Sunday, September 25, 2005

Notes from Ramallah-ish

Here's the set-up/background of what I hope will become another blog, but for now will be posted on here:

The Bay Area is full of Palestinians. While the Yemeni and Lebanese populations are also up there, I tend to be surrounded by Palestinians as a result of my interests and work and the fact that they're so darn active in everything and have been for a long long time. Maybe also because of where I live, I don't know. So I have a lot of Palestinian friends and colleagues--which is great! I've learned a lot from them in so many ways and on so many levels be it politically, personally, or culturally.

One of the consequences of having so many Palestinians in my life is that it's likely that at least a few will go back to their homeland. And go back, they do. My half-joking motto is 'Palestinians--you fall in love with 'em and then they leave you for their first love.'

The first that left was Amjad, now happily married in Ramallah and expecting his first baby. Amjad was literally a part of my family. When he lived here, not a day went by that we didn't see each other usually over dinner since he figured out when I'd be cooking and call right then saying 'Ana Ja'an!' and of course I'd invite him over to have dinner with my brother and I since I was preparing it anyway and he was hungry. Then he'd knit pick about the Asian-ness of my cooking (hey, I'm a vegetarian--need I say more?) saying things like 'If you made this back home, no one would eat it' or what-not. But he still came back for the dinner... or maybe the company.

In his defence, he did make the world's best hummus though, hands down, and took me out to dinner plenty of times. On top of that, he amused me for hours with stories about what it's like to grow up in Palestine. I know, 'amused' seems the wrong word, but he would literally crack me up with his dramatic re-enactments! And he always had an Arabic saying to share with me and everyone else, right Amjad?

I trust my life with Amjad--that's what kind of person he is.

A couple of months ago, two other close Palestinian friends of mine left for home: Noura & Khalil. Seems like the names don't belong seperately and I hope they don't ever unless it's some accomplishment by one or the other. These two are a super dynamic couple with hearts of gold, sharp minds, spines of steal, and a warmness that would make anyone melt. Acceptance, tolerance, and understanding are just some of the parting gifts they left behind for me to work with. Not to forget having a ball no matter what's going on and laughing laughing laughing at the absurd while still calling a spade a spade. They live what they believe and don't back down when others don't agree. They're that solid. In a world of smoke and mirrors, that's a rarity. I spent my last birthday just roaming around the city in their car, stopping by at their friends' houses, chatting the day away with one or the other or someone else who loved them. It was my day to peak into what I call the 'Noura-Khalil world'. It was warm, safe, and happy. One of my best birthdays ever.

Noura will start a blog when they get settled and have easier access to internet venues. For now, I'm posting updates on their new life in Palestine (thanks to her for permission). Hopefully, Amjad will get a hint and start writing too! Noura, next time you meet, encourage him to do it. Yeah, he'll come up with some excuse--just keep at it.

(Drum roll) And now, presenting Noura:

Friday Sept. 23
Just thought I'd share (purge) a snipit of our time here with you. Up until now, mixed with a lot of fun and relaxation, thankfully the situation on the ground has remained relatively calm. Many (W.B.) Palestinians say they are just waiting to see what is going to happen to them that Israel has more soldiers, and time on their hands.

Day from Hell.
So, today we were stuck in purgatory, somewhere in between Birzeit and the city of Ramallah. As a result of the "flying checkpoint" there were taxi's and cars lined up for miles, and we barely moved a foot every 10 minutes. All that our Western/American patience would allow us to wait in the wretched heat for absolutely no reason is about 25 minutes. Then instead of watching Khaleel prowl up and down the street trying to understand the non-sensical daily reality of life in Palestine we decided to turn around and head back. Although I could possibly have waited a bit longer in the scorching sun, it wouldn't have taken long for my patience to combust as well.

Instead of the 5 minutes that nature would allow normal human beings to get from Beitin to Ramallah, and again rejected from the "normal" miserable 40 minute re-route, we decided to go around and take the scenic 1 hour ride instead. Looking (difficultly) at the bright side, at least we have the American passports to allow us the privilege of passing through more checkpoints. So we drove rarely enjoying the wind blowing through our hair more until; we arrived at the Calandia checkpoint. At which point we only had to wait another forty five minutes to get back into Ramallah.

All the time, the American half of my brain was asking, myself (and of course the soldiers too; with no reason given) "Excuse Me Mr. Soldier, what the hell is going on here?? Why all the waiting and random check points?" My Palestinian brain was saying this is the first in the range of daily difficulties in life under occupation.

For now, it is just another lesson in never ending patience of life in Palestine. I swear, I just do not understand how Palestinians endure it.

Thanks for listening.


Friday, September 23, 2005


'Ya Allah' (Oh Lord) is all I know to say right now--what else is left?

For personal accounts, check out Tareq's blog. Hoping he's okay. He just recently moved to Houston.

An LA Times article on Rita: As Rita Nears, Chaos Spreads

Yahoo updates on Rita are pretty good as well. They're mostly AP direct reporting.

This Week-end in San Francisco

I was about to give up on this whole post after I lost the original. This will be a quicky as it's time sensitive.

As mentioned in my previous post, the Arab Film Festival is here! Between San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley, you can watch some of the best Arab-flavored feature films and some documentaries. I'm definitely not the only one super excited by it as evidenced by the rave review in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The only one I've seen so far is Sabah, which has been compared to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I know I'm biased, but I honestly think it's better than that. The writer and director, Ruba Nadda, is a young Syrian-Canadian woman with a lot of potential. Keep an eye out.

Yesterday, San Francisco's activist organizations participated in yet another global anti-War demo. The call this time was a most definite 'Bring the troops back'. I didn't march this time--just tabled. How else do I get a break?

The DC, yesterday's rally kicked off a whole United for Peace: Saturday, September 24 Massive March, Rally & Festival coordinated by the United for Peace and Justice Coalition. Looking good over there, guys. More info on the festival here.

