Gayle Tart: "you wanna say no, I can't do it, I just can't, not anything else, not another problem, not another person."
You can also go over to my flickr page to check out some of my photos from the trip.
Gayle Tart: "you wanna say no, I can't do it, I just can't, not anything else, not another problem, not another person."
You can also go over to my flickr page to check out some of my photos from the trip.
Gulfport, MS was in the news over the weekend with a jaw-dropping story. Saturday's US News & World Report told of a class action suit against the city, concerning what amounted to a debtors' prison before Hurricane Katrina:
Last July, a homeless man named Hubert Lindsey was stopped by police officers in Gulfport, Miss., for riding his bicycle without a light. The police soon discovered that Lindsey was a wanted man. Gulfport records showed he owed $4,780 in old fines. So, off to jail he went. Legal activists now suing the city in federal court say it was pretty obvious that Lindsey couldn't pay the fines. According to their complaint, he lived in a tent, was unemployed, and appeared permanently disabled by an unseeing eye and a mangled arm. But without a lawyer to plead his case, the question of whether Lindsey was a scofflaw or just plain poor never came up. Nor did the question of whether the fines were really owed, or if it was constitutional to jail him for debts he couldn't pay. Nobody, the activists say, even bothered to mention alternatives like community service. The judge ordered Lindsey to "sit out" the fine in jail. That took nearly two months.
[U]p until Hurricane Katrina hit, [Gulfport police were] beating the pavement looking for those who owed fines for things like public profanity--at $222 a pop. The result of Gulfport's fine-reclamation project was that while it collected modest sums of money, it also packed the county jail with hundreds of people who couldn't pay. The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gulfport last July. Attorney Sarah Geraghty says that before bringing the case against the city, she witnessed hundreds of court adjudications involving Gulfport's poor in which no defense attorney was present or even offered. Many defendants, Geraghty said, were obviously indigent, mentally ill, or physically disabled, like Hubert Lindsey; some had been jailed for fines they had already paid. One mentally ill woman attempted suicide by jumping from an elevated cell in the county jail after she was picked up for having failed to pay several city fines; the lawsuit alleges that police then grabbed her again on the same charge a few months later, causing her to miss the surgery scheduled to fix the broken bones in her feet.
As we attempt to understand the observable disparities in who gets relief and what gets rebuilt, it is important to keep in mind the city's demonstrated attitude towards its poor. It is also important to keep in mind what strips of pavement the city was beating and whom it tended to be looking for. The Amended Complaint from the lawsuit, which attorney Sarah Geraghty has sent me, describes
a special force of police officers charged with patrolling the streets of Gulfport to arrest citizens who have failed to pay fines assessed by the Gulfport Municipal Court. These officers conduct periodic sweeps, during which they search the streets for people who look as though they might the City old fines. During these sweeps, the officers go into predominantly African-American neighborhoods and stop people in the streets without any independent reason or suspicion, but for the sole purpose of checking to see if they owe the City old fines. Those who owe fines are taken to jail.
The state of Mississippi has the highest percentage of Black Americans in the country [PDF]. Second is Louisiana. Mississippi and Louisiana are pretty much tied for the highest poverty rates in the US, both hovering just below 20% statewide. We cannot discuss the effects of Katrina and the issues around reconstruction without serious, ongoing considerations of race and poverty.
(Cross posted on the d&s blog.)
This town has stood up in the face of things
Lots worse than a ninety mile wind
It's not bad storms I'm afraid of today
But the greed that our leaders walk in.
I'll walk along the Boardwalk rail
And feel and hear this ninety mile gale
I can hear the ocean mourn and groan
And I wonder about ships lost out in this storm.
So come on wind and blow out your brains
Blow like a Cyclone across the flat plains
This is just an echo of our world wide storm
That's ripping away our balls and our chains.
