Poor and Working Class Black Hurricane Survivors Visit Venezuelan Communal Councils and Expose “Hatred” of the Poor by Progressive and Government Forces in the U.S.
New Orleans, LA, March 1 – A delegation of four members of the New Orleans Survivor Council and two bottom-up organizers have just returned from a truly inspiring and life-changing trip to meet the people of Venezuela. True to their commitment to bottom-up leadership in New Orleans, they went directly to the bottom: to the everyday, grassroots folk of Venezuela. They met with several of the Venezuelan Communal Councils (organized groups of neighbors within Venezuela who run their communities, and control the resources for their communities; much like what the New Orleans Survivor Council is attempting to do within their poor and working black New Orleans community), and told their stories of survival and struggle to an undeniably attentive audience. The Communal Councils were equally excited and inspired by the meeting with the survivors, and leaped at the chance to bring their needs and requests to the Venezuelan government.
This was the first time a group of poor and working class black people visited Venezuela representing themselves and their own organizations and were not just a backdrop or exhibit for other groups led by the privileged. The effort of the New Orleans Survivor Council delegation to develop camaraderie and a direct working relationship with Venezuelans who are also struggling through class and racial oppression is unheard of in the modern era. Most relationships between the masses of the people throughout the world have not been developed by the masses themselves but by people who claim to represent them, or advocates for them, or those who have styled themselves as their leaders.
For almost except one Survivor Council member, it was their first time outside of the U.S. They had no passports before the trip and all of the delegation was awestruck to meet people who had such solidarity in their hearts for the poor and working black people in New Orleans, the U.S. and throughout the world. Everyone saw each other as part of the same struggle and each person, those from the Survivor Council and those from the Communal Councils had such similar experiences in their own countries, lives, and organizations.
Because of the revolutionary act of these New Orleans residents and Katrina survivors, a delegation from Venezuela will soon be coming to New Orleans to follow up on the first visit of the Survivor Council. They want to see the situation in New Orleans with their own eyes, and to help lay the basis for meeting the needs identified by the New Orleans Survivor Council, as well as investigating setting up a sister-city relationship between the Caracas Communal Councils and the New Orleans Survivor Council. There is great hope among the poor and working communities of both places that the roots of international alliance that were planted in this visit, will grow into a tree of established sisterhood, whose branches stretch from the barrios of Caracas, to the hoods of New Orleans.
If you would like to learn more about this story, please review the included documents developed by the New Orleans Survivor Council to share with the people of Venezuela and the documents developed by the delegation during the visit. The documents have also been attached to this release.
Greetings to the People of Venezuela from the New Orleans Survivor Council
To the people of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan Community Councils, we come to you as people who have been deserted by the government in our own country. We are survivors of Hurricane Katrina, members of the New Orleans Survivor Council, poor and working black folk who have historically been ignored in our country and feel we have been set up for genocide. When Katrina hit, we were left in more than 20 feet of floodwater for over 21 days in a city that sits over 13 feet below sea level – left to die.
The events of the past year have caused us to re-evaluate the direction of the progressive and revolutionary movement. We noticed that those left in New Orleans to drown were the poorest and darkest-skinned people of the city. Looking around the world, we see that the most oppressed and cast-aside peoples are those with darker skin. We are looking deeply at this intersection of skin color and poverty and asking everyone to do the same. We are committed to building an egalitarian society. We have concluded that the only way to accomplish this is to look to those very people who have been relegated to the bottom of society’s heap for leadership. We call this bottom-up leadership.
Our people have also been deserted by most members of the progressive community at home. We know that everyone comes to you for help; the Harry Belafontes, the Danny Glovers, and the very organizations that we helped to start and that later deserted us: they have all come to you. Often, their talk is of oil money. Our appeal to you is something quite different. We think the most exciting thing happening in your country is the communal council movement, and that is why we are here.
We are looking for a relationship with you. Because we’ve been deserted, we need to rebuild our own communities, schools, and hospitals. We need to rebuild our levees so we won’t be washed away by the next storm. We need to build relationships with people who care about us. From listening to your leadership, it sounds like you care.
We are looking to forge sister-city relationships. These would be sister-city relationships of a different type: not with the official City Council of New Orleans, but with the New Orleans Survivor Council, the organization of the most oppressed folk in the city. Our council is the council of the people, the grassroots people who were the most impacted by this disaster, the council of the people who were left to die. And we have made great sacrifice to come before you, personally, in order to represent ourselves and put a stop to those who come over and claim to represent us, building the power and prestige of themselves and their organizations on the backs of our suffering.
In your communal councils, we see organizations similar to ours. Our goal is to empower the people at the bottom to begin to self-govern. You have a government that declares support for that process. We don’t, and that is why we have come to you.
We are interested in building our schools and communities, and we desperately need to build our levees. We also have a dire need for organizers to help us build Survivor Councils among the 200,000 New Orleanians still scattered across six states, in fifteen cities and numerous trailer park concentration camps.
We therefore come to you with four requests:
- That you send 25 of your organizers to work with us for 18 months to 2 years and support them while they are with us.