Also yesterday in SF was the Love Parade... I'm not advertizing it, but I know it was big. Apparently hundreds of DJs from around the world are spinning their techno (which I'm no fan of) in the city this weekend.

And today is the Folsom Street Fair. I decided not to post the actual home-page, but rather a link to SF history on this and other Street Fairs. It gives an idea of SF's legacy of activism.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

California -- the next disaster on the list?

A commentary from the San Francisco Chronicle warning of the implications of FEMA's seeming inability to respond to the situation in New Orleans... which should also include Houston at this point. Garcia, the writer thinks California was next on the list--a major earthquake in California was the third of FEMA's 2001 warnings of major disasters in the US. Then again, who knew of Rita at the time. Talk about plagues, eh?

How might it hit us here?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

New Orleans Update

Below is the last update from Jordan. Sorry for the delay in posting--I've been splitting my time between working, outreach coordinating for ADC-SF, a new gig producing a radio program on KALW, and have just taken on helping coordinate the closing night of San Francisco's 9th Annual Arab Film Festival (and attending some of the great featured films). Other local events (only one with which I'm involved) will be posted hereafter.

How's that for condensed promotion?

Back Inside New Orleans
by Jordan Flaherty

September 12, 2005

What actually happened in New Orleans these past two weeks? We need to sort through the rumors and distortions. Perhaps we need our version of South Africa’s Truth
And Reconciliation Commission. Some way to sort through the many narratives and find a truth, and to find justice.

I spent yesterday inside the city of New Orleans, speaking to a few of the last holdouts in the 9th ward/bywater neighborhood. Their stories paint a very different picture from what we’ve heard in the media. Instead of stories of gangs of criminals and police and soldiers keeping order, there were stories of collective action, everyone looking out for each other, communal responses.

The first few nights there was a large, free community barbecue at a neighborhood bar called The Country Club. People brought food and cooked and cooked and drank and went swimming (yes, there's a pool in the bar).

Emily Harris and Richie Kay, from Desire Street, traveled out on their boat and brought supplies and gave rides. They have been doing this almost every day since the hurricane struck. They estimate that they have rescued at least a hundred people. Emily doesn’t want to leave. She is a carpenter and builder, and says, “I want to stay and rebuild. I love New Orleans.”

Emily describes a community working together in the first days after the hurricane. She also describes a scene of abandonment and disappointment. “A lot of people
came to the high ground at St. Claude Avenue. They really thought someone would come and rescue them, and they waited all day for something - a boat, a helicopter, anything. There were helicopters in the sky, but none coming down.”

So people started walking as a mass uptown to Canal Street. Along the way, youths would break into grocery stores, take the food and distribute it evenly among houses in the community.

“Then they reached Canal Street, and saw that there was still no one that wanted to rescue them. That's when people broke into the stores on Canal Street.”

I asked Okra, in his house off of Piety Street, what the biggest problem has been. He said, “It’s been the police - they’ve lost the last restraints on their behavior they had, and gotten a license to go wild. They can do anything they want. I saw one cop beat a guy so hard that he almost took his ear off. And this was someone just trying to walk home.”

Walking through the streets, I witnessed hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets. Everyone I spoke to said that soldiers were coming to their house at least once a day, trying to convince them to leave, bringing stories of disease and quarantine and violence. I didn’t see or speak to any soldiers involved in any clean up or rebuilding.

There are surely reasons to leave - I would not be living in the city at this point. I’m too attached to electricity and phone lines. But I can attest that those holdouts I spoke to are doing fine. They have enough food and water and have been very careful to avoid exposing themselves to the many health risks in the city.

I saw more city busses rolling through poor areas of town than I ever saw pre-hurricane. Unfortunately, these buses were filled with patrols of soldiers. What
if the massive effort placed into patrolling this city and chasing everyone out were placed into beginning the rebuilding process?

Some neighborhoods are underwater still, and the water has turned into a sticky sludge of sewage and death that turns the stomach and breaks my heart. However, some neighborhoods are barely damaged at all, and if a large-scale effort were put into bringing back electricity and clearing the streets of debris, people could begin to move back in now.

Certainly some people do not want to move back, but many of us do. We want to rebuild our city that we love. The People’s Hurricane Fund - a grassroots, community based group made up of New Orleans community organizers and allies from around the US - has already made one of their first demands a “right of return” for the displaced of New Orleans.

In the last week, I’ve traveled between Houston, Baton Rouge, Covington, Jackson and New Orleans and spoken to many of my former friends and neighbors. We feel shell
shocked. It used to be we would see each other in a coffee shop or a bar or on the street and talk and find out what we’re doing. Those of us who were working for social justice felt a community. We could share stories, combine efforts, and we never felt alone. Now we’re alone and dispersed and we miss our homes and our
communities and we still don’t know where so many of our loved ones even are.

It may be months before we start to get a clear picture of what happened in New Orleans. As people are dispersed around the US reconstructing that story becomes even harder than reconstructing the city. Certain sites, like the Convention Center and Superdome, have become legendary, but despite the thousands of people who were there, it still is hard to find out exactly what did happen.

According to a report that’s been circulated, Denise Young, one of those trapped in the convention center told family members, “yes, there were young men with guns there, but they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and ‘looted,’ and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out ‘the buses are coming,’ the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back,just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.” But the buses never came. “Lots of
people being dropped off, nobody being picked up. Cops passing by, speeding off. We thought we were being left to die.”

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, paramedics from Service Employees International Union Local 790 reported on their experience downtown, after leaving a hotel they were staying at for a convention. “We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told...that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us.

We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City...

“We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. ...As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions...

“Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in
the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

“All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleanians were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers
stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hot wired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.”

Media reports of armed gangs focused on black youth, but New Orleans community activist, Black Panther, and former Green Party candidate for City Council Malik Rahim reported from the West Bank of New Orleans, “There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup trucks, all of them armed.” I also heard similar reports from two of my neighbors - a white gay couple - who i visited on Esplanade Avenue.

