Thursday, October 13, 2005

Demographics of Disaster

Garcia and Brenman (2005) observe that “The people who lived in the areas of New Orleans that were still flooded days after Hurricane Katrina struck were more likely to be black, have more children, earn less money, and be less educated than those in the rest of the city. People of color and low income communities disproportionately bear the burdens of the Katrina disaster.”

The authors suggest that “In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast region need to be rebuilt in a sustainable and socially just way.” In this report they “present recommendations to help ensure the fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of reconstruction, while promoting democratic values of full information and full and fair public participation in rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”

The Challenge

The private sector is poised to reap a windfall of business in the largest domestic rebuilding effort ever undertaken. Normal federal contracting rules are largely suspended in the rush to help people displaced by the storm and reopen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts have already been let and billions more are to flow to the private sector in the weeks and months to come. The administration has already waived the federal law requiring that prevailing wages be paid on construction projects underwritten by federal dollars. Some experts warn that the crisis atmosphere and the open federal purse are a bonanza for lobbyists and private companies and are likely to lead to the contract abuses, cronyism and waste that numerous investigations have uncovered in post-war Iraq.

Lawmakers and industry groups are lining up to bring home their share of the cascade of money for rebuilding and relief. Louisiana lawmakers plan to push for billions of dollars to upgrade the levees around New Orleans, rebuild highways, lure back business, and shore up the city’s sinking foundation. The devastated areas of Mississippi and Alabama will need similar infusions of cash. Communities will want compensation for taking in evacuees. Future costs of health care, debris removal, temporary housing, clothing, and vehicle replacement will add up.

Other ideas circulating through Congress that could entail significant costs include turning New Orleans and other cities affected by the storm into big new tax-free zones; providing reconstruction money for tens of thousands of homeowners and small businesses that did not have federal flood insurance on their houses or buildings; and making most hurricane victims eligible for health care under Medicaid and having the federal government pay the full cost rather than the current practice of splitting costs with states.

The relief money is not expected to cover any of the real reconstruction costs that lie ahead: repair of highways, bridges and other infrastructure and new projects that seek to prevent a repeat of the New Orleans disaster. Nor will it help pay for expanded availability of food stamps and poverty programs to cover hurricane victims. Farmers from the Midwest, meanwhile, are beginning to press for emergency relief as a result of their difficulties in shipping grain through the Port of New Orleans.

One of the most immediate tasks after Hurricane Katrina hit was repair of the breaches in the New Orleans levees. Three companies have been awarded no-bid contracts by the Army Corps of Engineers to perform the restoration. To provide immediate housing in the region, FEMA says it suspended normal bidding rules in awarding contracts.

1. Jobs and Contracts

The people on the Gulf Coast devastated by the Katrina disaster should receive their fair share of the economic benefits of recovery through local jobs for local workers, and an even playing field for small business enterprises.

Federal regulations should be revised or waived to permit local hiring preferences, so that local people can be hired to do the repair, construction, and restoration work.

Employers and unions should run strong apprenticeship and training programs for local workers.

To supplement the income from jobs and contracts, Individual Development Accounts can be set up for local low-income residents. These are savings accounts for low-income individuals that can be used for specific purposes, such as buying a home, starting a business, or paying college tuition. Individual savings are often matched by either government or private resources so that assets build more rapidly.

2. Sustainable Flood Control, Levees, and Wetlands

The natural ecosystem along the Gulf has been stripped of natural buffers like coastal reefs, tropical forests, and swampland that can absorb rising water and resist tidal surges. The levees in New Orleans need to be restored and strengthened for flood control purposes, but flood control cannot be the only purpose dictating the design of the levees and surrounding wetlands.

Levees and wetlands should be restored in a sustainable, environmentally sound manner that serve people’s needs for safe and healthy open space for parks, recreation and habitat restoration, clean air, and clean water. Every few square miles of marshes lower the flood level significantly. We should plan with nature instead of railing against it.

3. Green Construction

Sustainable construction standards should be set and followed for new and restored buildings in the Gulf Coast.

4. Transportation Justice

Fully one-quarter of the people in New Orleans did not own cars or have ready transportation out of town in the event of evacuation orders. Civic leaders knew that many of the city’s poor, including 134,000 without cars, could be left behind in a killer storm. Many who had cars before will not be able to repair or replace cars damaged or destroyed by the flood.

The plight of the working poor with limited or no access to cars illustrates the need to implement a transportation policy agenda to provide choices to people who currently lack them.

An evacuation plan for low income people must be developed and implemented with local people on the planning team to ensure full and fair public participation. Effective communication with local people is essential.

The very low car ownership rates of African-Americans in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas need to be addressed. More public transportation alone will not be enough in an evacuation. Public transit is one of the first parts of infrastructure to cease operation or fail in an emergency. Car ownership, maintenance, and insurance should be funded through micro-loans.

Neighborhood car repair businesses can be funded through disadvantaged business enterprise programs.

