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 Forgotten Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Houston After Hurricane Harvey

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary examines the plight of Houston’s poor and minority communities a month after Hurricane Harvey. As with Hurricane Katrina, they have fared much worse than Houston’s well-to-do. Many have been left homeless after flood waters contaminated with raw sewage, lead, arsenic and benzene rendered public housing facilities uninhabitable. Despite the 20 billion dollars of federal assistance Houston has received post-Harvey, former public housing residents are getting no help in being rehoused.

Houston’s environmental justice movement has spent years fighting the oil, gas and chemical plants adjacent to their schools and neighborhoods. Routine aerial emissions of benzene and other toxic chemical are already responsible for high rates of asthma and cancer. Located in a flood plain, oil/gas and chemical storage tanks and public housing facilities are subject to annual flooding.

Environmental justice activists are demanding a significant proportion of the $20 billion in disaster aid go to better flood protection. At present Houston’s sea walls only protect against a 15 foot surge. In 2008, Hurricane Ike produced a 25 foot surge. A surge of that size will flood multiple oil, gas and chemical storage tanks, releasing their toxic contents and producing the biggest environmental catastrophe in history.