The reconstruction of New Orleans starts now. We need to reconstruct the truth, we need to reconstruct families, who are still separated, we need to reconstruct the lives and community of the people of New Orleans, and, finally, we need to reconstruct the city.

Since I moved to New Orleans, I’ve been inspired and educated by the grassroots community organizing that is an integral part of the life of the city. It is this community infrastructure that is needed to step forward and fight for restructuring with justice.

In 1970, when hundreds of New Orleans police came to kick the Black Panthers out of the Desire Housing Projects, the entire community stood between the police and the
Panthers, and the police were forced to retreat.

The grassroots infrastructure of New Orleans is the infrastructure of secondlines and Black Mardi Gras: true community support. The Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs
organize New Orleans’ legendary secondline parades - roving street parties that happen almost every weekend. These societies were formed to provide insurance to the Black community because Black people could not buy insurance legally, and to this day the “social aid” is as important as the pleasure.

The only way that New Orleans will be reconstructed as even a shadow of its former self is if the people of New Orleans have direct control over that reconstruction.
But, our community dislocation is only increasing. Every day, we are spread out further. People leave Houston for Oregon and Chicago. We are losing contact with each other, losing our community that has nurtured us.

Already, the usual forces of corporate restructuring are lining up. Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary has begun work on a $500 million US Navy contract for emergency repairs at Gulf Coast naval and marine facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Blackwell Security - the folks that brought you Abu Ghraib - are patrolling the streets of our city.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the rich white elite is already planning their vision of New Orleans’ reconstruction, from the super-rich gated compounds of Audubon Place Uptown, where they have set up a heliport and brought in a heavily-armed Israeli security company. “The new city must be something very different,” one of these city leaders was quoted as saying, “with better services and fewer poor people. Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

While the world’s attention is focused on New Orleans, in a time when its clear to most of the world that the federal government’s greed and heartlessness has caused this tragedy, we have an opportunity to make a case for a people’s restructuring, rather than a Halliburton restructuring.

The people of New Orleans have the will. Today, I met up with Andrea Garland, a community activist with Get Your Act On who is planning a bold direct action; she and several of her friends are moving back in to their homes. They have generators and supplies, and they invite anyone who is willing to fight for New Orleans to move back in with them. Malik Rahim, in New Orleans’ West Bank, is refusing to leave and is inviting others to join him. Community organizer Shana Sassoon, exiled in Houston, is planning a community mapping project to map out where our diaspora is being sent, to aid in our coming back together. Abram Himmelstein and Rachel Breulin
of The Neighborhood Story Project are beginning the long task of documenting oral histories of our exile.

Please join us in this fight. This is not just about New Orleans. This is about community and collaboration versus corporate profiteering. The struggle for New
Orleans lives on.

Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn
Magazine ( He is not
planning on moving out of New Orleans.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Guantanamo Diary

Another diary posting—this time from Omar in Guantanamo. It was written during the time of the first hunger strike and has apparently been censored when the current hunger strike began.

It’s heart breaking.

I made no edits. The note in the end (regarding censorship) was included in the email I received. I would like to point out that Clive refers to Clive Stafford Smith, the British Human Rights attorney representing many Gitmo prisoners. To learn more about him and Omar's status, read Barbara Slaughter's May article.

British refugee Omar Deghayes’ Diary of the Hunger Strike
(Written from Guantanamo Bay, Camp V, unclassified Sept. 7, 2005)

Sunday 3 [July, 2005]
Jafallah Mari the only Qatari prisoner has fallen in the hunger strike. He was taken to hospital. His weight was 120 pounds now reduced to 103 pounds.

Tuesday 5
Khalid Hatair [Kuwaiti] was found unconscious in his cell when MP’s wanted to give diner food. He was ill because of the hunger strike. He was taken to hospital.

3pm Shammrani was taken to Investigation and asked why the hunger strike. He told her disrespect to all religious rituals and this is the fourth year in prison without any charges or clear decision etc.

Wednesday 6
2pm detainee in cell number A2 started to bleed from hunger strike. He is in the third week of hunger strike. Also the Qatari Jafallah is very sick again they entered his cell with the ERF team to check his blood and pressure.

Friday 8
Many people started to fall from hunger and in Block D in our block etc..

6.05 pm A Doctor and a translator threatening people and shoving them. He says we will force people to take food. Many detainees would want to take some to give them some strength for the days to come instead of trying to solve the problems.

Saturday 9
In the morning before 11am several times Doctor cam around and asked questions. Some show concern. This is a new approach unseen in all previous strikes. Whatever the reason their kinder human attitudes is to be encouraged. And should mend the lost trust between detainees and officials here in the camp.

Monday 11
The Qatari Jafallah is in hospital since last Friday.

5pm I heared that the strike had spread everywhere in Camp I and Camp II and forty detainees in Camp IV, the softest Camp. Camp V still very determined even though we are in the fourth dangerous week. A very good and powerful message to all these arrogant people in charge.

Tuesday 12
The strikers number in our Block has increased greatly I am assured that the strike has certainly spread in all other camps. Many people are in hospital. Qarnain in a serious ill state. I [worried about the] conditions of all detainees. But I found morale [is] very high and everyone is steadfast, they want to go on and just continue whatever the costs, if the Authorities here don’t do something fast to improve things, I think things are getting worse and it will go out of control.

Wednesday 13

3pm many more people have fallen unconscious. Some in Block D others in our Block. Ruhan is taken to hospital.

Thursday 14
More are taken to hospital. From our Block Jamma. In Block C Jihad the Syrian stopped drinking water for 6 days now. Ruhani came back from H. He said it was very busy and the other large hospital is to take the overload.

Tuesday 19

(I am back alive) J
I was very sick [and unable] to write anything last few days in much pain and like dead. Today I heard that [there are] even bigger numbers in Delta Camp. In (Camp 4) 50 refused to go back to their prison in protest. They were all removed to back to Camp Delta. When some U.S. heads asked what they demanded to stop the strike, they said ‘Go and ask Camp V’. Those poor detainees are angry for our treatment and forgotten their own.