The monopoly on taxi cab ownership and operation should be ended. Jitneys (multi-unassociated riders) should be permitted. Increased car ownership is one obvious answer, but traditional environmentalists are often not comfortable with this.

5. Oversight, Information, and Public Participation

An independent citizens’ oversight body of progressive individuals should be created and funded to find out what went wrong and why, and how to create a better future, to serve as a check and balance for any official commissions and studies. We need to offer a counter-narrative because we cannot trust what the government will do. Democratic values of information and public participation need to be implemented.

The oversight body can gather, analyze, and publish the information necessary to understand the impact of Katrina and the rebuilding efforts on all communities, including communities of color and low income communities.

Public participation has to be rooted in the impacted communities, in the hearts and minds of real people. What kinds of communities do people want to live in and raise children?

6. The Vision and the Values at Stake

It is necessary to articulate and implement a collective regional vision and plan for reconstructing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast based on the diverse values at stake that will bring people together and ensure full and fair public participation in the decision-making process.

Key strategies should include coalition building and community organizing, public education, policy and legal advocacy outside the courts, multidisciplinary research and analyses, strategic media campaigns, creative engagement of opponents to find common ground, and impact litigation as a last resort.

7. Congressional Caucuses

The Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American Congressional Caucuses should begin to work together immediately to address sustainable and socially just rebuilding and relief efforts.

Black people in New Orleans disproportionately suffered from the Katrina destruction.

145,000 Latinos have been left without jobs in the Gulf Coast. Many Latinos in rural areas did not have adequate access to information, do not speak English, are undocumented, and are quite alone in the recovery.

The needs of Asian-American small entrepreneurs in the fishing industry on the Gulf Coast need to be addressed.

8. The Unique Culture and Heritage of New Orleans

One of the reasons New Orleans is dear to the hearts of people everywhere is the rich artistic and cultural heritage of the area, as expressed in art, music, food, and cultural celebrations. Mardi Gras in February 2006, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring of 2006, will provide opportunities to mourn destruction and celebrate reconstruction together, with tourism helping to bring economic recovery for all.

Reconstruction should preserve the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans through preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and neighborhoods. Reconstruction must respect the diversity of the Native American, Spanish, French, African-American, Creole, Cajun, and other people who have given New Orleans its unique power of place.

Reconstruction must preserve and build on the strengths of New Orleans and its character as a compact, walkable, historic community. Reconstruction should also avoid the mistakes of the past and prevent concentrated poverty in some areas.

9. Never Again

“I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane,” Senator Barack Obama said last week. “They were abandoned long ago–to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

Long term benefits of reconstruction and relief should make concrete improvements in people’s lives compared to their lives before the destruction, give people a real sense of their own power, and alter the relations of power.

In a video guide to hurricane evacuations that had been prepared for but not yet distributed in New Orleans before Katrina struck, the Rev. Marshall Truehill warns “Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross.” The central message to the people of New Orleans was blunt: Save yourself, and help your neighbors if you can.

We can and must do better than that by turning to each other and our government to achieve equal justice, democracy, and livability for all in New Orleans, along the Gulf Coast, and across the nation.


García, Robert, and Marc Brenman. “Katrina and the Demographics of Destruction and Reconstruction” Center for Law in the Public Interest. September 16th, 2005


jbv's Competitive Edge 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I prepare for a civil service exam scheduled for October 18, 2005, I struggle with a desire to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Millions More Movement activities, rather than voyaging half way across Pennsylvania to take another test.

Do I really want to take this exam and attempt to get on another civil service list?

Since 2003, I have participated and completed the State Civil Service process more than a dozen times. In fact, I have tested within the “Rule of Three” mandate (State must hire from within the top three), but they have yet to call me for an interview.

The Civil Service Commission has tactically explained their hiring practice, i.e., Pennsylvania agencies often “opt out” and instead use a little known exception to the process (management directive that grants an unfettered discretion) that allows them to ignore the employment list and promote almost any available lower classification (a current employee).

The Commonwealth’s excuse for not hiring me is no different that the excuse a local temporary employment agency (Robert Half International) recently provided. That is, despite the fact that I scored a perfect 100 percent on their required testing (the average score for everyone else is only 85 percent), and was given an almost perfect score for my interview, the employment agency has insisted since August 2004 that it can’t place me. And, the Pittsburgh EEOC district office, a federal regulatory agency with authority to enforce Title VII has suggested that there appears to be nothing wrong with the company’s reason for not placing me: Robert Half claims its clients continue to select (whites) other candidates who have tested well below my scores and have inferior work experience and there is nothing they can do about it.

Nonetheless, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam) has challenged all of us to rise above the things that have kept us divided in the past. The agenda of his Millions More Movement is to see how all of us, with all our varied differences, can come together and direct our energy, not at each other, but at the condition of the reality of the suffering of our people. He has directed us to use all of our skills, gifts and talents to create a better world for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the like. True That (word is bond)!

