Dear Color of Change.org member,
Something incredibly important is about to happen in New Orleans. It's hard to convey how serious it is. All we can ask is that you take a moment to read what follows.
Today, five months after Hurricane Katrina, federal and local officials are about to permanently displace Black and poor folks from New Orleans. Black and progressive members of Congress aren't even putting up a fight. That means it's up to us, the public, to demand that they take a stand. Please join us, here:
It's a two-pronged attack, and it's gaining momentum. Both the federal "Baker Bill" and the local Bring New Orleans Back Commission plan put the burden on displaced residents to prove that they can come back and rebuild their neighborhoods on their own, with no help. A critical mass of residents must start within four months. If they don't, the government will get the option to buy their property and sell it to developers who will turn around and build new, higher-priced housing--making huge profits, while pricing out the original residents.
It's unfair and it makes no sense. Katrina scattered working class and poor people across the country. Many of them want to return. But it's outrageous for politicians to expect them to come back to New Orleans under these conditions and attempt to start the rebuilding process--where there are no jobs, no opportunities, not even the electricity to power a drill!--without even a promise of support. It's a set-up, and it will push these people out of New Orleans forever.
We've spent a lot of time in Washington lately, and the message we heard is clear: without a public outcry, the folks who were abandoned before Katrina will be betrayed once again. Legislators who want to gentrify New Orleans see no political consequences for abandoning Black and poor people. Legislators who should have their backs are too afraid or unmotivated to move without loud popular support.
Now is the time to make our collective voices heard--to expose the plans in the works and let Congress know we demand better. For hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians, our outcry may be their only hope. Please join us, and just as important, ask your friends and family to do the same:
WRONG FROM THE START
You can learn a lot about these plans by looking at who engineered them. Congressman Richard Baker introduced the federal plan (HR 4100). You may remember him--he's the Republican from Baton Rouge who said this, after Hurricane Katrina: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." The local plan comes largely from big-time developer Joseph Canizaro, a personal friend of Bush who has been called New Orleans' "Donald Trump." Neither of these men has been a friend to the poor or Black folks of the region, and their plans reflect this.
These plans would devastate some of the country's oldest Black neighborhoods--neighborhoods where many families have lived for generations, some stretching back to slavery, and where Black home-ownership rates have consistently been among the highest in the country. Within a year, these neighborhoods could be completely gone. These families there will get some cash for their property (60% of their homes' pre-Katrina value), but it won't be enough to buy again in New Orleans or elsewhere. And since most of the families are low-income, it will be impossible from them to qualify for new mortgages. The cruel irony is that after these folks are forced out, their property values will rise, which will further prevent them from coming back.
There are better ways to go about rebuilding New Orleans. Instead of investing federal money in property--with the benefits going to developers--we could be investing in people and their neighborhoods. In Mississippi, homeowners are getting up to $150,000 in grants, not loans, to rebuild their damaged homes. Tens of thousands of New Orleanians, especially those who need work, could come back to do jobs related to the rebuild. The billions of dollars being set aside for rebuilding could be the fuel for bringing residents back, for providing job training, temporary housing, and jobs, instead of providing a windfall for developers.
BLACK AND PROGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP IS COMPLETELY ABSENT
At times like this, we expect Black and progressive members of Congress to have the backs of Black folks and the poor. We expect them to fight plans like the Baker Bill and introduce innovative, progressive solutions like those we just mentioned. But they're not. They have all been silent or joined the Baker Bill bandwagon.
When we went to DC and asked Congressional staffers to explain the silence, this is what we heard: "we had to get behind something," "nothing we'd put forward could pass Congress," or "well, we got some other important legislation tacked on and we know it'll pass anyway." The bottom line is this: our elected officials are participating in a plan that sells out our people because there's no urgent public demand for them to do anything else.
As it stands, there's no political price to pay for ignoring New Orleans' working class, Black and poor residents. There's no public political support for those who want an inclusive, fair rebuild, either.
WE CAN CHANGE THE COURSE
Folks in DC who want to do the right thing are begging us to jump in and shake up the political landscape. We've got to let those representatives know we've got their backs (and that we'll hold them accountable if they don't act). And we've also got to send a message to those who would sell out New Orleans: there will be a political price to pay.
Please join us, and ask your friends and family to do the same. It takes only a minute and can make all the difference in the world.
Thank you and Peace,
-- James, Van, and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
February 6th, 2006
 "Fight the Theft of New Orleans," Black Commentator, January 19, 2006
 "Recovery plan for Louisiana would let U.S. buy land," New York Times, January 5, 2006
 "Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina," Washington Post, September 10, 2005
 "A Mogul Who Would Rebuild New Orleans," New York Times, September 29, 2005
"Study Says 80% of New Orleans Blacks May Not Return," New York Times, January 27, 2006
"A Right to Rebuild," Newsweek, January 13, 2006
Donor Profile on Joe Canizaro, Mother Jones
In September, we pledged that our brothers and sisters would never be left behind again. It's time to make good on our promise.
A bill is gaining ground in Congress that would force Black and low-to-moderate income families out of New Orleans, permanently. Please click the link below and demand that members of conscience in Congress fight it.