We’re Still Here Ya Bastards

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City

by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Nation Books (2014)

Book Review

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cover-Up: BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill

The Big Fix: BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Cover-up

Directed by Josh Tickell (2012)

Film Review

The Big Fix is about the extreme corruption in the Louisiana State capitol and Washington DC which resulted in a massive cover-up of the disastrous environmental and health consequences of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The documentary begins by exploring the ugly history of the Anglo-Iranian oil company, later renamed BP. It describes the efforts by the Iranian people to reclaim control of their oil with the democratic election of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1951. Determined to retain British control of Iran’ oil, Winston Churchill approached President Eisenhower, who instigated a CIA-sponsored coup to oust Mosaddegh and install the brutal dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

It would take the 1979 Islamic revolution to restore the right of the Iranian people to control their own oil.

The Oil Colony Known as Louisiana

Tickell makes the case that Louisiana is an oil colony in much the same way Iran was. Populist governor Huey Long, virtually the only Louisiana governor to stand up to Big Oil, was assassinated in 1935 – two days after announcing plans to run for president.

The Deep Water Horizon Coverup

The film goes on to expose important aspects of the Deep Water Horizon disaster that the corporate media neglect to report on – with special emphasis on BP cost cutting measures that violated safety regulations, including the manual disabling of warning alarms to enable faster drilling.

The role the Obama administration played in lying about the aftermath of the spill is even more shocking. When he opened contaminated areas to fishing, despite the continuing presence of large concentrations of oil, he also participated in a slick PR video him and his daughters swimming in a protected area (St Andrews Bay) unaffected by the spill.

Obama also lied about the health dangers of Corexit, a toxic chemical (banned in Britain since 2002) used to disperse surface oil slicks, as well as claiming BP discontinued aerial Corexit spraying in July 2010.*

The True Extent of Environmental and Human Health Consequences

A highlight of the film is the numerous poignant interviews with fishing families who not only lost their livelihoods as a result of the BP disaster but are suffering life threatening health problems from ongoing exposure to Corexit.

Despite the best efforts by BP and the Coast Guard to keep journalists and scientists out of the spill area, by 2012 a number of scientists (including Jean Costeau) had collected strong documentary evidence that the majority of the oil spill was pooled in enormous oil lakes on the sea bed. These oil lakes, in turn, were systematically killing off all sea life.

When oil geologist Matthew Sims attempted to bring this information to media attention, he mysteriously drowned in his hot tub.


*Numerous investigators have documented that Corexit spraying continued for at least two years after the spill.