--Woody Guthrie, "Ninety Mile Wind" (1944)
This summer, I joined the Editorial Collective of Dollars & Sense, a national popular economics magazine, which has presented progressive analysis of current economic issues and trends for over thirty years. Since September I have been guest editing the March/April issue of the magazine, which we are devoting to economic issues in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
While New Orleans caught one edge of Hurricane Katrina, the storm hit the Gulf Coast of Mississippi head on, causing unfathomable destruction. Nonetheless news coverage of New Orleans has overshadowed, Mississippi. When the mainstream news media does report on Mississippi, we may hear about places like Waveland, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, and Biloxi, but we don't hear about the African Americans who live there. There are few images of Black Mississippians from the Gulf Coast and no discussion of their communities. Except for Waveland, all of these cities have African American populations that are larger than the national average of 12.3%. As of Census 2000, Pass Christian is 28.2% African American. Gulfport is 33.5% African American. In Bay St. Louis and Biloxi, the numbers are 16.6% and 19%, respectively.
As I have pursued writers who are local activists and survivors from the Gulf Coast region, I have been moved by the experiences of African American activists in Gulfport and Biloxi, whom I have had the opportunity to talk to. In Mississippi, as in New Orleans, the slow responses of FEMA and the Red Cross have harmed storm victims of many ethnicities and economic backgrounds. In both places, however, government inaction has especially harmed African Americans. At this writing, as recovery gets underway, white neighborhoods in Biloxi have been substantially cleaned up; on the other side of town, the African American neighborhood still looks like a bombed out war zone.
One of our writers for the March/April issue is an African American attorney, named Gayle. Gayle is in Gulfport, doing legal advocacy for Katrina survivors facing unfair, opportunistic evictions and other housing problems. She is also a hurricane survivor whose brother and two-year-old nephew died in the storm. Speaking with her on the phone has been overwhelming. In a number of our conversations, Gayle has connected me with other survivors who have lost loved ones or property or both and have first-hand experience of the unavailability of government disaster relief. They tell of FEMA trailers sitting unused in storage lots while survivors live in tents in winter weather; the outsourcing of jobs to corporate contractors; and price gouging on building materials.
The first time we spoke, Gayle expressed considerable gratitude that I cared enough to seek her out. There just hadn't been outside attention to the plights of people in her community, though it had been months since the storm hit. She was eager to write an article for Dollars & Sense, but she also said, urgently, "you have to come here... you just can't understand unless you see it... please come." When they heard about my conversations with Gayle and others from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the Dollars & Sense Collective agreed that in addition to publishing Gayle, we need to respond to her request.
Dollars & Sense is sending me to Gulfport and Biloxi, and to New Orleans, for eight days, from January 22 - 29. I will document my trip with still images, audio recordings, and video clips. While I am on the Gulf Coast, I will be posting to the Dollars & Sense blog, which we have just added to the Dollars & Sense website. To the extent that time and internet connections allow, I will provide regular updates and photos from my trip. In addition to the photos that you will find in Dollars & Sense blog posts, I will post a larger selection of my photos on my flckr account.
After I return from the South, I will write a report of what I saw there for the March/April issue of Dollars & Sense, and possibly for other publications. I will also get the word out about survivors' experiences in the Gulf by presenting my audio, photographs and video through the Dollars & Sense website and live presentations. As with the March/April issue as a whole, we hope the information I gather on this trip will be useful for activists. The communities I visit will be allowed full access to the audio recordings, photos, and video that I make of them. I will also make a list of the local organizations we have been working with, and of others I may learn about on my trip, that directly address the needs of Katrina survivors; Dollars & Sense will publish the list in the March/April issue and on our website, and I will distribute it at presentations about my trip.
Dollars & Sense is a small non-profit organization on a shoe string budget. This may be the first time that Dollars & Sense has sent someone to do investigative work. If you would like to make a tax deductible donation to help us pay for the trip, you can make donations in $25 increments through our website, or send a check for any amount, with "Katrina Project" in the memo line, to Dollars & Sense, 29 Winter Street, Boston, MA 02108.
(Cross posted on the Dollars & Sense blog.)
The People’s Declaration: Survivors Assembly Demands
Identified by survivors on December 9, 2005
We demand that the local, state and federal government make conditions possible for our immediate return. This includes the following:
The Nagin Administration must make temporary housing such as apartments, hotel rooms, trailers and public housing developments available for us while we rebuild our homes.
