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Announcement :: Organizing
Radical Responses to Katrina 10/18 at LPC
12 Oct 2005
Please join two activists, Rober Benham and Dave Rozza, from the New England area who traveled to New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina and helped establish the Common Ground relief effort there and hear their first hand report and discuss the future of the radical response movement.
--please forward--

Radical Responses to Katrina—Building Common Ground
Tuesday October 18th, 7pm

The Lucy Parsons Center
549 Columbus Avenue
Boston’s South End

Common Ground was the first on the ground relief effort of any kind in Algiers and one of the first along the Gulf Coast. The multiple success stories of Common Ground mutual aid has resulted in donations from Army personnel who wanted to see relief actually get to the community. The FEMA-Red Cross effort, bounded by razor wire, has played a poor second fiddle to the local efforts.

Please join two activists, Rober Benham and Dave Rozza, from the New England area who traveled to New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina and helped establish the Common Ground relief effort there and hear their first hand report and discuss the future of the radical response movement.

Roger Benham is an action medic from NE CT
Dave Rozza is with Hartford Food Not Bombs

A model for getting it together

The locally-led, mutually based community relief effort in Algiers is now being called Common Ground Algiers. Currently, more than 40 volunteer medics, doctors, cooks, communications technicians, community organizers and concerned people are directly involved in the Common Ground collective effort. Medics have established the clinic near the Masjid Bilal Mosque in Algiers and are working with long-time community activist Malik Rahim.

Emergency services that have been created include a community garbage pick-up program; Food Not Bombs has set up mobile kitchens to provide free hot meals to anyone in the area; a first aid clinic in a local mosque and a mobile first aid station staffed by doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians; and bicycles for volunteers and residents to transport aid around the area; and the development of a free school for children.

These efforts could serve as a community-based model for creating both emergency response and long-term infrastructure for people affected by the hurricane and who are in need of these kinds of vital services.

They said it: Common Ground Wellness Center

“You can’t start a clinic here (in the Ninth Ward). That would give people hope. My job is to make their lives as hopeless as possible so they will leave.” - New Orleans Police Department officer berating relief workers in the Ninth Ward

“The administration of this country needs to be put on trial for human rights violations and treason against the people of the Gulf Coast region, as well as negligent homicide for every person left in this region to die.” - Noah, Emergency Medical Technician-B with the Common Ground Wellness Center, Algiers, New Orleans

“Our number one national priority right now should be to clean up New Orleans and rebuild vulnerable areas in a safe and environmentally sound way. Then, every single evacuee must be offered the opportunity and the resources to return to rebuild their neighborhoods in exactly the same way. We cannot allow evacuees to be forced into becoming refugees.” - Roger Benham, Emergency Medical Technician-B with the Common Ground Wellness Center

“It’s not so much that the government is not responding (with storm relief); they are obstructing the response. They are telling us we can’t bring people the basic necessities of life because that would give them hope. It is a question of oppression vs. mutual aid. That is the revolution.” - Jesse, an organizer from D.C. volunteering in the Common Ground Wellness Center

Community efforts in Algiers, New Orleans

Sept. 10 - Efforts are continuing by grassroots organizers to preserve the still inhabited community of Algiers in New Orleans. Algiers is located on the west bank of the Mississippi across from downtown New Orleans. It was not flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and remains dry. The neighborhood has running water and electricity, and utility workers are working to get the gas on.
Roger Benham, an EMT from Connecticut who has made his way to Algiers to provide medical aid, reported on the latest developments.

“It’s our first full day of operating our first aid station,” he said. “We’re trying to help people help themselves.” Benham and four other heath care volunteers, including three other licensed EMTs, arrived at midday on Friday with a van full of medical supplies. At the behest of Algiers long time community activist Malik Rahim, they set up the first aid station in the Masjid Bigal mosque on Teche Street.
Benham reported that a number of visitors to the first aid station today were looking for prescription drugs they’d run out of. “Several of them were vets who depend on the VA for their blood pressure medications,” he said. “We gave out the meds we’re certified to administer. We also went to visit elders in their homes nearby today. On one house call I met a 101-year-old woman. She’s doing fine.”

Benham had abruptly ended our phone interview Friday night. He explained that was because of the rapid approach of a military unit. “That was Civil Affairs,” he explained. “They’re going door to door doing a census. There’s also paramedics with them, and FEMA paramedics as well. They don’t quite know what to make of us. They’re trying to treat us as community liaisons.” The Civil Affairs personnel are Army Special Forces from Fort Bragg, N.C..

“The FEMA medics were upset that we’re here, that we beat them to the scene,” Benham reported. “They’re fire department paramedics, one from San Diego and two from Idaho.

“FEMA’s supposed to be setting up a medical aid station as well,” he said. “So far they’ve just set up razor wire. It’s next to a private charity that’s been distributing water and food from a warehouse here.”
Benham said the electricity had gone on the day before. “Utility workers are trying to get the gas on now,” he said. “Some people already have gas. The city water never went off. So some people can boil it already, but the authorities are saying to use bottled water.”

Benham said the neighborhood is continuing to be patrolled by the Army’s First Cavalry. “The general vibe of the military is OK. Most of the soldiers I talked to are just back from Iraq. They wanted to know how we got (invited) in the mosque. We’re using the masalluh (sanctuary), and they committed a no-no by coming in with their weapons. They realized they made a mistake though.”

Benham reported that a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship anchored in the Mississippi River near downtown New Orleans was visible from Algiers.

At this point Benham informed me that FEMA was likely listening in on our call. “They called another of the EMTs I’m with,” he said. “They asked him specific questions about a phone conversation he’d had here.”
Benham then said he had to pause because a loud Sea Stallion military helicopter was flying over.
When our interview resumed, Benham told me that he’d asked a soldier about how people who needed meds but don’t have money to buy them could get help. “People who have money and can get a ride can go to drugstores that are operating now in some nearby towns,” Benham explained.

“But if you don’t have money, the soldier said that you’d be taken to the airport and issued the needed meds. Then though you’ll be put on a plane and evacuated from the city. If you have family in a major city they’ll take you there. If you don’t they’ll fly you wherever the plane is going.

“What we need here is an MD who can write prescriptions so people can get meds we’re not registered to use.”

Benham said he’d seen some Danish journalists in Algiers today, but other than that no media presence since his arrival Friday. “The Danish journalists had been around New Orleans before they came here,” he reported. “But this was the only part they’d seen that was still inhabited.”

Benham also said that Malik Rahim has organized more people to come to Algiers to provide relief supplies and other support.

To support Common Ground, send donations to Common Ground, PO Box 3216, Gretna, LA 70054. Please pace your donations. Please no clothes or food. More information and online monetary donations are available at the new action website at

Excerpts from dispatches written by Liz Highleyman, Naomi Archer, Michael Steinberg and other writers and posted to, and were compiled for this report.

The Lucy Parsons Center is located at 549 Columbus Avenue in Boston’s South End. Easily accessible from the Mass Ave or Symphony T stops, the Number 1 bus, or by bike
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This work is in the public domain
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