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Activists call for relief, not war
Quick to respond to the devastation

By Elizabeth Schulte | September 16, 2005 | Page 9

WHILE THE Bush administration's response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was slow and inadequate, activists across the country were quick to respond.

Churches, civil rights organizations students and community groups are organizing to help bring relief to the people of New Orleans. "Money for relief, not for war" was the demand of emergency response protests called by the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), a national student antiwar group.

Antiwar activists are drawing attention to the Bush administration's warped priorities--more than $300 billion for the Iraq war and a little more than $50 billion for those made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

At the University of California-Berkeley, more than 150 people rallied September 7 to protest the racist and slow response to Hurricane Katrina. At the speak-out--organized by Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and other student groups--students addressed the racism of local police, the National Guard and all levels of the official relief effort.

"The depiction of Black residents as looters, especially as whites are depicted as doing what they need to do to survive, is really ridiculous," said LaToya Beck. Hundreds of dollars was collected to contribute to the relief effort. After the rally, 25 people marched to the chancellor's office to present their demands, which included opening free admissions to hurricane victims, providing housing, offering jobs to displaced staff and organizing a campus-wide relief fund.

On September 7, campus activists also turned out at Harold Washington College in Chicago to take part in a speak-out that collected money on the spot for the displaced of New Orleans. The same day at New York's Hunter College, 30 people protested. CAN member Diana Mendez urged people to join the College Not Combat contingent at the September 24 antiwar march on Washington.

In New Haven, Conn., about 25 people gathered at the Federal Building, chanting "Food and shelter for those in need--from New Haven to New Orleans." A few days later, in Northampton, Mass., more than 80 people demonstrated, chanting, "Money for relief, not for war, we're sick of people dying because their Black and poor."

In Providence, R.I, more than 60 people gathered on September 11 for a march and speak-out, where they heard family members from New Orleans who have been forced to relocate to Rhode Island. The Ducros family has been placed in a hotel, but they will only be able to stay there for two weeks. After those two weeks are up, Sylvia said they'd be "back to square one." "They're saying people failed the city, but the city failed the people," Greg Ducros said.

In the coming weeks, there will be more tabling, protests and fund-raising efforts. In several cities, activists plan to board buses leaving after meetings during the "Stand Up and Be Counted: No to War and Occupation" speaking tour of George Galloway--the British member of parliament who on his last trip to the U.S. delivered a scathing attack in the Senate on the war on Iraq. From New Orleans, the activists plan to go to Washington to take part in the national antiwar demonstration on September 24.

With little notice, 30 people gathered on September 11 to protest Vice President Dick Cheney's appearance at the Austin Convention Center, which houses hurricane evacuees. Protesters held signs telling Cheney to "Go FEMA Yourself" and drawing the connections with the Iraq war and Halliburton's contract to clean up New Orleans.

After Cheney left, protesters were welcomed by evacuees, who were eager to talk about their experiences. "You know they talk about the people that did all that looting and stealing," said an older man in a wheelchair. "Those are the ones that fed us and kept us alive." Gaile Morris had walked with her diabetic mother to a bridge outside the New Orleans Convention Center, where she said they waited "like cattle" as tons of emergency vehicles passed people who were ill and dying.

In the coming months, activists will have to do everything possible to organize and build solidarity with the people that Katrina--and George Bush--left behind.

Cat Allison, Cindy Beringer, Todd Dewey, Dennis Kosuth, Derek Wright, Jason Yanowitz and Tamar Szmuilowicz contributed to this report.

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