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Global Women’s Strike Action in LA Highlights Katrina & other Global Warming Survivors

Global Women’s Strike Action in LA Highlights Katrina & other Global Warming Survivors

by Susan Andres

“Everything was calm. I had just gone from the sofa into the kitchen. That’s when the water came gushing in. I saw my little dog, Queenie, struggling to get up on the sofa. I grabbed her up, but the water kept rising; it was up to my neck by the time we got out of the house.” - Gloria Brown, Katrina survivor.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Gloria Brown and Queenie lived in New Orleans. Now six months after the flood of toxic water that drove them from their home, they live in San Francisco but are still unable to find affordable permanent housing. On Saturday, March 11, Gloria, a Black elder who is a member of the Hurricane Evacuees Council/Bay Area, told her story to a multiracial, mainly Black and Brown, multigenerational crowd of about 150- 200 people, including a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who had gathered in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, to mark International Women’s Week and the 7th Global Women’s Strike. She was one of the evacuees from New Orleans living in both Northern and Southern California who spoke.

Every year since 2000, on or around March 8, women in 60 countries around the world have taken action in Global Women’s Strike ( events to demand that our governments “Invest in Caring Not Killing” and that the money squandered on war is spent instead on what our communities need, beginning with the needs of women, the first carers, on whom everyone else depends.

Some of this year’s highlights: In Guyana, the Strike is extending the power of women in the Venezuelan revolution to the rest of the Caribbean. In Chhattisgarh, India, Dalit (have been referred to as the untouchables) and Tribal women are together demanding food security, land rights, and an end to bond and child labor. In Uganda, rural women are calling for investment in water not war. In the U.S., Philadelphia welfare mothers are demanding fair hearings. And all over the world – in Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Ireland, the UK and many, many more countries — women in the Strike and the men who support them are calling for an end to poverty, war and environmental devastation.

Saturday’s event was led off by the recognition of ancestors who died during enslavement and those who died as a result of poverty and other exploitation around the world by Rev. Byrd of KRST Unity Center for African Spirituality. In indigenous tradition, the Four Directions were recognized by a woman Aztec dancer who later performed and honored Ramona, the Zapatista Commandante who recently died of breast cancer. After several speakers rallied the crowd, the participants went into the streets for a “Second Line” march – a traditional New Orleans funeral celebration. The purpose of the event was to honor those who died in New Orleans and other victims of global warming, government neglect, war and occupation around the world; to recognize and celebrate the self-mobilization of survivors, beginning with women, to rebuild lives and communities as central to the struggle for justice; and to support those making the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. On February 3, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez announced that, in recognition for their work in the home, the poorest housewives, in particular single mothers, would receive a monthly income – a wage for housework, which is something the International Wages for Housework Campaign, the coordinating group of the Global Women’s Strike has been demanding for years.

Before the marchers hit the streets on Saturday, emcee Margaret Prescod, of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike, convener of the Women’s Reconstruction Network and the Women’s Caucus of the People’s Hurricane Relief and Oversight Coalition, and host of Pacifica Radio’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK 90.7 FM, gave a rousing speech, pointing out how the global media coverage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed, for all the world to see, the racist government neglect that left poor Black people, the majority of them women, the elderly and those with disabilities, to die in toxic water. We may never know how many died – bodies, she said, are still being found in the Lower Ninth Ward meanwhile FEMA is refusing to pay to house the handlers of dogs, or for the care of the dogs that search for bodies in New Orleans. And racial cleansing is underway – the Bush administration predicts that the “new” New Orleans, formerly 70-80% Black, will be only 36% Black. She later said that Bush should be charged with criminal negligent murder.

For hope, said Prescod, we look to Black and Brown people in the Global South, where Venezuela, whose successful revolution is spreading, offered $5 million in aid to victims of Katrina and Rita, and this winter provided low-cost heating oil for Native American reservations and to low-income people on the East Coast of the US. Venezuela’s acknowledgement of the value of the work women do in their homes and their communities and that fact that Venezuelan women are getting a wage for their housework will absolutely transform every discussion about women, she said.

Why, asked Prescod, are women the poorer sex? Why is it largely women who do the clean-up work after disasters like Katrina? And why doesn’t anyone know this? Thousands died in a mudslide in Guatemala – a disaster as a result of global warming and poverty. In earthquake-stricken Pakistan, women, children, and the elderly are freezing to death. In Guyana, floods have killed people, and in India, drought. Black and Brown troops are dying in Iraq. And while these so called natural disasters made worse by global warming and US corporate greed, the US government is spending $100,000 a minute on an illegal war and occupation in Iraq that has left more than 100,000 Iraqi’s mainly women and children dead and more than 2, 500 US troops.

