The Coming Campaigns in Post-Disaster Katrina Clawbacks

P9202096New Orleans At the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse book launch for The Battle for the Ninth Ward, we asked a number of activists gathered on the second floor to share their perspectives and experiences.  It was a rich and sometimes painful reminder of how much Katrina is still a daily experience in New Orleans six years later.  For many living in the city Katrina is not a question of fatigue, but an advanced syndrome.

Some of the discussion sounded more like battle reports from ongoing fights.  Brad Ott with the Save Charity coalition talked about almost 200 lawsuits still outstanding with individuals and others around the hospital construction and closing.  Vanessa Gueringer, a leader of A Community Voice in the Lower 9th Ward, detailed a litany of promises still waiting fulfillment in her community and at one point commented that the only physical evidence of the city’s rebuilding effort to date “was a bicycle path.”  Rebecca Sloboda Theriot shared her challenging experiences on the front lines teaching in a charter school in the severely broken school system.  Perhaps these are old stories after six years, but each telling opens raw wounds and I could see tears in some eyes.

The report by Mark Moreau, director of New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation (NOLAC), was the most stunning and sobering to me though because the crises he raised are still ahead of many families and communities and would likely erect insurmountable barriers for some families not only to return to the city but to live securely in the future under any circumstances.  From earlier published reports by the states Road Home authorities there has seemed to be an effort to constructively work with families who were still trying to assemble the resources to rebuild, but might have missed some of the deadlines and technical requirements to do so because of loan issues, contractor scams, and the impact of the recession.

Mark and his legal staff though were already finding cases that indicated that FEMA was back in New Orleans again, but was back this time trying to collect monies they had given earlier to families where these families had failed to complete the rebuilding.  He gave a number of examples in this area that included efforts where people were still building, but also where FEMA was tracking down families is the diaspora to wrest back refunds of FEMA money, since they were not back home yet.  Mark predicted that within six months there might be a deluge of suits that NOLAC would be handling on FEMA related clawbacks.  He already had two lawyers working virtually full-time on the problem.

One of the lessons of disaster turns out to be that there is no real end to the disaster.  It is a tragedy that keeps reverberating into the future; even as the ripples become smaller they continue unremittingly to hit people over and over.  The Katrina Clawback Campaign will be painful, and in this mean spirited political and economic time, will be difficult to win where mercy collides with justice.

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InterfaceFLOR and A Community Voice Canvass in the Lower 9th

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Vanessa Gueringer directing InterfaceFlor volunteers

New Orleans It often takes a village and the good will of many people continues to overwhelm in the rebuilding and recovery of New Orleans. A chance connection of old friends and schoolmates from Canada (thanks, Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada) led Nadine Gutz, the Sustainability Director for InterfaceFLOR, a top of the line, environmentally sensitive carpet company, to me. It was an easy problem to solve. The annual sales meeting for more than 200 of their people was being held in New Orleans, and they wanted to lend a hand.

Several weeks later, 30 of their staff teamed up with A Community Voice leaders like Vanessa Gueringer and Franzella Johnson to fan out throughout the still devastated, and now iconic, Lower 9th Ward to knock on doors rather than knocking down doors. This was rebuilding with a message. InterfaceFLOR and A Community Voice were spreading the news about a program they had managed to reinvigorate for youth this coming summer in the Lower 9th for the first time since Katrina more than 5 years ago.

Everyone is happy after a good afternoon on the doors --
Everyone is happy after a good afternoon on the doors --

Working out of a church center on St. Claude, the folks from all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico it seems, were jazzed as they came in and dropped off the interest petitions from people who wanted to participate and enroll in the program. Rather than just squinting through tinted windows of a tour bus, they had gone two-by-two up and down the blocks of the Lower 9th spreading the word, Paul Revere style, with some good news for people.

  Franzella Johnson of ACV picking up the interest sheets
Franzella Johnson of ACV picking up the interest sheets

Thanks to InterfaceFLOR and A Community Voice – every little bit still matters, and it’s good to feel the love!

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