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The holdouts of New Orleans

October 7, 2005 | Page 7

MIKE HOWELLS is a longtime community activist in New Orleans. Since the catastrophe that followed Hurricane Katrina, he has been a spokesperson for residents who defied orders to evacuate--and who plan to resist the plans of the city's business elite to remake New Orleans in their interest. He wrote this article for Socialist Worker.

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THE BRUTAL logic of "mandatory evacuation" led authorities to use the withholding of food, water and medicine as a device to purge holdouts from New Orleans. During the five days that followed Hurricane Katrina's landing in Louisiana, I and virtually all of the tens of thousands of other holdouts in New Orleans waited in vain for the establishment of emergency food and water distribution centers by authorities.

Not only did the food and water distribution centers fail to materialize, but the authorities carefully avoided any mention on the one radio station airing post-Katrina broadcasts in New Orleans of any possible time or place when such centers would be established.

When I asked the police--the only government presence on the ground in post-Katrina New Orleans--where to go for food and water, they would invariably tell me to go to the Superdome. Problem. Food and water, according to the September 26 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, wasn't distributed at the Superdome or the Convention Center until September 2nd! Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29.

Furthermore, I, like many other holdouts, concluded that going to the Superdome or the Convention Center meant subjecting oneself to brutal, concentration camp-like conditions.

We--my compañera Angela and I--decided to "tough it out" in the mandatory evacuation zone. Staying in New Orleans was an option for Angela and I because our home is located in a section of town that did not flood--the French Quarter.

We were able to secure food and water, invariably as a result of the kindness and solidarity of holdouts like ourselves. The "relief" that existed in New Orleans during the first week of post-Katrina New Orleans came from the people themselves. Strangers and friends would give Angela and I food and water without asking for so much as a thanks.

These acts of kindness and solidarity cut across the divides of race and ethnicity. Even those who had lost almost everything shared. I saw two men, both flood victims no doubt, share a single pair of shoes as they hobbled down Rampart Street to drier ground.

On the same streets, the police incessantly ordered us to leave town. They repeatedly told us that we would be forced out if we did not comply with Mayor Ray Nagin's mandatory evacuation order. We simply lived with the ever-present threat of arrest and expulsion.

The contrast between the compassion of fellow holdouts and the ruthlessness of the forces of "law and order" could not have been starker.

Why did the government withhold food, water and medicine from people in the mandatory evacuation zone? In part, because the government simply wanted to purge people from the city. Nagin and company were not about to allow basic human decency stand in the way of fulfilling their plan of action.

But I think the heavy hand that the authorities used against holdouts also reflected a desire on the part of the ruling class to crush the spontaneous uprising that swept through New Orleans in the days that followed Katrina's landing. That is a matter I will address at a later time.

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