Then came Gloria Brown’s vivid and wrenching description of her experiences as an evacuee: her journey through the filthy waters of New Orleans, first carrying Queenie under her arm, then keeping the little dog afloat on a piece of plywood. She told of taking shelter in a school, of then being sent to the Convention Center, of being put on a Greyhound bus to join her son in San Francisco, of her grief at being forced to leave Queenie behind, and of her joy at being reunited, at last, with her beloved companion animal, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Elders led the “Second Line” march, carrying a banner that read “From New Orleans to Haiti to Iraq to LA: Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives: Fighting for Our Loved Ones’ Lives” in English and Spanish. Marching alongside the elders were young Black children carrying an anti-war banner that bore the words of Martin Luther King: “War is the enemy of the poor.” Next came four coffins, representing those who have died in New Orleans, in Haiti, in Iraq, and in other countries around the world. From the sound truck, which was covered with flowers and banners (“End the Twin Terrors of Poverty and War”, “Yes to Welfare, No to War”, “Women Say No War – Invest in Caring Not Killing”) and was transport for some of the elders, DJ Kouzant, who hails from New Orleans, exhorted and cajoled the marchers to dance New Orleans style to such tunes as “I’m Gonna Go to New Orleans…” Wearing sashes honoring those who have died and the self-mobilization of survivors – from New Orleans to Iraq to Guatemala to the Philippines to Benton Harbor Michigan; twirling umbrellas bearing slogans (“Money for Moms,” “No FEMA Evictions,” “REAL HOUSING”), and carrying placards (“No Racial Cleansing in New Orleans,” “FEMA – Stop Abusing Hurricane Evacuees,” “From Haiti to New Orleans to Iraq – Justice and Relief, Not War and Occupation”), the marchers danced along Leimert Park, and up Crenshaw Blvd, to the delight of the people in cars and on the sidewalks.

The march ended at Christ the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church for a program co-chaired by Sharon Lungo, an immigrant from El Salvador active with the Strike. Katrina evacuee Freddie Monroe spoke and described his own experiences during the after Katrina. He urged people to set aside differences and act, “Katrina survivors need your support” he pleaded. He accused the Bush administration of neglect, he said that first they tried to kill us and now they are making it difficult for us to survive. A nurse, Freddie also urged people to support a bill sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus that would make health care accessible to everyone. Getting City Councils to pass resolutions supporting the bill, says Monroe, will put pressure on Congress to act on this bill. Freddie’s family thus far has not received the insurance and other assistance they are eligible for post Katrina.

Babette Ory whose father Kid Ory is a name well known in the world of jazz described trying to track down her family members; the body of one of them was, unconscionably, not found until December and was found by another family member. Everyone, she said, has known for years that “the big one” could hit New Orleans, yet because of lack of communication and lack of planning on the part of those responsible, people lost their lives, their communities, and their life’s work.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters gave a searing condemnation of mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption on the part of FEMA, the Red Cross, the Bush Administration, and local officials. She said Bush is responsible for what happened and that Louisiana is now in breach of the Voting Rights Act for making it so difficult if not impossible for evacuees to vote in the upcoming mayoral elections. She also described how FEMA was using websites designated as “white only”. She described the difficulties put in the way of the right to return to New Orleans and said that Black leaders were planning on converging on New Orleans on April 1 to make it clear that Black people were not going to “give New Orleans up”. She also promised to make the telephones in her office available to Katrina evacuees in Los Angeles and to put her staff at their service. She said despite efforts by elected officials, change will not happen without people taking it to the streets, what she described as “street heat”.

Other speakers included Noluthando Williams of the Haiti Solidarity Committee, Lori Nairne of GWS/SF who has been helping to facilitate the Hurricane Evacuees Council/Bay Area, Rachel West of US PROStitutes Collective, and Jerry Schnitzer of Veterans for Peace; representatives of several of the co-sponsoring groups including the ANSWER Coalition who provided a sound system for the event, also spoke. A representative of the Emergency Disaster Relief Coalition announced that a group of mainly undocumented Latino/a immigrants had collected and presented $380 for Katrina survivors. News was also given about the flood that left Guyana under water 7 weeks last year, and about flooding and drought in parts of India including Chhattisgarh.

The event included “A Taste of New Orleans” cuisine (gumbo, hotwings and jambalaya) served by two volunteers from Alexandria House and event organizers. The audience heard blues, hip-hop, and spoken word performances by a trio of Black and Brown musicians from California State University Los Angeles.

As the event wound down, the participants stopped by an “Action Center” to sign on to initiatives supporting Katrina evacuees; BANCO (Black Autonomy Network), a grassroots organization that is fighting racism and corruption in Benton Harbor, Michigan; and work in support of the revolution in Venezuela.

The event was co-sponsored by Activist House, Alexandria House, ANSWER Coalition/LA, Eastside Café Echospace, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, Hurricane Evacuees Council/Bay Area, KRST Unity Center for African Spirituality, Pan African Material Assistance Task Force, Payday Men’s Network, Women’s Caucus of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, and Women’s Reconstruction Network. KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 FM was the media sponsor of the event. Food donors included Bayou Grille in Inglewood and New Orleans Fish Market in Los Angeles.

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