The government must put an end to price gouging, stop all evictions and make rents affordable.
Local residents must take the lead in rebuilding our communities and must be hired to do the rebuilding work.
There must be immediate debt relief for debt associated with this disaster.
Quality public education and childcare must be provided for our children.
Quality affordable health care and access to free prescriptions must be provided.
The government must immediately clean up air, water and soil to make it safe and healthy for people to return home.
We demand that the government provide funds for all families to be reunited and that the databases of FEMA, Red Cross and any organizations tracking our people be made public.
We demand accountability for and oversight of the over $50 billion of FEMA funds and the money raised by other organizations, foundations and funds in our name.
We demand representation on all boards that are making decisions about relief and reconstruction. We also demand that those most affected by Hurricane Katrina be part of every stage of the planning process.
We demand that no commercial Mardi Gras takes place until the suffering of the people is lifted.
We are calling for survivors and supporters to participate in a Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend 2006 conference and demonstration to make these demands heard!
The People’s Assembly and The March for Human Rights brought over one thousand Hurricane Survivors and supporters of a survivor lead movement together for 3 days of planning and action.
Youth Speak Out
Held at Jackson State University, the Youth Speak Out evening in Thursday, December 8th was coordinated by area youth who put together a program that called for survivor’s to share their stories and included performances and testimony that spanned from; gospel music, urban and classic West African dance and drumming, poetry, to statements of solidarity. One survivor story came from Brandy who talked about the attempts of those displaced to New York City to fight off hotel eviction and homelessness.
The Survivor’s General Assembly and Conference was held Friday, December 9th and took place at Anderson United Methodist Church. Survivors and support organizations from Houston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, South Carolina, California and Atlanta came together to share their stories and organizing efforts taking place in the areas where they currently reside. The day was full of workshops and information sharing, included a film that illuminated an example of the injustices that took place at Orleans Parish Prison. Approximately 450 delegates participated, including more than 150 hurricane survivors. By the end of the day the survivors put forth the People’s Declaration: Survivors Assembly Demands. These demands were read at the March for Human Rights (12/10/05) and at a rally held in Washington, DC (12/14/05) calling for FEMA to be held accountable for their lack of transparency in relief efforts. The demands are also being submitted to New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin to request and audience and significant representation by those most impacted by Hurricane Katrina on those commissions set up in New Orleans to address reconstruction and community redevelopment.
The demands will also be pursued with the mandate of the people by the work groups of the PHRF.
The established workgroups are as follows:
Arts, Culture and Story Collection, Economic Justice, Education, Environmental Health and Justice,
Finance and Fund Raising, Health Care, Legal, Media, Reconstruction, Safety Justice and Accountability
These work groups will be supported and monitored by The National Solidarity Caucus and Women’s Caucus.
The March for Justice
The March for Justice brought together approximately 1,500 participants who represented a diverse cross-section of New Orleans culture. Old school second-liners, musicians, students, blue collar workers, home owners, renters, grassroots relief workers and elders of the New Orleans community joined in chants and prayers to welcome their return to the city, demand support and justice in the rebuilding process and to share their stories of hardship and organizing since the storm.
The March ended at city hall where The People’s Declaration was announced.
The People’s Hurricane Fund will continue to do outreach among those displaced to highlight their voices and support organizing efforts that address the diverse needs that must be met to accomplish comprehensive reconstruction of communities and lives. Survivors Councils are being planned around the country for this purpose.
Honoring the work, commitment and spirit of Meg Perry
Saturday, November 10th, Common Ground volunteer, Meg Perry, 26, died in a bus accident in New Orleans. In Portland, Maine, Meg was a coordinator with the People's Free Space, a community group fighting social, ecological and political injustices. After Hurricane Katrina, Meg volunteered at Common Ground Collective (CGC), working on roof repairs, mentoring youth and coordinating a community garden.
The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition (PHRF) extends its deepest condolences to Meg’s family, friends and the Common Ground Collective. In memory of a woman that dedicated so much of herself to this cause PHRF would like to donate and participate In planting a sapling tree in Ms. Perry's honor, for the hope of a just and environmentally sound reconstruction of New Orleans.
