howling Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy (one of the first names I remember), Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and of course, Chuck Berry, who, influenced Rock and Roll so much. There was also Nina Simone, one of the greatest. These were the people that made such beautiful rhythm.  It was music that working class folks could relate to. These older black folks influenced the likes of Lonnie Donegan and later on for me, the great blues bands of the sixties.

Rod Price who went on to greater fame in Foghat was in a band called Black Cat Bones. They made one album, Barbed Wire Sandwich; I still have it.  I loved it.  On that album was a song Nina Simone sang, Four women.  It's a song about women of different shades of skin color in the states, black, brown, yellow.  Here were four white rockers singing this song.  When one wants to understand the difference between racism in Britain and in the U.S. one only has to imagine four white rock and rollers singing this song in the U.S.; I don't think it happened.  Bob Dylan made some great political music but a band of this nature? I can't imagine it, but I'm not a music historian and could be wrong.  It also shows how the civil rights movement influenced Britain and the world and that it was brought to some of us through music.

The contribution of Black America to world culture is beyond description in its greatness.  The old blues guys sung about love and poverty and drinking and fighting and racism.  The blues is not unlike its cousin, country music in that sense, and all working class music, which expresses our life.  Naturally, the Blues included racism in a way that country music couldn't have, or should I say did, but from a prejudiced perspective, reflecting the ideology of the racist white bosses expressed through white working class music.

But these old Blues men and women brought the racism of American life to the world.  Nina Simone was particularly vicious in her condemnation of American society.  Less overtly political perhaps Big Bill Broonzy with his Black White and Brown gave us a glimpse of life for Blacks in the U.S.

All the British names escape me now.  I remember Alexis Korner and Long John Baldry who just died.  I used to go to concerts to listen to Joanne Kelly, the British Bessie Smith and her brother Dave Kelly who was with Tony T.S. Mcphee in the Groundhogs.

So when I came to the U.S. in 1973 I went to work in this factory in Manhattan, Spring Street was the location.  I have heard that is has become all yuppiefied now. It was grueling work, as anyone that works or has worked in a factory knows.  You're timed by that damn belt.  Nothing ever ends.  Nothing is really completed in a way.  At least when I dug holes and worked in ditches putting something or another in the ground, I got a sense of completion when the water ran through that pipe, or the sewage.  With the assembly line, packing boxes, it never ended, was there in just the same way the next morning.  Adding to this was the fact that the day I quit it was 113 degrees in the place; they had salt tablets by the fountain.

But at first I was so excited.  The place was full of black guys.  I was the only white guy in the place that I recall except for the boss and two boss's kids working there during their summer vacation. The excitement had another source; so many of them played music, wrote music, performed music.  Boy, was I lucky.  Here I was in the midst of the people who transformed British music, who freed us from the dismal constraints of whatever there was before, I can't remember too well. I know my mum liked Bing Crosby and Slim Whitman, but country music just didn't rouse me like the Blues.

But I got a surprise.  Most of these folks were younger guys; they weren't in to the blues.  In fact, when I mentioned Big Bill Broonzy, no one had ever heard of him.  They were in to soul and R&B and Jazz.  In the worst-case scenario one young guy seemed to think the blues was sort of uncle tomish. It was an interesting lesson for me. And I have learned much more in the last 30 years in America.

So, back to my opening sentence.  The scenes in New Orleans of black folks, poor working class folks, my comrades, sisters and brothers being treated like dogs by this corrupt, rotten system.  It's not surprising or new.  All workers lives are expendable white black or otherwise but as I looked at the faces of the older black folks in particular I couldn't help thinking about the civil rights movement.  This is the south.  It was one of the most vicious regimes that ever existed.  It was sheer terror for a whole section of its population.  It was state terror too; let's not forget that.  There weren't roving bands of marauders that would be brought to justice by the state for their crimes.  They were the local businessmen and sheriffs and local politicians who were all in on it; it was hell.

As I was sharing this with my wife who is Chinese American I couldn't help thinking that many of these older folks being pissed on in New Orleans by the government and slandered by the racist capitalist media, must have participated in the civil rights movement.  I say this not to undermine the struggle of white workers or any other specially oppressed minorities or women but the fact that my wife went to college, as did other Asian Americans of that period.  The fact some of my Latino friends had the same opportunity.  The inclusion of the ethnic studies departments in the universities, the creation of jobs in the public sector like where I worked, the advances white women have made as a minority group; we owe this to the heroic struggle of working class black youth who faced dogs and guns and water cannons and the state in the struggle to end the vicious apartheid system that existed in one fifth or so of the United States.

They led that movement which benefited us all, and many of them are floating in the squalid

cesspools of New Orleans you can bet on that.  They are being portrayed as looters and helpless by the rich man's media yet they are some of the brothers and sisters who challenged the mighty U.S. capitalist class and forced them to retreat.  This lesson is also forgotten by the black middle class who, like any of the middle class who convince themselves that they have advanced through their own individual efforts alone.

The images that the racist media brings to us subtly and not so subtly are no different to any other tactic the capitalist class uses to divide and weaken the working class. They are filth, these people.  The news media, the tennis stars I saw yesterday with their Nike symbols all over them are nothing but the paid and sold out whores of capitalism. The bosses might have gone a little too far here.  I don't know much about him but that rapper who accused Bush and the U.S. of not caring about black people and the poor in general is a good start.

I am grateful to those who helped educate me and save me from what could have been the narrow confines of working class life, the black folks of the U.S. played a very prominent role in that for me before I ever met them.  Seeing the black working class of New Orleans suffer in this way has jolted my memory.  It's made me think again of the past.  Not in a sad, sorrowful guilt ridden way like the white liberals do, but with feelings of solidarity, at what is being done to my people in New Orleans.

Much healthier than guilt is the increased anger I feel toward the system and wanting to rid us of it.  Some say that often-good things come from tragedy.  This is true; sometimes it takes the bosses whip to wake people up. 

Important areas get relief first
I always remind my co-workers or friends whenever we are talking about the need to defend what we have that someone fought for me to have what I have and it wasn't Ted Kennedy. Many of them probably couldn't read too well, weren't well spoken, and many of them died.  But by understanding this I have an obligation to play the same role for the future, to not take what they gave me and then deny it to our children by not fighting to keep and expand upon it. And, in the last analysis to transform society, for me, as a socialist, this means to take the ownership of the means of production, exchange and distribution of the necessities of life that we create out of private hands and in to the collective hands of the masses.

It is the same with the slaughter in New Orleans.  There is no doubt in my mind that it is an attack on a huge section of our brothers and sisters who were in the forefront of the struggle for a better life for us all even if theirs improved only minimally. This was not a natural disaster or an "Act of god" which is the usual excuse. It was market driven. It was just another capitalist crisis

We have solidarity with its victims, we are angry at it, and we will get our revenge.

National Guard at the FEMA camp

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