Eisa Marbali is taken to hospital, and Ghasan Atabi, in Block A.

In [Block] A (Kazami) in a total refusal of anything (civil strike). They decided to take him away, I don’t know where.

Wednesday 20
Omar Khadr [the Canadian juvenile] is very sick in our Block. He is throwing [up] blood. They gave him cyrum [serum] when they found him on the floor in his cell. Galib Fiyhani also.

11.43 am. Ghasan came back from hospital. He also heard that Camp 4 were given (unusually) nuts and sweets etc... they refused it and said give it to our brothers in Camp V.

Tuesday 19
Supper. We held [a meeting] and talked between us about the dangerous condition of Atabi in front of us, and Sami [Al Laithi] in the wheelchair downstairs. We spoke to the SOG [Sergeant of the Guard] about their treatment. Our concern is that he relays the message. We asked them to take Sami out from Camp V to where he was Camp IV. He needs help and keeping him in this Camp was killing him though they said he was not a danger to U.S.A.

Atabi was given 4 tablets of Motrin daily for more than 2 weeks. He was not given any [real] medicine. Many Doctors who came about to see the strike promised him medicine but nothing came. He was brought from an operation to his cell and we asked them to treat him and keep him in hospital. This drug is a poison if taken in such quantity with all its side effects.

Wednesday 20
1.43 pm Atabi collapsed while he was walking with Guards to the shower.

4.35 pm I tidied my blanket and realised the dirt bad state it is in. Several months, if not a year, since I had a change. No facilities to wash it. Nor the sun – after the hunger strike I started to realise how bad the water smells and tastes. I am very thirsty all the time. I wait for the cup that comes with meals to drink.
- All lessons we had before the strike stopped. Lessons prepared by detainees for each other. I lost my work and revision. No songs or poetry on Friday night anymore. Just, many are falling, and sounds of illnesses. The Block is dead quiet most of the time.

Thursday 21
About 11am a guard moved the Quran of Suhai (Yemeni) in Block B. In protest Rida (Tunisian) was in the rec yard and refused to go in, in protest. They brought him in with the ERF hulligans [hooligans]. Cayous [chaos] in Block B, C and A. Qahatani broke the camera in his cell. ERF moved him to another cell. Other trying to break the little glass on the door. Atmosphere of cayous in the Camp.

- more people are starting tomorrow in the hunger strike.

- from 9 pm to now (10.20 pm) grand consultation (‘Mashura’).

- Abashi who can hardly speak decided alone to hold [accept] his plate against all advice. They refused to give him medicine. He is adding to our sorrow. We said to him, tomorrow they will not give you food. He said he wanted to be in the strike. He only ate [before] because we said if you enter the strike many of us in the Block will eat. So for now he is saying they refuse to give me food, and I have no choice, I am with you in the strike. We are still trying to convince him to [take] his plate. He is refusing. Just more to our sadness and misery to see him suffer.

Sunday 24 July
Wrote the notes about democracy and a long letter to my family. I was up all night. Today tired and strike is even bigger. Many Afghan in Camp Delta joined in. Another Block in Camp Delta of level one joined the strike. I got soap today. I will wash my clothes. Sami lay then under my cell, tried shout and speak to me. But I could not hear him. I shouted he did not hear me either. Yesterday I started revision again.

Monday 25 July
Stopped revision because I am very tired again from the strike. 10.20pm got soap so I washed my shirt. Atabi is gone to meet the lawyer. Omar Ramah is taken to hospital. Shammrani also collapsed at lunch time. Gubran said that they released Jatar, Oshan, and Mohammed Sudani. Good news. I am fed up with the strike. I cannot do my revision and other work. However I am at the last pages of Paxman’s book. Very good book and provokes thoughts and reflection. Though I do disagree on things. But very good book. I think that’s how research on subjects should be done. I wonder if his other books are as good as this. Clive, the Americans did not give me the other books you brought. [My 4 year old] Sulaiman’s pictures: He has not changed a lot. The letters the Americans gave me, only some of them.

Tuesday 26 July
I received four parcels of mail from Clive. Great news in them. Gave the summary to everyone in Block. Another sitting for the details. Clive, I think you still think I don’t trust you, you are completely wrong. I trust you now very much. I noticed that you intended good, done, really, a Great Job. But I think you are wounded deeply. You must forgive me for all the accusations before. You must realise the bad, suspicious conditions we are under, and psychological warfare we are under. This strike is the longest strike of all previous four strikes in these camps. Prisoners are still determined.

[Wednesday 27 July] 9.30 pm – we all decided to end the strike – for one month. Because the General and offiver promised to fulfill many conditions. Shakir [Aamer] is going round the camps and Blocks to relay this message with Colonel. My counting is 26th of July but someone said it is the 27th.

Reading the news Clive has done so much even for Libya. The conference in London of opposition parties. I think he has [done] a lot to cause it and move the media and ground for such move. He really deserves lots of credit. I hope I can repay you one day. First you move Amnesty later to make a report on Libya. Then brought the media attention and scholars (simply Great work).

Wednesday 27 July
The strike has stoped for one month, to give the General the time he required to implement all conditions he agreed and promised. If demands were not implemented we will (Insh’Allah) return again to hunger strike. We had detainees entering the strike in turns, in groups. One group after another, after a period of time passes. More than 250 striked because there turn has come but there are others who were in there waiting and did not even get the chance to enter yet. The General conditioned that we throw nothing on Guards during this month. He promised treatment under Geneva convention, respect of Qur’an and rituals, religious book and others, better food and conditions and many other things, he said. We will see.

