The Hurricane Katrina catastrophe–whole towns and neighborhoods blown away, unknown thousands of dead and displaced–is a humanitarian disaster, but it’s also a social and political crisis. At the very moment the storm lay bare to the world both the terrible poverty of the Gulf Coast’s black and frail residents and their criminal abandonment by the politicians and agencies whose job it is to help, local social-justice organizations have been devastated: Offices have been obliterated, staffers are camped out where they can and constituents have been scattered to the four winds.
Yet these organizations will be needed more than ever in the coming fight for the soul of the region. Will New Orleans, a centuries-old city with a unique culture, become a sterile mecca for college kids and tourists? Will corporate greed, political corruption and racism push the poor back out of sight? Will government aid be used to rebuild Trent Lott’s house, or will it go to the people and communities who need it?
Will right-wing religious groups, like assassination buff Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing (prominently mentioned on the standard list of Katrina charities published in newspapers), use Katrina largesse to further their political agenda?
To make sure the region’s low-income and working people have a voice in their future, and to make sure the most vulnerable and overlooked among them get the help they need, earmark your donation for hurricane relief and contribute to as many of the groups below as you can.
You can help low-income and working people fight for their future at the Sparkplug Foundation, where you’ll find an extensive list of grassroots/low-income/minority-led groups committed to community organizing and delivering immediate disaster relief. Among them: ACORN, the low-income community-organizing group, which has been active in New Orleans for a long time; a variety of local foundations committed to the poor, including the Greater New Orleans Foundation; the Biloxi-based Gulf Coast Community Foundation; and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The NAACP is also organizing relief.
Most relief workers say that money is the best gift right now, but for those who would like to send material aid–clothes, nonperishables, children’s books–Sparkplug has a list of black churches that will be happy to have them. The list carries a disclaimer that Sparkplug has not verified the information, so don’t call them–but you might want to make contact with groups before sending, especially the smaller, more freelance efforts, since conditions are changing so rapidly.
With so much visible desperation capturing the headlines, the ongoing need for reproductive healthcare might not have occurred to you. But pregnancies that were crises before Katrina are even more impossible now. The National Network of Abortion Funds has set up a special fund to help women obtain abortions, which is going to take some doing. New Orleans clinics are out of commission; Mississippi only has a single clinic for the whole state; and, of course, twenty-four-hour waiting periods and parental notification/consent laws are just the thing when you are homeless, without transportation and destitute. Battered women are also in even more danger now. All direct services in the Gulf Coast region have been suspended and shelters have been destroyed or evacuated, leaving thousands of women and children without assistance. The Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence will use the money to help DV survivors with basic necessities, medical treatment and relocation to safe communities.
For more than a decade the Justice Center has served Louisiana’s indigent defendants in capital cases and cases of wrongful conviction. Evacuated to Houston, staffers need help establishing a temporary office: Hurricane or no hurricane, the wheels of (in)justice grind on. You can make an online donation here. To donate cash, services or office equipment and supplies (“You name it, we need it”), contact Richard Bourke or Christine Lehman. More lawyers in need: New Orleans attorney Billy Sothern’s nonprofit Reprieve needs funds to help it locate the families of those incarcerated or recently exonerated as a result of capital charges.
Operation USA sounds like a Rambo sequel, but it’s actually a terrific medical nonprofit that has lots of experience with bringing medical aid to chaotic and desperately poor Third World countries–ideal preparation, it turns out, for the Gulf region. If you are wondering what has happened to our country’s famous can-do spirit, send Operation USA a donation and watch them put it to work.
Pastors for Peace, usually seen delivering humanitarian aid to Central America and being prevented by the US government from doing the same for Cuba, is mobilizing a caravan to bring nonperishable goods to Louisiana and Mississippi. They need money for gas and volunteers to organize drop-off points in selected states. E-mail them for details. Send checks to: IFCO/Pastors for Peace, 402 West 145th Street, New York, NY 10031. To make a credit card donation, call communications director Lucia Bruno at (347) 423-4330.
This Just In
Virtually as I write, black community activists, from civil rights veterans like Curtis Muhammad of the New Orleans-based Community Labor United to young graduates of Bob Moses’s Algebra Project, are forming a New Orleans People’s Committee to demand accountability from FEMA and justice for the displaced, to get help to the most neglected and to make sure evacuees have a say in rebuilding. Checks should be made out to The People’s Hurricane Fund and mailed to:
The Young People’s Project
99 Bishop Allen Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139