A majority white City Council has been elected in New Orleans for the first time in more than two decades. The election was held just when the demolition of 5,000 public housing units in the city had been projected to begin. Two seats in the Louisiana Legislature and a state court judgeship, previously held by Blacks, were taken by whites as well.
Not only did substantially more whites than Blacks vote in the elections, but the total number of votes decreased sharply—by more than 60,000—from the mayoral election in 2006. One explanation for this, according to the Nov. 20 New York Times, is the large number of absentee ballots that came in during the 2006 election as well as the effort made then by many displaced people who drove back to New Orleans to vote.
“The weekend election,” said the Times, “appeared to confirm what many had predicted immediately after the storm in 2005: New Orleans became almost overnight a smaller, whiter city with a much reduced black majority.”
This is exactly what organizers in the Black community have been warning of—that the white power structure wanted to make it as difficult as possible for Black people to come back in order to have unchallenged political control of the city.
The actual storm is only a small factor in the reduction of the Black population in New Orleans. Stronger factors include the continued neglect of the survivors and a push for gentrification that takes only the interests of the white elite into consideration.
Workers World reported on Nov. 15: “Other developments related to this racist gentrification conspiracy include the privatization of schools, which has led to the massive layoffs of thousands of public school teachers; the lack of health care, especially for the poor; an alarming increase in the homicide rate in the Black community; and more police brutality.”
A local demographic analyst, Gregory C. Rigamer, suggests in the Times article that “the lower voter turnout would indicate that some people ... have lost interest.” Yes, blame the victims. More likely, the struggle to survive for these mostly Black, low-income survivors has not abated, making voting extremely difficult for them. Indeed, in the 2006 elections it took a major grassroots effort to organize displaced persons across the country to vote.
However, protests have recently been held in New York, New Orleans and other cities where displaced Katrina survivors live, denouncing the federal go-ahead of the public housing demolition. A short reprieve may have been won due to these efforts, but the demolitions are still slated for sometime in December. Attorney Bill Quigley, who plans to continue fighting the demolitions, said they will “permanently displace thousands of long-term New Orleanians from their community and erase nearly 70 years of New Orleans culture and history.” (Times-Picayune, Nov. 16)
In light of the majority-white City Council development, Malcolm Suber—a well-known Black activist and a leader of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund who ran for the City Council member-at-large seat this past October, representing the newly formed Reconstruction Party—has called for “the need for revolutionary/progressive Black working class leadership in the fight for the future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”
His platform called for a “way back home” and real reconstruction for the people of the area, opposition to the privatization of education, jobs and living wages. He stated, “My ‘Six-Point Platform for the Recovery of New Orleanians’ is for the people, not the special interests of developers and political insiders.”
The struggle for the dignity, respect and right to return of Katrina survivors should be of great interest to all those interested in building anti-racist, class-wide solidarity.
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