Katrina: The Movement

All around the country, a storm is gathering. The aftermath of Katrina is gaining power and energy in churches, barbershops and rec rooms, on campuses and online. A growing number of advocates are finding common cause in preventing the next "perfect storm" of racism, government neglect and divestment. And they are already chalking up some victories.

It started with targeted pressure on FEMA that forced the agency to reassess its no-bid contract process and got Congress to look up from its partisan playbook and actually take FEMA to task. Of course, it wasn't enough to overhaul the process -- yet. However, it was the first substantial chink in the Bush armor since he took office. And this is only the beginning of what we can do.

Groups like the Young People's Project's Find Our Folk initiative are out speaking directly to survivors across the Katrina Diaspora, listening to their issues and giving form and voice to their outrage. Local communities are holding tribunals and truth and reconciliation commission-style hearings to "try" the Bush Administration in ways that are helping communities make sense of the senseless. The U.S. Human Rights Network, a coalition of more than 100 U.S.-based organizations working on human rights issues here "at home" has been documenting abuses and working to involve the United Nations in an investigation and review.

Community Labor United, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, Common Ground Collective, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Southern ECHO, ACORN, INCITE! and Project South are among the many regional and local organizations organizing for a just recovery and rebuilding. Many of these groups work together as part of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and the Southern Relief Fund -- broad coalitions focused on addressing relief and recovery issues in Louisiana and Mississippi, respectively.

Two Months Later

As we approach the two-month mark since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, it is clear that many communities are still very much in need of relief. East Biloxi, Mississippi waited weeks for debris removal and at the time of this writing, is still waiting. Local groups in predominantly black areas report that Red Cross has yet to release supplies in their neighborhoods.

The silver lining of all of this is that communities are coming together to fight back. Black churches and other organizations are developing community-based alternatives to corporate relief as groups are literally transporting their own supplies to ensure that they are delivered directly to oft-neglected communities. Mississippi Workers Center is among the local groups that take regular shipments of food, toiletries, bicycles and other necessities to the communities that, as Director Jaribu Hill observes, "Red Cross can't seem to find." Hill, a lawyer, has been working to document these abuses as well as unlawful evictions and other forms of Katrina opportunism in preparation for legal advocacy she hopes will help turn things around.

Mississippi Workers Center is part of a growing number of legal advocacy efforts to identify responsible parties and take them to court for some old-school justice. The Mississippi ACLU, Advancement Project -- which helps lead the national legal team of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund -- and many others are scouring the law for innovative approaches to getting survivors real relief.

Yet, as important as these efforts are, there is still much more to do. Here's how you can help build the movement to say "Never again."

Urge Congress to conduct an independent, Kerner Commission-style investigation of Katrina and its aftermath. Here's a "deliberative body" that spent millions on an independent investigation of Clinton's extramarital sex life but can't investigate billions in agency funds misspent resulting in the loss of scores of lives. Self-identified moderate, "good government" Republicans like Senator John McCain should be especially ashamed of their vote against an independent investigation.

Send an email or a letter a week to keep the pressure on. There are many places to get your e-advocacy on, including www.katrinaaction.org and www.colorofchange.org, web portals with great ideas for actions that take just 30 seconds or a little longer.

Make sure Red Cross is providing fair and equitable relief distribution. Red Cross receives a great deal of resources including government reimbursement for a number of expenses, as well as income from charging some recipients for its services. As a quasi-government agency, there should be more rules and more transparency regarding access, services, income and expenditures. Call your local elected officials and ask them to look into it.

Donate to local organizations for the holidays . For the communities hardest hit, rescue and relief efforts are still ongoing. Do what you can to support local and regional groups as they work to rebuild.

Increase funding for organizing overall but with special emphasis on the South. Too often, funders focus on the East and West coasts, with little support for the rest of the country in between. Katrina is a wake-up call to support expanded advocacy and organizing infrastructure that builds power in the region and in urban areas nationwide. Perhaps, thinking creatively like many funders did to pump up resources in New York post-9/11, our support can help usher in a new, more democratic and equitable South (and a more democratic and equitable North while we're at it).

Consider participating in the December Days of Action sponsored by a number of local and national organizations to bring attention to Katrina recovery issues . The National Assembly is scheduled to take place in Jackson, Miss. on Dec. 9, and a march is set to take place in New Orleans on Dec. 10. Check www.communitylaborunited.net for details.

Whatever you do, know that you are joining a diverse, thriving and thoughtful movement that is seeking to do what many thought was impossible: make this nation pay attention to racism and have the audacity to demand that something can be done about it.


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