- That you provide support for 25 of our own organizers for the same period, to include a trip here to see your model and learn from it.
- That you provide engineers and resources to help us build a small demonstration levee to world-class standards.
- That you provide resources to help our people take back our public housing communities and provide alternative energy sources for our people who are moving back in because the U.S. government has refused to reopen these communities or provide heat light, or repair assistance to those of our community that have reoccupied.
We thank you very much for enabling us to visit and learn from your work, and we thank you in advance for the help we hope you will extend to us.
An Emergency Appeal to the People of Venezuela
from the New Orleans Survivor Council
We are a group of survivors and organizers working for the people who were left to die when New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina. We are visiting your country for the second time on an urgent mission on February 18 to appeal to you as friends of the poor, black, working class people of New Orleans. We need your help and support, as our government has attacked us and then turned its back on our desperate needs.
When Katrina threatened our city, local and national government united to keep us in the city as the floodwaters rose. The poorest and darkest skinned of working class people were left to die, and more than 6,000 of us did. We were herded into shelters with no food or water, and later dispersed all over the country with no way to get back home. A quarter of a million Katrina survivors are still scattered all over the country, and tens of thousands of us are living in trailer camps that are like concentration camps. Until now, the government has put every possible obstacle in our way, has not rebuilt our neighborhoods and has not even built levees around them that would keep out the water in the next hurricane. They closed the public hospital and most of the schools. Even the public housing units thousands of us lived in are scheduled to be torn down, though the flood did not damage them. Some residents moved back in anyway, and this week heavily armed special police units have kicked in the doors at 2 AM to throw people out and arrest them.
To replace us in the jobs we once held, the government has brought in so-called guest workers from Latin American countries, who they tell a pile of lies to get them here. Then they house them in trailer concentration camps, too, don’t give them medical care or safety protection, and pay them a fraction of what they used to pay us for the same jobs. These workers cannot quit their jobs without becoming illegal immigrants, so they are forced to work under these conditions. This is modern day slavery used to take the place of the descendants of their former slaves.
As former slaves and modern slaves, we are building unity. We realize that we must take our future into our own hands. The government has proven that it won’t help us. We are actively organizing to bring the poor, black and working class communities back to our city and to unite with oppressed working people of other hues. We know that we all have the same oppressors, and in unity there is strength. We are one people. This is why we are coming to you to ask for your solidarity and support.
We have been struggling for over a year now to rebuild our communities and bring our families back home. However, it has become clear to us that we are being cast aside by the government and much of our society. Although everyday people have poured in to help us rebuild, no one with any resources has helped us. No money is coming to us from government or private sources, except the small donations of poor people like ourselves. We have come to see that the poorest black working class people in the United States today are in the same position that our ancestors were in on the Middle Passage from Africa, that Jews, Gypsies and other oppressed peoples in Europe were in during the 1930’s. Our young people are thrown in jail by the thousands and shot down in the streets by the police. Our access to health care is so poor that tens of thousands of us die each day of preventable causes in the richest country in the world. Our children cannot get a decent education and look to a future without a decent job. We are being set up for genocide, and few people see this, either in our country or internationally.
What is happening to us is important to every struggle in the world today. We are the descendants of the African slaves who built this country with their labor. We look around us in America and all the world, and we see that the darker your skin, the closer you are to the bottom of the heap. Like oppressed people everywhere, poor black people in the United States have always fought for freedom. We have a culture of resisting exploitation. We refuse to work hard for someone else’s profit. We fought slavery; we joined the army in large numbers to fight fascism in Europe during World War Two, because we know racism when we see it; we rose up against racism and burned cities forty years ago. This is why the government is afraid of us and wants us out of New Orleans. What is happening to us is a prediction of what will happen across our country and throughout the world as the U.S. government sinks deeper into fascism and aggression. This is not our struggle alone, it is the struggle of all laboring, oppressed and shunned people of the world.
When we first visited your country last year, we were excited by promises of help. We need that help desperately. We have to fight or die. We were very impressed by your young social workers. We ask that you send twenty-five of them for two years to help us organize the rebuilding of our communities. We also ask that you provide financial support for twenty-five Katrina survivors to be trained and supported as organizers.
Another of our goals is for our people, by our own efforts, with our own hands, to begin to rebuild the levee around our devastated Ninth Ward neighborhoods to world-class standards. The US government has left us vulnerable to being swept away by the next flood. We appeal to you to help us fund a demonstration project that will rebuild one block of levee. This will show the government that the levee can be rebuilt, that the only thing lacking is their political will to protect us. And it will show the world that someone does care about the plight of poor black people in the US.
The rich want us to believe that as poor, working people, and dark-skinned people, we are not smart or skilled enough to run our own lives. On the contrary, we believe that it is the people on the bottom, all over the world, who have the skills, intelligence and humanity to run the world. Help us take a step toward international unity of the oppressed of all hues, under the leadership of the most oppressed, to stand up together. It is a necessity for the survival of all of us.
The New Orleans Survivor Council
The People’s Organizing Committee
The New Orleans Workers’ Center