The Soul of America,
Lost in New Orleans?

On the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the flooding of New Orleans, I have a recent correspondence from my good friend Noah, who’s been… well, I’ll just let him take it from here:

I’ve been in New Orleans for over ten months now since I came down in early September and helped start what has now become the Common Ground Health Clinic Currently I still work with the clinic as an organizer as well as in the clinic itself. I also am doing paid work helping set up a free clinic with Louisiana State University and a drug treatment facility called Odyssey House which will end up being a clinical teaching site for Nurse Practitioner students.

I am also working on disaster preparedness/response stuff with a variety of neighborhood groups. In that strain I’m also helping run a week long first responder training which is the second training we’ve hosted at my house in the ninth ward, the first was a community disaster response training.

Also to dismiss folks fears that I’ve turned into a insane work-aholic I also go see music most nights and go swimming and go out to nature as much as possible.

New Orleans is showing signs of normalcy regardless of the military helicopters and jets that fly overhead and the national guard in many parts of the city. The thousands of flood cars have finally started to be removed and almost all should be gone by the end of the month.

There are kids around again too, many folks with kids have only started returning since the end of the school year, a nice change from a surreal city distinctly short of women and children. The public housing is under full on assault by Department of Housing and Urban Development and New Orleans Housing Authority. Last month they announced the planned demolition of four projects constituting 5,000 units leaving 20,000 people displaced. Two of the complexes received NO flooding and a third the water never got in to the units.

The argument that crime breeds in public housing complexes has been knocked out of the water here because the crime rate is higher than it was pre-Katrina and only 3 of the ten public housing complexes have people living in them and are far from being full. This is just one of the most obvious actions that shows how the working poor are being blocked from returning.

I truly do believe that there is currently a fight for the soul of America being fought in New Orleans. The jails are bulging with people who are still awaiting trial from before Katrina. Although many people in this group have become “ghost prisoners,” that is, they are lost: the evidence destroyed or the charges lost. Many who were arrested after the storm in September-November are finally getting to trial after sitting in Orleans parish prison since their arrest. Most of the schools will not open in the fall.

When you hear this it may make you sad or mad or deny what I say all are reasonable responses. But this city has some of the strongest most amazing people you will find roaming these streets. There are people still pouring in from all over the world to try and help New Orleans and the gulf coast and we have a decent chance of winning the fight over the soul of America this round if the grassroots groups continue to organize circles around the fat cats.

This kid could really use a canoe, so if you’ve got one you’d like to donate, let me know and we can hook something up. Other donations to Noah’s group can be made on their web site.

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