After Sandy, Learning From New Orleans: D6 and Beyond

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After Sandy, Learning From New Orleans: D6 and Beyond

have careers, how they rebuild a neighborhood around their public housing development and how, ultimately, they can be part of the economy in New Orleans. That’s the kind of creativity and long term thinking, I think, that will be very important.

You talked about coming to New Orleans in the December after the hurricane. A lot of people came to New Orleans in the wake of what happened. A lot of people are now coming from other parts of the city and parts of the country to New York to try and help with the relief efforts. What do we need to know about that and how to do we help communities build a voice for themselves? What’s the role of those who out of the goodness of their hearts try and offer relief?

I think it’s a lot like post Katrina New Orleans. I remember how people from all walks of life just came, some had tools and some didn’t, and frankly that included me. I was an organizer in Chicago, my tool was a clipboard and a bunch of papers in my backpack and I went to help and to be part of reconstruction. Everyone who is coming is coming because they are driven by purpose. They feel connected to the destiny of New York and they want to help rebuild and it’s important that they be let in and it’s important that they help, but it’s also important that we don’t forget that the State plays an incredibly important role in ultimately robustly rebuilding New York and New Orleans. It can’t just be done by vans of well-intentioned individuals. No matter how far to the right the governors of New Jersey or Louisiana are, in the midst of disaster people are always clear about the roles of government. Bobby Jindal asks for relief do does Chris Christie.

In these kinds of moments when the country is descending on New York, we need to turn New York into something more than just a construction site. We need to turn it into ground zero for demanding a much more robust role of government in making sure people have fair housing, and in making sure people have a safety net; in making sure, for example, that thousands of workers who are part time, contingent, contract workers, workers largely in construction and services who are going to service the recovery, who are going to help get back to a fully recovered New York, all of these people need an expanded safety net. They have to have access to healthcare while they are doing difficult work. They have to have access to some kind of benefits while they’re doing this dangerous work.

When can you start having these conversations? Is it too early, when people are still out of their homes?

I read recently that the number of New Yorkers who believe in climate change before this happened was 60 percent and now it’s 90 percent. I’m assuming it’s generally true even if the numbers aren’t scientific. I think the conversation about climate change, about housing access, about the future of public housing and the important of residents remaining in their communities; [the conversation about] the importance of workers having a safety net as they work… it’s never too early to start these conversations. We have to start them now. If we wait for the lights to turn on then what will happen is, by the time the lights turn on, what will be illuminated is the way public housing was stolen from right under the feet of residents, safety net was taken away. By the time the lights turn on, there will be neon signs where there was once public housing about the next corporate building that will be erected there and it will be too late. I think for workers and for families the conversation has to start now and it has to be a national conversation. There’s not a person in the world in some place in their heart or constitution a New Yorker. That’s what we have to use to have this conversation about what kind of community we want to build—What is the city of the next forty years?