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Grassroots relief in Louisiana
"I want to show my solidarity"

By Eric Ruder | September 23, 2005 | Page 16

THE DEVASTATION caused by Hurricane Katrina--and the federal government's disregard for the victims left to suffer the worst--has sparked a grassroots relief movement.

From across the country, unionists, antiwar activists and people from all walks of life are taking part. And because the official relief operation has been so inept and uneven, the grassroots movement of people who just want to help out are making a big difference in people's lives.

The nurses' union at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison, Wis., has agreed to provide members who want to volunteer with a plane ticket and a $50 daily food allowance so they can help staff field hospitals for evacuees, and those still living in areas where regular hospitals haven't resumed operations yet.

Jack Trudell, a cardiac nurse in the hospital's intensive care unit, will be in the region from October 12-19. "I want to show my solidarity with the people left to fend for themselves by the federal government," Trudell told Socialist Worker. "I don't think of it as an act of charity, but as an act of solidarity, and I want to be a part of doing what I can to help."

The AFL-CIO has established workers' centers in six Southern cities to provide assistance to evacuees and help them organize for their rights.

Filmmaker Michael Moore has used his Web site to direct donations, supplies and volunteers to Convington, La., where members of Veterans for Peace have set up a relief distribution center to bring water, food and medical help to areas that the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) still haven't reached.

After spending most of August in the Texas heat at the antiwar vigil started by Cindy Sheehan outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, these veterans took leftover water and supplies and brought them to distribute to the survivors of Katrina.

On September 13, Sheehan herself came to Covington to lend a hand. "My efforts for these last weeks since we left Camp Casey in Crawford have been about standing up against the inept policies of the Bush administration and about helping people who are suffering because of those policies," she said. "The good citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are certainly among this group, and I want to do whatever I can to be of assistance to them."

Following the debate about Iraq between George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens in New York, members of the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) left in a rented van to drive to Covington to volunteer, bringing thousands of dollars worth of donated goods. CAN activists from Madison, Wis., and Chicago were set to make a similar trip, as Socialist Worker went to press.

"Trees and signs lay overturned by the side of the road," read the report of the CAN activists as they entered Mississippi. "The stench of raw sewage was overpowering. Army caravans roamed some of the streets."

Once in Covington, the real work began. "Each day, the camp opens with a morning meeting," they wrote. "Today's had 65 people. Much of the camp's work is traveling to nearby rural areas where people may be trapped without cars, or money for gas, and bringing supplies. The morning meetings report on the previous day's findings so the camp can distribute relief to the most desperate areas. Yesterday, one of the best successes was getting relief to an Indian reservation."

The CAN group split up to deliver supplies to Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, and found that more than two weeks after the hurricane hit, people were desperate for basic supplies.

"We went with a small group from the Vets for Peace camp, and a local from the Jefferson Parish area, to deliver food and baby supplies to people in the mostly forgotten and deserted neighborhoods of Jefferson Parish," the activists wrote. "We first stopped in a neighborhood in which families had no electricity or running water until just a few days ago. We gave out a lot of food, diapers, paper towels and soap to families and residents...

"Before going to the next neighborhood, we went to a distribution center now under FEMA's control. They wouldn't let us take food except on designated days. A woman from FEMA told us that they had started doing food drops in Jefferson Parish a few days ago, and just found this distribution place and started bringing food there. However, if people wanted food they had to go there, though most people didn't have cars...

"The next neighborhood we went to was worse. The whole place was abandoned. There were two families with six kids living across the street from one another. One of the kids talked about being in the 9th Ward and having to swim in the water to leave after the storm hit. He had left his grandmother there, and she died in the flooding."

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