To see Common Ground Collective’s tribute to Meg, please go to http://www.commongroundrelief.org/2005/12/meg_perry_1979_2005.html
We look forward to strengthening the organizing efforts of survivors/evacuees throughout the country and connecting the work with supported actions in the areas where we are displaced and in those areas where these grassroots efforts are most needed, for a just and comprehensive redevelopment of New Orleans and the Gulf South.
Regular updates should be posted on the website. For more information contact
People’s Hurricane Relief Fund & Oversight Coalition
info at communitylaborunited dot net
Critical Resistance has a fact sheet with much of the available information. Unfortunately, there is not a simple way to plug a person's name into a database and come up with his or her present location. Here are some resources from the fact sheet that may be helpful with some persistence:
HOW TO FIND AND CONTACT PRISONERS MOVED AFTER KATRINA:
* Local and state prisoners who were evacuated can be located by name on a list being assembled by a coalition of attorney’s groups in Louisiana. Attorneys are currently attempting to contact and interview every adult prisoner moved in the wake of Katrina, so this list will be updated. That list can be found at: http://www.lidab.com/Links%20to%20Displaced%20Inmates%20Lists.htm* [or try: http://tinyurl.com/dyxjk] and updates and further links can be found at: http://www.lacdlkatrinarelief.blogspot.com/
* The Department of Corrections (DOC) established hotlines to call for locating family members moved from Orleans’ area prisons and jails. They are: 225-342-3998 and 225-342-5935 and are supposed to be staffed from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Hunt Correctional Center, where many male prisoners from OPP may have been transferred, also set up a hotline: 225-352-5924. DOC staff will only tell family members where their loved one is located, and no other information (release date, case status, etc.). Family members should be allowed to give a message to their loved one.
* Youth who were in Bridge City Center for Youth (BCCY) were moved to Jetson Correctional Center and can be located by calling Jetson at 225-778-9000; ask for John Anderson, Michael Gaines, Ricky Wright, or Linda London. Demand the child be brought to the phone to speak immediately with their family member.
* Young people held at the Youth Study Center, Plaquemine Detention Center, St. Bernard Center, Terrebonne Detention Center, and Riverde Detention Center have been routed to placements in other parts of the state. Family members should call Perla at (225) 287-7988 or (225) 328-3607 (cell) or Stacey at (225) 287-7955 to find out where their child is located. Ask Perla for a phone number, call, and demand that they be permitted to speak to their child immediately on the phone.
* As of Friday, September 17th, a coalition of attorneys in Louisiana has been able to secure releases for nearly 500 prisoners held beyond their sentences – mostly people on parole violations and “municipal” charges. These people are being released with a delay, but should be cycling out in 24-72 hours. The attorneys state that this should be the beginning of a process of getting people out who were “overdue for release.” See http://www.lacdlkatrinarelief.blogspot.com/ for more information.
Also see the main page of the Louisiana Indigent Defense Assistance Board website.
*I corrected the url. –BG
My writing for this blog has been lighter for a little while now. That's not the reason for my title, but in case you were wondering, these are some of the things I've been doing instead of writing lengthy posts:
Writing less means that though I'm still reading a lot of blogs, many things slip by that under other circumstances I'd be blogging as I saw them. One such thing was yet another amazing blog post by Clayton Cubitt, this one about going back to McKain Street in New Orleans, the spot now nestled under the I-10 highway ramp that is still home to the shotgun shack where his grandmother lived almost her whole life and where she raised his mother and his aunt. I'm not going to quote it, just go read it and check out the photograph. It's heartbreaking, but it is also gorgeously elegiac. The post is about a month old, but as far as I can see, only two other people have linked to it. It's got the timelessness of art, which means that telling you about it now is still timely.
There isn't really a neat way to write about the other kind of heartbreak my title refers to. I don't know how many people check the comments over here, but one byproduct of my urge to document underpublicized injustices is that others who are suffering similar circumstances occasionally write in with own experiences, sometimes because they are desperate for help or even just because no one else seems to care.
