The Right to Return: Going Home

Jordan Flaherty Sep 14, 2005

NEW ORLEANS—I spent yesterday inside the city of New Orleans, speaking to a few of the last hold outs in the Ninth Ward/Bywater neighborhood.

They 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.

During 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 traveled out on their boat bringing supplies and giving rides. They have been doing this almost every day since the hurricane struck. They estimate 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 that worked 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.”

Some neighborhoods remain underwater, and the water has turned into a sticky, stomachturning sludge of sewage and death. Other 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.

Activists from Get Your Act On are already moving back in to their homes. They have generators and supplies, and they are inviting 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.

We want to rebuild our city that we love.

The only way that New Orleans will be reconstructed as even a shadow of its former self is if the people of the city have direct control over that reconstruction.

The People’s Hurricane Fund ( – made up of New Orleans community organizers and allies from around the U.S. – has already made a “right of return” for the displaced one of their first demands.

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

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