Thursday 28 July
About 4 am I received early morning food before dawn for fast. It was very good. They changed it. It may cost the same price as before. But it was made this time for human beings. It had the same amount of eggs, but this time boiled. The same piece of bread etc… Also, last night sapper was very good though it had the same lentils and same tomato and bread. But was cooked for humans this time. This shows what they were doing before. They intended to make detainees’ life miserable. It was not the cost of food or amount we were complaining about . But exactly what they [have] now done and rectified. Cooked properly for human consumption. We never touched on the problem or articulated specifically this, But they rectified it when things were serious. They knew since [General] Miller changed it to this what the real problem was -- it was [a] deliberate act to cause irritation.

We have no media access. No one knew when we started the strike that the US Government and its cronies where making a big Probagand [Propaganda] about the food and what it costs. Senators reading menus in the Senate!! Etc. The strike and Allah’s will coincided with all the lies making them now, I am sure, look very stupid.

Thursday 28 July [cont’d[
Yesterday [****] came back from meeting his attorney. He said that 3 bombs hit London city. I am thinking who will put such bombs in London in this time!! To whose benefit?? The British people have supported the cause and plight of those mistreated in Gitmo. The media, politicians and human rights lawyers and organizations are in the forefront in talking against Bushes’ policy / who put those bombs and why now? If Iraq was the reason it would have been long ago. *** I do not see how such bombings in London can enhance any Islamic cause. Britain is the best country in the world in treating its Muslim minorities and provides refuge to many others persecuted in their own countries. The relatively fair justice and protection of rights, freedom and religious practice / tolerance that exist is one of the best in world today. Even the Government’s decision to join the war in Iraq, which is a very unwise one, can be changed through media and public awareness. I am sure the majority of British public are against any war, regardless of [the] Bush crusades. Because of this I would conclude no [true] Islamic group would want to bomb London.

Friday 29
After dawn prayer. They brought me some items saying I was Level One as is everyone in the Camp. They gave me is comb. I brushed my hair and beard for the first time since April 2002. We are in July 2005.

9am – I wrote the Blocks’ demands to send them to the detainee the General appointed as a leader of Camp V, because he was to sit with the military soon to give them all demands. The Block sergeant told me he knew about this new arrangement (of official representatives of Detainees and the possibility to send letters to him through heads of Blocks). But he said only the SOG can handle the letters. I asked to see the SOG at 10 am to give him the letter. Then at 10 am he came and said the mechanism to process their exchange of letter has not been implemented yet! And he can not take the letter.

Monday August 1
About 8 o clock. Things are not going good. The food, they went back to previous food all the last days. They changed the food for two days and gave pepper and chili sauce etc. Then they made sure now everyone has ended the strike they then went back as usual. Qhatani down stairs was not given level one clothes. I spoke to the SOG he said the General made so. Because he pulled the hand of a Guard after the agreement I told him that I think he should not have done so. But he did not keep his promise because he was present when the General came in with Shakir and promised that food will change, clean water will be given with meals. International laws would apply to everyone in detention and he asked only for 15 days etc.

When everyone next day ended the strike because to give time to him (General) as he asked to implement these conditions he went back on everything or many things. Qhatani might of felt betrayed as has all his friends have been, then felt wronged and done what he has done. The SOG said I cannot do anything because it is the General’s decision. I told him tell the Colonel that this is how we see it, and we will all stand with him, if he is not given clothes like everybody else.

Then I sent to Quatani asking what exactly has happened with the Guard. I admit I am annoyed with him because he did not tell me in the beginning about it and told me only that they refused to give him clothes.

It does seem very likely that the strike will restart again. I am very frustrated with these cunning officers and worthless men of no word. In Arabia we look down on such people.

Wednesday 3 August 11 pm
Things have improved a lot. This morning, good food. Change of clothes for everyone. New internment clothes. Good T shirts and boxer shorts. Official meeting of all heads of Blocks with pen and paper and cold water was supplied! Heads of camps meet with the General to finalise agreements. Things are very good. J. Relations with the guard improved. All troubles are stopped by an order from head of camps and head of Blocks (detainees of course!).


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hunger strike in Guantanamo

Here's another little update on the prisoners at Guantanamo, including Omar Deghayes. About 200 are on a hunger strike in protest of abuse, unlawful imprisonment, and the condition of the prison. Hit the link to watch the report for more information and interviews. - News - special report: Hunger strike

Does anyone else feel like there are simply too many fires to put out in the world?

Mourning for New Orleans

Another email from Jordan Flaherty. Ironically, he also discusses the
use of the term 'refugee' for the victims of Katrina. I swear that I
had not read this before I wrote my response to Jeames. I guess
Suheir Hamad and I just have similar thoughts.

Anyways, here goes Jordan:

September 9, 2005

Its been six days since I left New Orleans, and I miss my home so much. I’m still in a daze, its hard to hold a conversation or to think straight. People ask if everyone I know is ok, and I don’t know what to say. There are so many stories, so many rumors, so many people dispersed around the US. So many of us may never see each other again. I don’t think any of us are ok right now.

One friend, a teacher, was searching the Astrodome while holding up a sign, looking for his former students. Another friend says she fears she’ll never see New Orleans or her friends from there again. Another friend found temporary comfort with family in Houston and then got kicked out. A lot of friends are working in shelters, providing assistance, medical care, whatever they can. We are already spread across so many states, trying to pick up the pieces of our lives.

I can think of at least thirty people that I have no idea where they are. In some cities it seems like when people meet they give out their email address or weblog or friendster or whatever. In New Orleans, a lot of us only know each other only by first names. There are so many people I would see at least once a week that I
don’t know how to get in touch with at all. Even cell phones from the New Orleans area code have been nonfunctioning for most of the last two weeks.

New Orleans is a word of mouth town. The way you would find out about parties, secondlines, jazz funerals and other events is from hearing about it from friends. I always liked that about New Orleans. In an increasingly disconnected world, New Orleans felt different, more real and concrete. Now that we aren’t seeing each other regularly, our elaborate communication network has broken down.

