After Sandy, Learning From New Orleans: D6 and Beyond

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After Sandy, Learning From New Orleans: D6 and Beyond

a social movement out of what was happening in the Gulf Coast.

Laura Flanders: How did that happen? Can you remember what it was like in those early weeks and months?

Yes, I got to New Orleans shortly after Katrina in December 2005. Katrina happened in August and three months later there was a small band of volunteers huddled in a small back room of a social service agency that was trying to figure out how to build movement out of what happened. It was a very chaotic time. Now we are used to the phrase “disaster capitalism.” It is one thing to read about it it’s another thing to be there while it’s happening.

The images from that time are still vivid and still haunting. We would wake up in the morning and organizers would get to the day labor corners. Suddenly in New Orleans there were massive spots where day laborers were gathering—African-American and Latino construction workers. One of them was a place in the city called Lee Circle. Imagine an eighteen-foot-tall statue of Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederacy—made of granite and marble, looking towards the north to push off the Northern aggression—and there below that statue of Robert E. Lee there are 500 day laborers, African-Americans and immigrants. And buses are coming to pick them up and take them off to the workplace.

There were devastated neighborhoods all over the city; displaced African-Americans primarily; working-class people with their families who wanted to come home. These were neighborhoods without power, neighborhoods devastated, people wanted to come home, build homes and work, but the neighborhoods were barricaded from entry. At the same time, the first places where power was restored and where life was restored was the casinos and the strip clubs and Bourbon Street. Large white vans [would] roll up to the backs of these establishments, doors would open and out would come cleaning crews. Workers would come, clean and then go back into the vans again and leave. The whole city was full of these incredibly intense, vivid images.

There was a hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Canal called the Astral Crowne Plaza. This hotel got millions of dollars in FEMA vouchers to house local people who were displaced