I really want to participate and get my swerve on (enter the conflict of eliminating poverty and injustice in American society). But, this year, I have to tend to my family’s needs. That is, they have cut off all of my utilities, placed tax liens on my property, and have us struggling on food stamps. But, I am a proud “functionally unemployed” black man, flexed, and bout it (real, not fake and true to the game).

No! I’m not going to make it to Washington, D.C. for the Millions More Movement Activities. I have to take the civil service exam. . . . I have to score within the top three to force the white man to get creative again.

The Honorable Minister hopes to help poor people learn how to help themselves, beginning with the knowledge that there is strength in numbers. I may not be there on October 16, 2005, in person, but as a black man tight (straight, legitimate and feeling really good at the moment) and on his hustle (taking care of my family), I’m already there in sprit.

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about the marked change of October 2005, from the last two political cycles when President George Bush (Karl Rove) used the power of the White house to coax first-tier candidates into important congressional races. In these crucial few months when candidates are entering races, raising money and recruiting staffs, republican hopefuls are quietly stepping off. There’s one obvious reason why republican hopefuls aren’t listening to the White House: Bush is an unpopular president.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, Bush won the admiration of most Americans (even some blacks) for resolute leadership in the face of a foreign threat. But, after the recent simpleton response to hurricane Katrina and his tone-deaf reaction to the needs of America’s poor, the GOP and the world now well understand that Bush has slipped into a hole and unfortunately it appears the HNIC won’t be climbing back out. That is, his message remains essentially hopeless worries and hopeful faith. He’s back again portraying the world as too treacherous, too dangerous, and too risky for anyone but the GOP. Karl Rove wants to keep America focused on terror and national security. And, then they went public with wacked (crazy stupid) information suggesting possible subway attacks in New York (a city on orange alert the second-highest-level-indicating a high risk of terror attack since the color-coded warning system was established after the September 11, 2002 attacks). Bush backed the decision to announce the threat publicly despite questions by most federal officials about its credibility. They even claimed the source of the threat had passed a polygraph test. In short, like always, the GOP knew America can’t second-guess the motive behind a terror alert.

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about black GOP conservatives who have gone out their way in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to play the race and irresponsibility card hoping to cultivate the most reactionary forms of Christian fundamentalism alongside the extreme right for whom racism is an essential ideological component. Just yesterday black GOP conservatives gathered to discuss race and irresponsibility. BOND (The Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny) and the Heritage Foundation cosponsored the event: The New Black Vanguard Conference II. It was moderated by Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Founder and President of BOND. Dr. Shelby Steele (Hoover Institution Senior Fellow), Joseph Phillips (Actor & Columnist), Linda Porter (Founder Jochbed Education Project), and La Shawn Barber ( attempted to reflect upon policy questions they claimed of major significance to black communities.

In the course of a denunciation of current black leadership they enumerated some of the standard racist conceptions often voiced by the right wing: The view that welfare programs had created among blacks a culture of irresponsibility; there is an enormous cost for risky behavior within the black family (promiscuous women and fatherless households); and, one generation of blacks has followed another into poverty.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson has suggested in the past that America shouldn’t blame racism or President Bush and the GOP for what happened to thousands of poor blacks during and after hurricane Katrina. He said “The truth is black people died, not because of President Bush or racism, they died because of their unhealthy dependence on the government and the incompetence of Mayor Ray Nagin (a black man) and Governor Kathleen Blanco.” The black GOP conservative singled out Rev. Jesse Jackson, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rapper Kanye West, all of whom he says blamed President Bush for not doing enough to help black people.

Yes! Rev. Jesse Jackson is on the record calling the president’s response “incompetent.”

Yes! During NBC’s celebrity telethon for hurricane Katrine victims on September 2, 2005, the scripted program took an unexpected turn, when Rapper Kanye West went off the script during the live broadcast, declaring “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

But, black GOP conservatives are nothing but house slaves. They blindly follow simple-minded people. In slavery days we had house slaves and field slaves. The house slaves were “well behaved” and “rewarded” by being allowed to work in the “big house” close to the master. The field slaves were “rough” and “functionally unemployed.” Thus the people were divided and pitted against themselves, instead the common enemy (extreme right forces and Christian fundamentalists).

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about how da fam in the Burgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) can get rid of some punk ass black politicians that are indifferent to the plight of "functionally unemployed" individuals and their families. The last time da fam in the Burgh had oportunity to "break bread" with a bout it black leader was August 19, 1997. On that particular day the Honorable Minister accepted my question (from the audience) related to how black males can be a better father to their children. Among other things, he eloquently advised the group of black politicians on how we can come together and direct our energy, not at each other, but at the condition of the reality of the suffering or our people. But it's October 2005, conditions for blacks in the Burgh have become more precarious. The city is now controled by (in the closet) black GOP conservative house slaves.

No Diggety!

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