But when people ask I just say, yes, as far as I know everyone is ok. I can’t really bring myself to think about it further than that.

Those with the least to begin with are the ones we worry about most now. Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children is a grassroots organization with a long history of fighting for New Orleans’ most vulnerable. Since hurricane Katrina, they have been on the front lines of relief, spending time in the shelters, helping advocate for the refugees of New Orleans, and trying to find out what happened to
both adults and children who were locked up while New Orleans flooded.

There has been a lot of media hysteria regarding those who were locked in New Orleans’ prisons during the hurricane, stories that make it sound like a Hollywood action film where murderers use a disaster to escape and wreck havoc.

This is dramatic, and probably good for ratings. Its also exactly wrong. The truth is that tales from the imprisoned population of New Orleans are among the most heartbreaking stories of the past week. Families are still looking for loved ones lost in the system. According to organizers with FFLIC, of approximately 240 kids in state custody, as of a couple of days ago only 6 or 7 parents had been able to track down their children.

According to statistics compiled by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, at least 78% of New Orleans’ incarcerated youth were locked up for nonviolent offenses. The detention center in Jefferson Parish reports that 96% of the youth held there in 2000 were for nonviolent offenses. At least a third of youth in prison have been
sentenced to three or more years for nonviolent offenses. In New Orleans, 95% of the detained youth in 1999 were African-American. Louisiana taxpayers spend $96,713 to incarcerate a single child, and $4,724 to educate a child in the public schools.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “the state of Louisiana has one of the highest rates in the country of children living in poverty and children not in school or working. Large numbers of children, especially black children, are
suspended from school each year, sometimes for the whole year. Approximately 1,500 Louisiana children are confined in secure correctional facilities each year...In response to the question,"what would you most like to change here?", virtually every child at all of the facilities responded that they would like the guards to stop
hitting them and that they would like more food. Children consistently told us that they were hungry.”

Some people have been hurt to hear people of New Orleans called refugees. This hurts me too, but it hurts me more to feel that we have been treated as refugees. In a way, the people of New Orleans were refugees before hurricane Katrina ever came. We were abandoned by a country that never needed us, unless they needed a cheap vacation of strip clubs and binge drinking and cheap live music.

One of the things I love about New Orleans is that it always feels like another country. Now we see that in the eyes of the federal government we truly are residents of another country. A poor, black country. Instead of insisting that the displaced of New Orleans are not refugees, we should use this as an opportunity to look at why the idea of US refugees is so discomforting.

The transformation of the people of New Orleans into refugees is a large part of what has captured the imagination of people from around the world, especially those who are refugees themselves. I’ve received emails from Ghana and Cuba and Peru and Lebanon and Palestine.

In New York City tonight, a group of artists, initiated by Def Poetry Jam star and Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad, organized a benefit called Refugees For Refugees. That title beautifully and poignantly captures the feelings this man-made tragedy has generated around the world.

In her most recent poem, On Refuge and Language, Suheir writes:

I do not wish
To place words in living mouths
Or bury the dead dishonorably

I am not deaf to cries escaping shelters
That citizens are not refugees
Refugees are not Americans

I will not use language
One way or another
To accommodate my comfort

I will not look away

All I know is this

No peoples ever choose to claim status of dispossessed
No peoples want pity above compassion
No enslaved peoples ever called themselves slaves

What do we pledge allegiance to?

A government that leaves its old
To die of thirst surrounded by water
Is a foreign government

People who are streaming
Illiterate into paperwork
Have long ago been abandoned

I think of coded language
And all that words carry on their backs

I think of how it is always the poor
Who are tagged and boxed with labels
Not of their own choosing

I think of my grandparents
And how some called them refugees
Others called them non-existent
They called themselves landless
Which means homeless

Before the hurricane
No tents were prepared for the fleeing
Because Americans do not live in tents
Tents are for Haiti for Bosnia for Rwanda

Refugees are the rest of the world

Those left to defend their human decency
Against conditions the rich keep their animals from
Those who have too many children
Those who always have open hands and empty bellies
Those whose numbers are massive
Those who seek refuge
From nature’s currents and man's resources

Those who are forgotten in the mean times

Those who remember

Ahmad from Guinea makes my falafel sandwich and says
So this is your country

Yes Amadou this my country
And these my people

Evacuated as if criminal
Rescued by neighbors
Shot by soldiers

Adamant they belong

The rest of the world can now see
What I have seen

Do not look away

The rest of the world lives here too
In America.

Jordan Flaherty is an organizer with the Service Employees
International Union and an editor of Left Turn Magazine.
His other articles from New Orleans can be seen online

Friday, September 09, 2005

Of course! Disaster becomes photo op


Isn't it bad enough that Barbara Bush thinks that the Astrodome is 'working very well' for the refugees and that they are 'so overwhelmed by the hospitality' and finds it 'sort of scary' that they want to stay? Must we really add onto this Bush senior, Governor Perry, and Obama making a photo op of their visit? I mean, I understand the need to multi-task, but is this really necessary?

If Bush senior is 'anxious to roll up [their] sleeves and get to work' then maybe he should quit the chatting and get to work. Same applies to the rest of 'em. Surely there's a food line down the way they can help serve.

I'm not sure if I'm more disgusted about the content or the coverage in this CNN article.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What You Can Do for New Orleans

And here's the final post (for now) for New Orleans. This is a call out for help from community organizers. It's pretty angry, but understandably so.

Displaced New Orleans Community Demands Action, Accountability and
Initiates A People’s Hurricane Fund

Not until the fifth day of the federal government’s inept and inadequate emergency response to the New Orleans’ disaster did George Bush even acknowledge it was
‘unacceptable.’ ‘Unacceptable’ doesn’t begin to describe the depth of the neglect, racism and classism shown to the people of New Orleans. The government’s actions and inactions were criminal. New Orleans, a city whose population is almost 70% percent black, 40% illiterate, and many are poor, was left day after day to drown, to starve and to die of disease and thirst.