The single post that's gotten the most of these kinds of comments is More On The Prisoners From Orleans Parish Prison, posted at the end of September. In October, I got two comments from people who had loved ones in Orleans Parish Prison at the onset of Katrina. And then last night, I received three more comments (from two people).
It has been more frequent than not that when I've known small ways to help Katrina survivors who contact me here, it's been impossible to reach them with the information they might need. In one case, for example, Juana Bourgeois said she was looking for her friend Byron Joshua. Angela Wessels from the Southern Center for Human Rights helped me determine what prison Mr. Joshua was relocated to (turns out he is one of the Coleman 900), but I was not able to reach Juana to give her the information.
On one of my posts, about the the class action suit brought by Katrina survivors against FEMA, got this wrenching comment from JeanMarie Arend:
I was filing for disability in La. at time of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. I relocated to MN. I still haven't got any housing or financial assistance. On Nov. 2 2005 it was inperative that I have a anterior cervical dysectamy and fushion with them putting in a steel rod. The vertabra affected are c-4,c=5,c=6. I suffer from partial paralysis in my arms and hands, as well as suffer from extreme headaches. Yet I am still homeless and penniless. The medical assistance I get from the state of MN. does not cover my teeth which due to the injury are broken off and abcessed. And the state of MN. allowed me 203.00$ per month which they are now taking away as of Dec. 2005, although just the healing on the surgery will be 1 and 1/2 years. I can not work and I can not get help from anywere. And yes I am filed with FEMA. They are sending me mail with my astranged husbands number on it although I have my own FEMA number I must use to refer to my case.I call them weekly and have been told 3x now to fax certian papers in which I do and yet they never get to my file.HELP ME PLEASE DISABLED IN MN> P.S. yes I refiled here in MN for my disability.
I emailed JeanMarie back immediately, but my message bounced. I think her comment is for real, since my sitemeter showed that she was writing from Minnesota and that she found HungryBlues by googling "free disaster relief for katrina victims with disabilities." I wanted to tell her that I have a friend in Minnesota who has formed a People's Hurricane Relief Fund Solidarity Group. One of the things that PHRF Solidarity Groups do is locate evacuees in their area and help them organize and obtain resources that they need.
Last night's messages were from Anicia Chatters, who is looking for a friend of hers who was in Orleans Parish Prison before Katrina, and Sherre Boteler, whose husband has been stuck in jail for 125 days, waiting for a trial for a crime she does not believe he committed.
my husband was in orleans parish jail also on a rape charge that he didnt do.....i have evidence that he was lied on and falsely arrested and still cant get help for him.....also my husband is very ill and they knew that and still left him there to die. he was also left out in the rain on the field at hunts [info]. it is all true! he has been to 3 prisons since hurricane and has been incarcrated now for 125 days just waiting to go to court.
The heartbreak is not that Ben Greenberg feels helpless to do anything for individuals who've contacted him. Rather, it's that these glimpses of individual tragedies is most of what we get to know about the lives of those worst affected by Hurricane Katrina and that each fragment of a story that we hear can be multiplied by thousands.
Sherre Boteler gets the last word:
you know what i dont understand about our "great mayor"...lol ray nagin....he's more worried about the city having mardi gras and hearing people parting in the streets than geting help for these men and women that they left to die in the wake of a cat. 5 hurricane. what a joke he is!! who gives a damn about mardi gras? and the city rebuilding for the partiers.... we want out family members back ! i have not sen my husband in 4 months. it took me 8 days to even find out that he was still alive after the hurricane. i lived from shelter to shelter all alone for 8 weeks with not even help from fema....because they are a joke too. the entire government is a joke! the "declartion of independence" says all men and women are to created equally. DOSENT THAT COUNT FOR THE ONES IN JAIL ALSO.....THEY SAVED THE ANIMALS BUT TREATED OUR HUSBANDS, MOTHERS, FATHERS, BROTHERS, AND SISTERS WORSE. WHO IS GONNA STAND UP AND BE MEN AND SAY THEY WERE WRONG....and now they are saying it may be another 6 months to a year before anyone even sees a court room. they say they lost their evidence on the cases they had well, i have proof of my husbands innocense and they still dont care. but they gonna have mardi gras! WHAT A JOKE! "I'LL NEVER GO BACK!"
