‘When they try to divide Black and white, don’t you let them!’
Boston street rally demands money for hurricane victims not war
National day of solidarity Sept. 12
By Bryan G. Pfeifer
BOSTON, Sept. 3 -- Outrage.
This emotion of speakers, participants and passersby rang out at Boston’s Park Street Station Sept. 3 in response to the catastrophic events in New Orleans and the Delta region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands are now feared dead.
Dozens came out to an emergency demonstration called by the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC)—Boston under the slogan “Money for the victims of the hurricane – Not for War!”
On Sept. 2 a similar demonstration by the New York City TONC took place in front of the military recruiting center in Times Square.
In the Boston area, another street rally in support of the hurricane victims is scheduled for Sept. 6 in the predominantly Black community of Roxbury. This action is also to raise awareness about Frances Newton, an innocent African American women scheduled to be executed in Texas at 6 p.m. Sept. 14 (www.freefrances.org).
A national day of solidarity with the hurricane victims has been called for Sept. 12. Initiating endorsers include the Million Worker March Movement; Troops Out Now Coalition; Harlem Tenants Council; Chris Silvera, president of the Teamsters National Black Caucus, and local leaders and activists from around the country.
“Now more than at any other time, the people of this country are watching the tragedy unfolding in the south, and wondering about the close to 300 billion dollars that Bush has wasted on the war on Iraq, and they are saying, ‘No More!’ – this has to stop now! The war and occupation of Iraq must be ended immediately, all of the troops must be withdrawn, and all of the technology and money needed to stop the dying and suffering must be sent to the hurricane victims immediately,” read a Boston TONC statement publicizing the Sept. 3 rally.
Tens of thousands have been suffering from starvation along with lack of water, housing, clothing, health care and other human needs denied by the government since the hurricane and subsequent flooding of New Orleans. Most of the victims are poor Blacks with a smaller number of poor whites. According to the 2000 Census Bureau New Orleans is 67 percent Black. Those with the financial means, mostly affluent white residents or tourists, left the New Orleans area before the hurricane hit.
Major evacuations in New Orleans didn’t begin until Thursday, Sept. 1 and life-sustaining supplies didn’t make it to the city until Sept. 2 while thousands were stuffed into a flooded Superdome with no air conditioning, over-flowing toilets and a leaking roof. Those now evacuated are scattered across the southern region from Texas to Arkansas and many have no access to their loved ones or don’t know if they are ill, dead or alive because they were just herded onto buses or other transport with no planning.
Some press reports claim that thousands are dying after the hurricane and flooding; thus many, mostly the young, the infirm and elderly continue to die simply for want of needed supplies and medication which could’ve been provided in time by the federal government.
Other press accounts, mostly progressive, report that Black residents are now under siege from the National Guard members-which now number 40,000 in the New Orleans area mostly-and have been forcefully prevented from leaving. Thus these residents have been liberating what they need for survival from area stores but are portrayed as “criminal looters” in the corporate media and threatened with shoot-to-kill orders from Democratic Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (www.neworleans.indymedia.org).
“We will not stand idly by and allow the murder of our own people. This is a disaster of government racism,” declared Steve Kirschbaum, opening the Boston rally. Kirschbaum is the chief union steward for Steelworkers Local 8751, the Boston school bus driver’s and monitor’s union and a member of the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC).
At the Boston and NYC rallies, TONC’s immediate demands were distributed through hundreds of four-page brochures entitled “The Bush Administration is Criminally Negligent: Money for Hurricane Relief, Not for War.” The demands include:
*Stop funding war and occupation. Use the money instead to fund emergency relief and rebuilding;
*Food, water, clothing, medical supplies, and other necessities should be immediately commandeered for the emergency from agribusiness, supermarket chains, and pharmaceutical companies;
*Government food storage supplies in warehouses throughout the country should be made available immediately;
*Erase the debts incurred by working people who had to pay for gas and emergency shelter because of the government’s refusal to plan for evacuation;
*Provide emergency unemployment relief to the tens of thousands who have lost their jobs because of the devastation;
*Immediately exercise eminent domain to use all available space to provide emergency and long-term shelter to those left homeless; and
*Provide a massive jobs program at union wages for rebuilding. Millions of unemployed workers could be hired to help construct housing, schools, and other public facilities.
“It is offensive for former Presidents Clinton and Bush to call on people to make donations to help the victims. Bush didn’t say that paying for the war and occupation of Iraq would be contingent on voluntary donations; he just went ahead and stole the money from our public schools, healthcare and other social programs,” added the TONC statement.
Hundreds of leaflets for the Sept. 24 “Bring the Troops Home Now” Washington D.C. anti-war demonstration, were also distributed in Boston and NYC.
Race and class
“We have to stop the injustice. This is a racist issue,” declared Mia Campbell of Boston’s Politicin’ with the Sisters and the Women’s Fightback Network.
Speakers at the Boston rally spoke on a portable mic before a moving picket line and a bustling Saturday afternoon crowd, hoisting placards including “Food, housing, medicine, and reparations not bullets for New Orleans,” “Money for Hurricane Relief not war,” “Feed the cities, not the Pentagon,” “End the occupation of Iraq,” “New Orleans abandoned by capitalism,” “Unite to fight against war and racism,” and “U.S. out of Iraq.”
