Tonight, many of the volunteers from Pittsburgh met some of the members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans for dinner. In addition to the fellowship and sharing, we had a presentation by one of the church members on race and class issues and Katrina. Of course, race and class remain (unfortunately) significant factors in the lives and well-being of Americans, which is perhaps no were more apparent than in aftermath of the Katrina tragedy. For instance, the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act currently in Congress lays out the deliberate racist and classist actions of people in authority at the time to shut down quality public housing sites and evict existing tenants after the disaster largely to replace public housing with higher cost housing. Ironically, one of the chief opponents of the bill is Louisiana senator David Vitter. We were urged to join the campaign contacting Senator Vitter's office to ask that he stop his efforts to block the bill.
Reverend Melanie Morel-Ensminger of First UU Church also spoke in response to a question of how we should respond when people ask why New Orleans should be rebuilt given its geographical location and the danger of another devastating storm in the future. Reverend Morel-Ensminger replied that people would not ask this question if San Francisco needed rebuilding, even though it lies on a fault line. She said that people did not ask whether the cities on the Mississippi River flood plain should be rebuilt, even though the flooding of several years ago may well occur again. These questions would not be asked because, in this case, the vast majority of victims were people of color, the poor, and often both.
"You are a New Orleanian," she told us, if you love jazz music, red beans and rice, and the other cultural contributions of New Orleans. You are a New Orleanian if the federal government controls a dam, or bridge, or other piece of critical infrastructure whose failure could cost you your home. She expressed the hope that no one ever experience the displacement and discrimination that many New Orleanians have faced, especially now that in just weeks, FEMA will be shutting down trailer camps, yet again putting low income people on the streets.
You are a New Orleanian if you believe in justice and that our government should protect our rights as home owners and citizens against the legions of the greedy, the narrow minded, and the uncaring. "We don't want your pity," she said. What New Orleanians want is for us to join with them in the fight for justice for all and in recognition of our common desire to live lives of freedom and dignity.