Chris Clarke, December First is "Blog Against Racism" Day:
Intentions are all well and good, but more important are the assumptions from which those intentions spring. Garbage in, garbage out: bad information times good intentions equals bad results. And those results are the most important thing of all.
David Neiwert, New Orleans: racial cleansing?
Recall, if you will, the vicious outpouring of racial hatred by New Orleans' most noted white supremacist, David Duke, and his fellow white supremacists in the wake of the disaster. Recall how much of the mainstream media coverage -- rife with images of black looters and tales (later proven false) of shootings, rapes, and multiple murders -- fed that outpouring....
As it happens, much of what white supremacists want to see happen to the city is, in fact, what is happening....
[S]ure enugh, a couple of months ago, HUD administrator Alphonso Jackson made clear that the city's demographics were indeed going to be reordered in the rebuilding:
"Whether we like it or not, New Orleans is not going to be 500,000 people for a long time," he said. "New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again."
... Alphonso Jackson predicted New Orleans will slowly draw back as many as 375,000 people, but that only 35 to 40 percent of the post-Katrina population would be black.
Jackson said that's because the worst-hit areas were low-income black neighborhoods that may never fully be repopulated.
Prior to Katrina, the population was 67 percent black and 28 percent white.
Hurricane Survivors Assembly & March for Human Rights
Who: Representative Gulf Coast hurricane survivors and evacuees will converge will their allies in over 50 grassroots organizations which make up The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition and The Mississippi Distress Relief Coalition. Together, they will share, heal and develop plans for organizing to move forward in their struggle for justice after Katrina.
What: The Gulf South Youth Assembly, The Gulf South National Assembly and The March for Human Rights.
Why: This will be the first assembly that provides those most negatively impacted by Katrina and its aftermath a chance to participate in developing national solutions for their own futures. A declaration of the people will be drafted and presented to Congress in an upcoming hearing sponsored by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, 11th District GA. These events will unite the movement of survivors, who continue to have their basic civil and human rights eroded away, as they build a sustainable and comprehensive plan for rebuilding their communities and lives.
December 8, 2005, Thursday
Business School of Jackson State University, 1300 Lynch St. Jackson, MS room 134
7-11 pm ~ Gulf Coast Youth Assembly: Youth speak out on Katrina
December 9, 2005, Friday
Anderson United Methodist Church, 6405 Hanging Moss Road
9am – 6pm ~ Survivor’s Assembly and Conference
8pm – 11pm ~ Rally and Cultural Program featuring Amira Baraka, Sonya Sanchez, Dead Prez and more
December 10, 2005, Saturday
Congo Square, North Rampart And St. Phillip Streets, New Orleans, LA
12:30 pm ~ Survivor’s March for Human Rights, Self Determination and The Right to Return.
For this story and more, please visit www.katrinainfonet.net, a project of the Katrina Information Network (KIN). KIN is an information and action clearinghouse. KIN shares expert viewpoints and action from the communities that have been devastated by Katrina, with up-to-the minute news and analysis.
A major victory for Katrina survivors who were renters before the storm.
All pending evictions are on hold until landlords send eviction notices to their tenants, according to a settlement struck Tuesday in federal court that ends a lawsuit brought by unions, activists and individual renters. Eviction hearings cannot take place until 45 days after those mailings are postmarked.
"No longer can landlords just rely on tacking notices on doors while the tenants don't know they're getting evicted," said Judith Browne, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "It's going to provide fair rules so that people can come and defend themselves and, ultimately, protect their property."
In an added twist, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to supply court clerks, constables and justices of the peace with addresses of evacuees -- a first in litigation since Katrina, Browne said.
"FEMA will have to supply the addresses to the evictions courts in Orleans and Jefferson," Browne said. "They know where they are."
FEMA will make every effort to provide names and addresses of tenants, upon request by the courts, from its database within five business days, the settlement says. But clerks are not to share the information with anyone, the deal said, and the federal Privacy Act will protect that information.