The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are
funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants and the wealthy white districts of New Orleans like the French Quarter and the Garden District. We will not stand idly by while this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New Orleans.

Community Labor United (CLU), a coalition of the progressive organizations throughout New Orleans, has brought community members together for eight years to discuss socio-economic issues. We have been communicating with people from The Quality Education as a Civil Right Campaign, the Algebra Project, the Young People’s Project and the Louisiana Research Institute for Community Empowerment. We are preparing a press release and framing document that will be out as a draft later today for comments.

Here is what we are calling for:

We are calling for all New Orleanians remaining in the city to be evacuated immediately.
We are calling for information about where every evacuee was taken. We are calling for black and progressive leadership to come together to meet in Baton Rouge to initiate the formation of a Community Oversight Committee of evacuees from all the sites. This
committee will demand to oversee FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations collecting resources on behalf of our people.

We are calling for volunteers to enter the shelters where our people are and to assist parents with housing, food, water, health care and access to aid. We are calling for teachers and educators to carve out some time to come to evacuation sites and teach our children. We are calling for city schools and universities near evacuation sites to open their doors for our children to go to school. We are calling for health care workers and mental health workers to come to evacuation sites to volunteer. We are calling for lawyers to investigate the wrongful death of those who died, to protect the land of the displaced, to investigate whether the levies broke due to natural and other related matters.

We are calling for evacuees from our community to actively participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans. We are calling for the addresses of all the relevant list serves and press contacts to send our information. We are in the process of setting up a central command post in Jackson, MS, where we will have phone lines, fax, email and a web page to centralize information. We will need volunteers to staff this office.

We have set up a People’s Hurricane Fund that will be directed and administered by New Orleanian evacuees. The Young People’s Project, a 501(c)3 organization formed by graduates of the Algebra Project, has agreed to accept donations on behalf of this fund.

Donations can be mailed to:

The People’s Hurricane Fund
c/o The Young People’s Project
99 Bishop Allen Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139

If you have comments of how to proceed or need more information, please
email them to Curtis Muhammad ( and Becky Belcore(

Thank you.

Notes From Inside New Orleans

Here's the essay from Jordan. Again, at the bottom, there is a listing of organizations and resources. Jordan is a union organizer and a writer/editor for Left Turn Magazine. He's been in New Orleans for a while now and is pretty familiar with the political dynamics that have led to the neglect of New Orleans.

It's all Jordan's writing and a few minor edits on my part.

Notes From Inside New Orleans
by Jordan Flaherty

Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway,
thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton
Rouge, Houston,Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me “as
someone who’s been here in this camp for two days, the only information
I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don’t want to be here at night.”

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, it’s important to look at
New Orleans itself. For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz
Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a
place of art and music and dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block
can take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and federal governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an answer.

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few, overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying
that they don’t need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much
of Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of everything from drug running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high profile police killings of unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders
will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’s education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city where industry has left and most remaining jobs are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This
disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this
week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to “Pray the hurricane down” to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane, we tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations, hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule, there was no source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse.

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way
to get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely
closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a “looter,” but that's just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties focus on “welfare queens” and “super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here.
Since at least the mid-1800s, it’s been widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this
week’s events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of
natural disaster, illustrated exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders. The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New
Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment, deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyes are focused on
Katrina, it’s vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn Magazine ( He is not planning on moving out of New Orleans.

Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based resources, organizations and institutions that will need your support in the coming months.

Social Justice:
If They Can Learn
NOLA Palestine Solidarity
The People's Institute
Critical Resistance

Cultural Resources:
Backstreet Cultural Museum
Ashe Cultural Arts Center
New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival
The Iron Rail
Girl Gang Productions

Current Info and Resources:
Craigslist's has a listing dedicated to helping New Orleans as well

New Orleans

I'm posting below a chronicle of events from a friend of mine, Jordan, who has been living and working in New Orleans. I'm relieved for his safety, but horrified by some of the accounts of the situation.

We've all been watching the devestation in New Orleans, but personal accounts give a little more clarity than the media frenzy.

At the end, there are some ideas of what you can do to help if you're willing and able. I will also be posting another essay and a call for help from the New Orleanian progressive community.

And I will respond to the comments from before. Highlander and others, please forgive me for being MIA. It's been a long year and an even longer summer. I'm still playing catch up, so please bear with me.


Hurricane Diary

Many people have asked for more information about my experience in the
past week. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had food and water and a solid home. Below are notes from my week in the disaster that was constructed out of greed, corruption and neglect.

Saturday, August 27

I’m in New Orleans, and there’s word of a hurricane approaching. I don’t consider leaving.


Because I don’t have a car, and all the airlines and car rental companies are sold out. Because the last two hurricanes were false alarms, despite the shrill and vacuous media alarms. Because I have
a sturdy, second floor apartment, food, water, flashlights, and supplies. Because there is not much of an evacuation plan. Friends of mine who evacuated last time sat in their cars, moving 50 miles in 12 hours.

Sunday, August 28

As the storm approaches and grows larger, everyone I know is calling.
“Are you staying or going? where are you staying? Are you bringing your pets? What should I do?” Governor Blanco urges us to “pray the hurricane down” to a level 2.

I relent to pressure somewhat and relocate to a more sturdy location, an apartment complex built out of an old can factory in the mid-city neighborhood. The building is five stories high, built of concrete and brick. There are seven of us in the apartment, with four cats.

Monday, August 29

Its morning, the storm is over, and we survey the streets outside.
There has been some flooding. A few of us explore the neighborhood in boats, and we see extensive damage, but overall we feel as if New Orleans has once again escaped fate.

Later in the day, we hear some reports of much greater flooding in destruction in the ninth ward and lower ninth ward neighborhoods, New Orleans’ most overexploited communities.

Tomorrow, we decide, the water will lower and we’ll walk home. We
expect power will start coming on in a week or so.

