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Marchers Demand Action

Marchers demand action
Hundreds stage rally for restored N.O.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Times-Picayune
By Gwen Filosa

Hundreds of people marched from Congo Square to City Hall on Saturday, demanding that city leaders restore New Orleans, from the catastrophic Lower 9th Ward to Mid-City’s hollowed-out homes.

“Justice After Katrina,” was sponsored by a host of activist groups banded together as the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition, all outraged over mass displacement of residents and what they call a man-made levee disaster.

“This government left us here to starve and to die,” local activist Malcolm Suber told a crowd outside of City Hall. “We are here to stand up and fight to ensure we get what we deserve.”

Suber urged the crowd not to rely on politicians to fix the devastated region, or welcome them back to New Orleans. Instead, he said, the 300,000 people displaced from the New Orleans region need to come home and spur the government to action. He blasted politicians as uncaring, saying none were invited Saturday on purpose. “This damn government don’t give a damn about poor people, the working class, and especially don’t give a damn about black people,” Suber said. “Rich folks who live Uptown don’t like black people.”

From a stage outside City Hall, speakers included Clara Rita Barthelemy, a white-haired displaced woman from St. Bernard Parish who said she is “close to homeless” in San Francisco, and the Rev. Lois Dejean, of Gert Town, who warned that the soil there is likely tainted by chemicals.

Although the sentiment of the day was outrage over Katrina’s impact on the poor, the march promoted a number of leftist causes. Several held up signs demanding that President Bush “stop blocking Cuban and Venezuelan aid,” while the Revolutionary Communist Party handed out its publication on Katrina.

At first glance, it was a quintessential mix of New Orleans-type protesters and out-of-town activists.

But at the same time, the political march also drew many New Orleanians struggling with issues of housing, rebuilding and caring for their families in a storm-torn city. Several haven’t been able to come back for good yet. Others are fighting with insurance companies and the day-to-day headaches and heartaches that New Orleans has had to adapt to over the last three months.

Among the protest crowd was Collins Lewis, 56, who rode a bus from his temporary home in Raleigh, N.C., to join the march. It was his first time back since the floodwaters forced him from his home on Franklin Avenue.

“Everybody wants to come back,” said Lewis, wearing a “I Survived Hurricane Katrina” T-shirt and recalling the rescue workers who took him from his waterlogged house on Labor Day and sent him, eventually, to Raleigh. His family is separated, displaced throughout the South. “We didn’t leave, we were taken from here. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.”

Sheila Hunter, who lost her Gentilly home, walked with friends Ronald Lewis, who lost his Lower 9th Ward home, and Janice Bean, who just had her eastern New Orleans home gutted.

The three chatted about the Lower 9th, where they all grew up and survived 1965’s Hurricane Betsy, and they left the angry rhetoric to the speakers. They just want answers from government and the opportunity to rebuild their lives — in New Orleans. And they want levees — built correctly this time — to hold back the storms.

“We’ve been living in this bowl all our lives,” said Bean, 53. “This is our city. The Corps of Engineers build those levees. Let’s put the blame where it belongs.”

Lewis called the Lower 9th “our sacred ground,” and vowed to rebuild his home in the 1300 block of Tupelo.

All three, the children of Betsy now the survivors of Katrina, have makeshift homes. Bean rents a place in Kenner. Hunter, a landlord who rented a dozen units in Gentilly before the storm, said she had to buy a $32,000 used motor home for her family to live in the city again.

The trio all evacuated prior to landfall and stayed in places like Lafayette and Texas before returning home recently. Texas was attractive, Hunter said, with its good schools, roads and cheaper land. She has her days of doubts about New Orleans and thinks about leaving for good, but always comes around to one thought: “No way, this is what I want.”

Bean agreed. “This is where my heart is. Right now, it’s just about survival.” As they followed the route up toward Canal Street, where the protest slowed traffic, folks in front of them played music. One man shouted from the back of a pickup truck into a microphone, “We’re back! We’re back!”

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