The settlement, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood Duval Jr., resolves a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 against every parish and city official who deals with evictions in Orleans and Jefferson. The rules are good for one year from Tuesday.
"There won't be any eviction hearings next week or the week after, or for at least 45 days." said attorney Bill Quigley of the Loyola Law Clinic, which represented plaintiffs. "It is going to help every renter in the metropolitan area, and renters, by and large, are people who don't have a lot of money or resources."
Note the irony of the parts in bold. As I detailed in my article in In These Times, it took Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater much more time and quite a lot more trouble to reach a compromise where FEMA would attempt to reach evacuated voters with information about how they can vote in upcoming elections.
On October 5, Ater asked FEMA’s liaison to his office, Arvin Schultz, for FEMA’s list of evacuees. Schultz responded On October 14 to Ater’s requests with a terse e-mail, writing that FEMA “will not fund the outreach program. They will not let you have a copy of the FEMA applicant list. Sorry!!!” Two days later, Ater appealed to Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells, the top FEMA official in Louisiana. Ater’s appeal was rejected, this time with the rationale that releasing the list of evacuees would violate the Privacy Act of 1974.
Ater then went to Washington, D.C., to negotiate with FEMA and lobby Louisiana’s representatives and senators to push the agency to reverse its decision. He suggested a compromise: FEMA could take the voter rolls from him and mail the election materials itself to avoid disclosing the evacuees’ addresses. Though FEMA said it wanted to work with Ater, agency officials dragged their heels for nearly two weeks. FEMA Spokesman Butch Kinerney says the main problem was “mechanical questions” about the best method for reaching voters while protecting privacy.
On November 8, FEMA finally made a clear concession. The agency said it would pay to send a one-page flyer to all evacuees that would explain voting rights and include ways to contact Ater’s office. Yet, Ater still does not know when FEMA will mail the flyer.
FEMA would not agree to give the information to Ater to protect voting rights, and "mechanical questions" made reaching a compromise position a protracted and demanding process. Apparently protecting the property rights of New Orleans landlords makes FEMA feel comfortable sharing the personal information with numerous people—"clerks, constables and justices of the peace"—while to protect voting rights, FEMA would not share the information with even one, high ranking state official.
See also: Katrina Survivors Win Stay of Evictions
In my article that just came out on In These Times, there's a passage where I recount Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater's correspondence and negotiations with FEMA officials about obtaining the list of evacuees to reach them with voting information and getting funding for a Nationwide Voter Outreach and Education Campaign.
Here is a little more about all of that, not published in my article:
On November 9, I called FEMA’s media desk to ask some questions about the respective roles of Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells and Project Officer Arvin Schultz. Spokesman Randy Welch explained Well’s leadership role in Louisiana and that Project Officers, like Arvin Schultz, go around with local and state government officials to assess material damage and determine needs for funding.
“Does FEMA prioritize material damage to items like voting machines over other needs, like the Secretary of State’s voter education campaign?” I asked.
“I have to defer to whatever Butch Kinerney [another FEMA spokesperson] answered on that one, the last time you called us,” Welch said.
About ten minutes after we hung up, my cell phone rang again.
“It’s Randy Welch. I wasn’t sure you heard they resolved the voting issue,” he said, referring to the agreement FEMA finalized the day before, to mail voting information to evacuees on behalf of Al Ater.
“Yes, I did hear that,” I said.
But the “voting issue” is not resolved for Al Ater. The Secretary of State still thinks FEMA might pay for public service announcements on the radio, his spokesperson Jennifer Marusak said on November 11.
The other parts of the Voter Outreach and Education Campaign are not currently on the table, however, nor has Ater been invited back to Washington.
Folks I've got them hungry blues
And nothin' in this to lose
People tellin' me to choose
Between dyin' and lyin' and keep
Tired of them hungry blues
Listen ain't you heard the news
There's another thing to choose
A brand new world clean and fine
Where nobody's hungry
And there's no color line
A thing like that's worth
I ain't got a thing to lose
But them doggone hungry blues