There are many relaxed and friendly conversations, especially on the roof. With all of the lights in the city out, the night sky is beautiful. We lie on our backs and watch shooting stars.

Tuesday, August 30

We wake up to discover that the water level has risen several feet.
Panic begins to set in among
some. We inventory our food and find that, if we ration it tightly, we
have enough for five days. As we
discuss it, we repeatedly say, “not that we’ll be here that long, but
if we had to...”

We continue to explore the area by boat, helping people when possible.
The atmosphere outside is a sort of post-apocalyptic, threatening world of obscure danger, where the streets are empty and the future seems cloudy. The water is a repellent mix of sewage, gas, oil, trash and worse.

We meet some of our neighbors. Most of the building is empty. Of at least 250 apartments, there are maybe 200 people in the building, about half white and half Black. Many people, like us, are crowded 7 or 10 to an apartment. Like us, many people came here for safety from the storm. Some have no food and water. A few folks break open the building candy machine and distribute the contents. We talk about breaking into the cafe attached to the building and distributing the food.

We turn on a battery-powered tv and radio, and then turn it off in disgust. No solid information, just rumor and conjecture and fear. Throughout this time, there is no reliable source of information, compounding and multiplying the crisis.

The reporters and politicians talk 80% about looting and 20% about flooding. I can’t understand how anyone could blame someone for “looting” when they just had their home destroyed by the neglect and corruption of a country that doesn’t care about them and never did.

Tomorrow, the news announces, the water level will continue to rise, perhaps 12-15 feet. Governor Blanco calls for a day of prayer.

Wednesday, August 31

White people in the building start whispering about their fears of “them.” One woman complains of people in the building “from the projects and hoarding food.” There is talk of gangs in the streets, shooting, robbing, and lawless anarchy. I feel like there is a struggle in people’s minds between compassion and panic, between empathy and fear. However, we witness many folks traveling around in boats, bringing food or giving lifts or sharing information.

But the overwhelming atmosphere is one of fear. People fear they won’t
be able to leave, they fear disease, hunger, and crime. There is talk of a soldier shot in the head by looters, of bodies floating in the ninth ward, flooding in Charity Hospital, and huge masses (including police) emptying Wal-Mart and the electronic stores on Canal street. There are fires visible in the distance. A particularly large fire seems to be nearby - we think it’s at the projects at Orleans and Claiborne. Helicopters drop army MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) and water, and people rush forward to grab as many as they can.

After the third air drop, people in the building start organizing a distribution system.

Across the street is a spot of land and helicopters begin landing there and loading people aboard. Hundreds of people from the nearby hospital make their way there, many wearing only flimsy gowns, waiting in the sun. As more helicopters come, people start arriving from every direction, straggling in, swimming or coming by boat.

A helicopter hovers over our roof, and a soldier comes down and announces that tomorrow everyone in the building will be evacuated.

Across the street, at least two hundred people spend the night huddled
on a tiny patch of land, waiting for evacuation.

Thursday, September 1

People in the building want out. They are lining up on the roof to be picked up by helicopters - three copters come early in the morning and take a total of nine people. Seventy-five people spend the next several hours waiting on the roof, but no more come.

Down in the parking garage, flooded with sewage, a steady stream of boats takes people to various locations, mostly to a nearby helicopter pickup point.

We hear stories of hundreds of people waiting for evacuation nearby at
Xavier University, a historically Black college, and at other locations.

Our group fractures, people leaving at various times.

Two of us take a boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If you ever
wondered if the US government would treat US refugees the same way they treat Haitian refugees or Somali refugees, the answer is, yes, if those refugees are poor, black, and from the South.

The individual soldiers and police are friendly and polite - at least
to me - but nobody seems to know what's going on. As wave after wave of refugees arrives, they are ushered behind the barricades onto mud and dirt and sewage, while heavily armed soldiers look on.

Many people sit on the side, not even trying to get on a bus. Children, people in wheelchairs, and everyone else sit in the sun by the side of the highway.

Everyone has a story to tell, of a home destroyed, of swimming across
town, of bodies and fights and gunshots and looting and fear. The worst stories come from the Superdome. I speak to one young man who describes having to escape and swim up to mid-city.

I‘m reminded of a moment I read about in the book “Rising Tide,” about
the Mississippi river flood of 1927. After the 1927 evacuation, a boatload of poor black refugees is refused permission to get on land “until they sing negro spirituals.” As a bus arrives and a mass swarms forward and state police and national guard do nothing to help, I feel like I’m witnessing the modern equivalent of this dehumanizing spectacle.

More refugees are arriving than are leaving. Three of us walk out of the camp, considering trying to hitchhike a ride from relief workers or press. We get a ride from an Australian tv team who drive us to
Baton Rouge where we sit on the street and wait until a relative arrives and gives us a ride to Houston.

While we sit on the street, everyone we meet is a refugee from somewhere - Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Slidell, Covington. It’s after midnight, but the roads are crowded. Everyone is going somewhere.

Friday, September 2

In Houston, I can’t sleep, although we drove through the night.
Governor Blanco announces that she’s sending in more national guard troops:

“These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.”

Many people have called and written to ask what they can do. I don’t really have answers. I’m still tired and angry and I don’t know if my home survived.

But, here are some thoughts:

1) Hold the politicians accountable. Hold the media accountable.
Defend Kanye West.

2) Support grassroots aid. A friend has compiled a list at

3) Volunteer: The following is a call for volunteers from Families
and friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, an excellent
grassroots group: “Come and help us walk through the shelters,
find people, help folks apply for FEMA assistance, figure out what
needs they have, match folks up with other members willing to take
people in. We especially need Black folks to help us as the racial
divide between relief workers and evacuees is stark. Email us ASAP
if you would like to help with this work.,,,"

4) Organize in your own community.

5) Add your apartment to the housing board at

6) Support grassroots, community control of redevelopment. Don’t let
New Orleans die.


Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn
Magazine (