We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City
by Roberta Brandes Gratz
Nation Books (2014)
We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is a remarkable account of how a loose knit network of citizens groups and organizations fought FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), city hall and the state of Louisiana to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Spill (2010). The grassroots rebuilding effort happened despite a federal/state/city conspiracy to use the storm (and flood) to rid New Orleans of black residents.
Prior to Katrina and the levee failure that flooded 80% of the city,* New Orleans was 67% black. Initially 250,000 of New Orleans 485,000 residents were forced to relocate to other cities and states. Thanks to grassroots efforts, by 2015 81% had returned – despite the best efforts of officials in charge of the recovery effort.
Specific examples of FEMA/city policies to discourage black evacuees from returning:
- Unlike other areas, (mainly black) Lower Ninth War residents were forced to wait four months before they were allowed to return to their flooded properties.**
- Homes in low income areas, in many cases, were red-tagged for demolition without notifying owners.
- All New Orleans public housing was demolished, even though only one public housing building was slightly damaged, and FEMA funds were fraudulently funneled to private developers to build market rate housing.
- Despite being returned to full function by volunteers, Charity Hospital was closed, with FEMA funds being channeled to build a new hospital serving private patients.
- All New Orleans teachers were fired (in violation of the union contract) to enable the replacement of the Black middle class who previously ran the city schools with a white out-of-state corporate elite and publicly funded, privately run charter schools.
- “Predatory demolition,” in which many poor residents were deliberately misinformed they had to demolish their homes due to “black mold.”
- Systematic refusal of FEMA, insurance companies and Road Home*** to pay homeless residents enough to rebuild their homes.
The coming together of local and out-of-state volunteers and wealthy benefactors to assist New Orleans residents to rebuild and/or rehabilitate their homes is incredibly inspiring. The best known benefactor was actor Brad Pitt, who funded the construction of 150 sustainable, solar-power homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.
*Contrary to mainstream media reports, Katrina was a man-made disaster stemming from flawed construction (by the Army Corps of Engineers) of the city’s levees. Katrina was only a category 3 hurricane – not a category 4-5 as was widely reported.
**Despite its working class character, 60% of Lower Ninth residents were homeowners, the highest proportion in the city.
***Road Home is a federally funded disaster relief program administered by Louisiana.