Campbell, who attended the Boston rally with her 11-year-old daughter, described heartrending experiences of Blacks in New Orleans, who, she said, were seen begging for food and one seven-year-old asking a media worker covering the worst “natural” disaster in U.S. history if her grandmother was going to die for lack of diabetes medication.
Campbell applauded the remarks of Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Kanye West who said “George Bush doesn't care about Black people…” on a NBC Hurricane Relief concert program Sept. 2 (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&ItemID=8654) She declared that Bush’s visit to affected region was used to exploit the Black and poor white residents of the region and exposed the Bush administration for not accepting international aid especially Cuba’s offer of 1,100 doctors and more than 24 tons of medical supplies. Campbell concluded by saying, in relation to the TONC demands: “We’re not begging, this is our right.”
From Boston and beyond:
Anger, outrage, anti-racism, humanity
The depth and breadth of those in unity and solidarity with the hurricane victims became evident at the Boston rally as, for almost three hours, numerous speakers took the mic. Hundreds of passersby expressed sympathy with the action.
Michael Borkson of the Boston Committee for Peace and Human Rights, declared: “African Americans are still being enslaved by the system of capitalism.” After describing the lack of food, water and other necessary provisions and supplies, Borkson asked, “Aren’t the people of New Orleans being terrorized right now?”
Jim Casteris of the Community Church of Boston, a member of Veterans for Peace and a Korean war veteran, said the federal government led by George W. Bush “are not trying to help the people in need. It’s absolutely criminal.”
Felix Arroyo, a Boston City Councilor, known as a people’s councilor, said the federal government and the Bush administration are “condemning people to die and they know it.” Arroyo said the massive deaths and suffering could’ve been prevented and was a result of neglect, indifference and a lack of social programs. “No more, No more, No more. It’s time we rescue the money of the people and spend it on the people,” concluded Arroyo.
Rasheed Khalid of the Boston Committee for Peace and Human Rights and who also works with Amnesty International, said “it’s almost as if people are being treated as animals while Bush was on vacation in Crawford and while people are dying and moving in their own excrement.”
Amy Chew of the Coalition to Defend Reproductive Rights, said the utter devastation in New Orleans is one of the results of the slashing of social spending including funding for reproductive services. She said there is no liberation for women in Iraq and the war is mostly affecting the working class, people of color and women; the same people who are suffering the worst in the Delta region.
“As a person from the third world I was horrified” at the government response when the United States “is supposed to be the most powerful on earth. I was under the impression that something more effective and humane” would happen, said a representative from the Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia about what he saw happening in New Orleans. He continued by denouncing the “callous treatment of the poor,” including the pointing of guns at them and their arrests and the “inefficiency, inhumanity, no sympathy and little concern for this segment of society who are predominately Black.”
Ken Scholosser, a white Framingham social worker called for solidarity with Blacks under siege in New Orleans, formerly a leading slave "iimporting" and trading center. He called the repression “an incredible assault on Black people,” by those who have historically “done the lynching, the raping and taking of children.” He called on whites to not get taken in by the corporate media ruse of depicting the Black victims engaging in survival and self-defense as “thugs,” etc.
Frank Neisser of Stonewall Warriors reminded the crowd that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are also victims of Hurricane Katrina and government negilence. He called for unity by asking people to reject “the victims into criminals” corporate media campaign and letting it be known that “the looters are in the White House.” He concluded by saying that “Nobody should be in a dome and treated like cattle. The real priorities of this government are big business and private property. It’s not that they didn’t know how to do it [evacuation and relief] it’s that they didn’t care.”
“When they try to divide Black and white don’t you let them. Every colonial empire knew they had to divide to win,” declared Ed Childs a chief steward for UNITE-HERE Local 26. Childs, a union member for over 30 years, exposed the excuses the government gave for lack of relief and safe evacuation and said union workers [and those unorganized] across the U.S. and beyond could help because they are trained “to respond to a crisis” immediately and effectively giving firefighters as an example.
Childs also stated that there were violations of the Geneva Convention when the U.S. government at numerous times in New Orleans refused water and other life-sustaining supplies. “Getting people out isn’t profitable. We have to unite around working people, around the people of New Orleans, against this war, against Wall Street. This [government negligence] is an attack on working people from wage cuts because of gas gouging to the theft of money needed for levees and other public works projects that are vital for public safety,” concluded Childs.
Union members from AFSCME, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, SEIU, the Steelworkers and UNITE-HERE also participated.
The Sept. 3 Boston rally was endorsed by the Bolivarian Circle of Boston – Martin Luther King, Boston Committee for Peace & Human Rights, Chelsea Uniting Against the War, Coalition to Defend Reproductive Rights, Committee to Defend the Somerville 5, the International Action Center, New England Human Rights Organization for Haiti, the Stonewall Warriors and the Women’s Fightback Network.
Residents of the Boston area as well as numerous other local, regional and national organizations participated including the Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, the Community Church of Boston, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Workers Party and the Veterans for Peace.
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Union labor donated.
Photos by Peter Cook
Some media with ongoing coverage:
Democracy Now: www.democracynow.org
The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk
New Orleans Indymedia: www.neworleans.indymedia.org
Prensa Latina: www.plenglish.com
Venezuela Analysis: www.venezuelaanalysis.com
Workers World: www.workers.org
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