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This information is provided for historical background purposes, since POC got its start as PHRF.

9th Ward Residents Honor Dr. King’s Struggle

Marching to honor Dr. King’s struggle,
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward residents vow not to wait for City, FEMA to rebuild

New Orleans – Over 100 residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward took the street this morning in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., flanked by crowds of supporters. The residents – some of whom have been rebuilding their houses in spite of City threats of demolition, others still stranded in exile who traveled home for the celebration day – marched, sang and orated in a direct challenge to Mayor Nagin’s plan to raze the neighborhood.

“One of the lessons we learned from Katrina is that the government abandoned us, left us here to die. We had to depend upon ourselves to save ourselves. And today we know we have to depend on ourselves and our unity to rebuild our homes and our lives, even against the government’s wishes,” said Malcolm Suber, a resident and community organizer with the People’s Hurricane Relief Coalition. “We’re here carrying on the work of Dr. King. Just as he stood against government oppression of Black people & the unjust war in Vietnam, we today stand against the attacks on people of New Orleans and Iraq.”

The Lower Ninth Ward community has already begun to rebuild homes, and is making independent plans to reopen the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. But, many residents are scrambling to find temporary housing that will allow them to begin reconstruction, since the City and FEMA have failed to provide it. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has also so far refused to deploy its resources to remove arsenic- and diesel-infused sediment around the city.

Residents questioned the rush to seal the fate of the Lower Ninth Ward and other historically Black or low-income areas, and challenged Mayor Nagin to bring New Orleanians home before setting deadlines for communities to regroup and assess their capacity to rebuild. While the City has found funds and sufficient infrastructure to plan for a commercial Mardi Gras, it has not produced shelter or any other supports for residents trying to return.

Unsurprised at government failures, residents pointed to a longer, pre-Katrina history of abuses. “The people who caused this man-made disaster are the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Port of New Orleans, which fought so hard to keep the Mississippi Gulf Outlet open, and the maritime industry, who tried to keep the channel open & prevailed. They are responsible; they need to be held accountable,” said Pam Deshiell, a Ninth Ward resident leader.

As the city sets deadlines for communities to meet and prove their viability – but neglect and government obstructions drag on, preventing Black and lower-income people from regrouping – community organizers echo Dr. King’s 1967 speech about the US approach to “rebuilding” Vietnam: “We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village… What liberators? Now there is little left to build on – save bitterness. [They] may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these?”

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