It is not The Nation‘s usual practice to run endorsements of individual candidates by our writers. But longtime contributor Adolph Reed Jr., an expatriate New Orleanian, made a special case for the importance of Malcolm Suber’s campaign for city council in that beleaguered city, where the most vulnerable of Katrina’s victims have far too few political representatives fighting for their interests. Here is his letter to progressives concerned about New Orleans’ future.
The greatest need in New Orleans now is for a direct, politically effective challenge to the prevailing framework of “market-driven” recovery, the results of which are as clear as they were predictable. The neighborhoods, and sections of neighborhoods, where there are signs of recovery are those where residents had resources before the storm. Elsewhere, the situation ranges from very spotty to bleak. Period. This pattern crosscuts race; the deeper truth of the outrageous injustice that defines life in the city is that property ownership is the sine qua non for consideration as part of the civic community in the calculus of recovery and rebuilding. This is Milton Friedman’s ideal, an eighteenth-century model of citizenship.
Several groups in New Orleans have been fighting resolutely since the city was still under water to inject the interests of displaced public housing residents and other poor and working people into local political debates and planning processes for the city’s reconstruction. One of the travesties associated with Katrina is that so far those groups’ efforts have not gained real political traction. In late September, for example, the Housing Authority of New Orleans’s (HANO) plan to destroy 4,500 units of low-income public housing in the city won final approval — despite the city’s critical housing shortage, including rents that have nearly doubled since the storm, and over continuing protests and legal challenges. Advocates for public housing residents continue to fight for housing rights.
As important as that advocacy is, like the ongoing work to rebuild housing for those who remain displaced, unless the underlying framework for recovery is challenged, all those efforts will amount to trying to drain Lake Pontchartrain with a teacup. Local activists are keenly aware of that fact and have been discussing possibilities for mounting a united political offensive for more than a year, but until now their efforts have lacked a focal point. That is why it inspired such excitement when Malcolm Suber, a well-known activist in the city, announced his candidacy in the October 20 special election for the at-large seat on the City Council vacated when Council President Oliver Thomas resigned in a bribery scandal.
Suber, who has been agitating in the city for three decades, is known as a person with clear, principled politics and is rooted in the local political scene. He is a former political science instructor at Xavier University and long-time union activist. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Malcolm and I were graduate school classmates and worked closely together in activist politics in Atlanta in the early 1970s.) For decades he has been in the forefront of the fight against police lawlessness and brutality in New Orleans. He is a founder and key leader of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF), which has been the main vehicle for agitation and advocacy on behalf of poor and working people since the storm. He has a substantial electoral constituency and a solid organization behind him. And the campaign has begun to realize the potential for galvanizing progressives and other affected constituencies into a coherent political voice in the city. This undertaking has already been endorsed by the Green Party of Louisiana, C3-Hands off Iberville and Survivors’ Village (the two main groups agitating to defend public housing for poor people), several ministerial and neighborhood associations, Malik Rahim of Common Ground, Bill Quigley, Loyola University law professor and lead attorney for the displaced public housing tenants, and various other prominent union, community and social justice activists.