Thursday, February 16, 2006

Valentine's Day in New Orleans

The following piece is taken from an e-mail written by Morgan Williams on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2006. A law student at Tulane University, Williams' academic year was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina:

Dear Friends,
We are half way through week-six at Tulane Law. Rebirth played at Tipitina’s on Friday night, and Krew de Veux rolled down Frenchman Street on Saturday night. I am sitting next to a big book, with highlighter in hand and caffeine not far, in the reading room among other students in the library. It is Valentines Day, and life in parts of New Orleans is almost normal.

But New Orleans today is far from normal.

26,000 people were evicted from their hotel rooms yesterday when their FEMA stipends expired. Elderly, disable, and children are on the streets and it is cold. Louisiana is reopening shelters, but the reality is that government at all levels is failing.

4,000 – 5,000 defendants are currently in Orleans Parish prisons with no legal representation and no prospects getting lawyers because there is no money. The criminal justice system has ground to a halt, and could disband in coming weeks.

106 days remain until next hurricane season. Efforts to consolidate the Levy Board, in order to provide for comprehensive refortification and reduced corruption, are stalled out in the State Legislatures Extraordinary Session. Waters in the Gulf are warm.

80-percent of the city’s housing stock is functionally totaled. It appears that the Baker Bill, which would serve to compensate victims for up to 60-percent of their losses, will fail in Congress. No alternatives have been brought to the table.

The people who left their rooms and were put on the street yesterday, left peacefully. The prisoners who returned to their cells from their right-to-council hearing yesterday, returned without rioting. But how long can these conditions continue without civil unrest? How bad do people have to suffer and governments have to fail before there is a moral imperative for civil disobedience?

Amidst the landscape of the continuing disaster, there is growing racial tension. In light of the April 22nd Mayoral and Council elections, there are mounting squabbles. Crisis can bring people together and inspire action, but it is doing neither in the present case.

I find inspiration in the dedicated work of some true warriors: Neighborhood Housing Services director Lauren Anderson pushes for the right to affordable housing; local attorneys Tracy Washington and Bill Quigley push for the right to due process in city policy; and people on every block push to clean up their homes. But as hard as we push, it seems like we are moving backwards. Valentines Day is breaking my heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cried the first time I read it and I just cried again.....