Letter from the People of New Orleans to Our Friends and Allies

New Orleans Based Activists
Date Published: 
April 1, 2007

Letter From the People of New Orleans to Our Friends and Allies

Published on: April 01, 2007

We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of grassroots New Orleans organizers, activists, artists, educators, media makers, health care providers and other community members concerned about the fate of our city. This letter is directed to all those around the world concerned about the fate of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but is especially intended for US-based nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other institutions with resources and finances that have been, or could be, directed towards the Gulf Coast.

In the days after the storm, there were many promises of support made to the people of New Orleans. Promises from not only the federal government, but also an array of nongovernmental organizations, such as progressive and liberal foundations and nonprofits. Small and large organizations have done fundraising on our behalf, promising to deliver resources and support to the people of New Orleans.

Many organizations and individuals have supported New Orleans-led efforts with time, resources, and advocacy on our behalf, and for this we are very grateful. These organizations followed through on their promises and offered support in a way that was respectful, responsible, and timely.

However, we are writing this letter to tell you that, aside from these very important exceptions, the support we need has not arrived, or has been seriously limited, or has been based upon conditions that become an enormous burden for us.

While we remain in crisis, understaffed, underfunded and in many cases in desperate need of help, we have seen promises go unfulfilled. From the perspective of the poorest and least powerful, it appears that the work of national allies on our behalf has either not happened or if it has happened it has been a failure.

In the days after August 29, 2005 the world watched as our city was devastated. This destruction was not caused by Hurricane Katrina, but by failures of local, state and national government, and institutional structures of racism and corruption. The disaster highlighted already-existing problems such as neglect, privatization and deindustrialization.

As New Orleanians, we have seen tragedy first hand. We have lost friends and family and seen our community devastated. More than 15 months later, we have seen few improvements. Our education, health care and criminal justice systems remain in crisis, and more than 60% of the former population of our city remains displaced. Among those that remain, depression and other mental health issues have skyrocketed.

While many nationwide speak of "Katrina Fatigue," we are still living the disaster. We remain committed to our homes and communities. And we still need support.

In 15 months we have hosted visits by countless representatives from an encyclopedic list of prominent organizations and foundations. We have given hundreds of tours of affected areas, and we have assisted in the writing of scores of reports and assessments. We have participated in or assisted in organizing panels and workshops and conferences. We have supplied housing and food and hospitality to hundreds of supporters promising to return with funding and resources, to donate staff and equipment and more. It seems hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in our name, often using our words, or our stories.

However, just as the government's promises of assistance, such as the "Road Home" program, remain largely out of reach of most New Orleanians, we have also seen very little money and support from liberal and progressive sources.

Instead of prioritizing efforts led by people who are from the communities most affected, we have seen millions of dollars that was advertised as dedicated towards Gulf Coast residents either remain unspent, or shuttled to well-placed outsiders with at best a cursory knowledge of the realities faced by people here. Instead of reflecting local needs and priorities, many projects funded reflect outside perception of what our priorities should be. We have seen attempts to dictate to us what we should do, instead of a real desire to listen and struggle together. We have heard offers of strategic advice, but there have been very few resources offered to help us carry it out.

We are at an historic moment. The disaster on the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans, has highlighted issues of national and international relevance. Questions of race, class, gender, education, health care, food access, policing, housing, privatization, mental health and much more are on vivid display.

The South has been traditionally underfunded and often exploited by institutions, including corporations, the labor movement, foundations, and the federal government. We have faced the legacy of centuries of institutional racism and oppression, with little outside support. And yet, against massive odds, grassroots movements in the South have organized and struggled and won historic, inspiring victories with international relevance.

In New Orleans, against incredible odds, despite personal loss and family tragedies, people are fighting for the future of the city they love. Many are working with little to no funding or support, and have achieved remarkable success.

We are writing this open letter to you to tell you that it's not too late. The struggle is still ongoing. Evacuees are organizing in trailer parks, health care providers are opening clinics, former public housing residents are fighting to keep their homes from being demolished, artists and media makers are documenting the struggle, educators and lawyers are joining with high school students to fight for better schools.

We ask you, as concerned friends and allies nationwide, as funders and organizations, to look critically at your practices. Has your organization raised money on New Orleans' behalf? Did that money go towards New Orleans-based projects, initiated and directed by those most affected? Have you paid New Orleans organizations that have acted as consultants? Have you listened directly to the needs of those in the Gulf and been responsive to them? Have you adjusted your practices and strategies to the organizing realities on the ground?

We ask you to seize this opportunity, and join and support the grassroots movements. If the people of New Orleans can succeed against incredible odds to save their city and their community, it is a victory for oppressed people everywhere. If the people of New Orleans lose, it is a loss for movements everywhere. Struggling together, we can win together.


    Cherice Harrison-Nelson
    Director and Curator, Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, New Orleans

    Royce Osborn
    writer/producer, New Orleans




    Greta Gladney
    4th generation Lower 9th Ward resident, New Orleans




    Corlita Mahr, New Orleans

    Judy Watts
    President/CEO, Agenda for Children, New Orleans




    Robert “Kool Black” Horton
    Critical Resistance, New Orleans




    Jennifer Turner
    Community Book Center, New Orleans




    Mayaba Liebenthal
    INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, New Orleans




    Norris Henderson
    Co-Director Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans




    Ursula Price
    Outreach and Investigation Coordinator, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans




    Evelyn Lynn
    Managing Director, Safe Streets - Strong Communities, New Orleans




    Shana Griffin
    INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
    New Orleans Women's Health & Justice Initiative




    Min. J. Kojo Livingston
    Founder Liberation Zone/Destiny One Ministries




    Shana Sassoon
    New Orleans Network Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans




    Althea Francois, New Orleans

    Malcolm Suber
    People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, New Orleans




    Saket Soni
    New Orleans Worker’s Justice Project, New Orleans




    Nick Slie, I-10
    Witness Project, Co-Artistic Director Mondo Bizarro, New Orleans




    Catherine Jones
    Medical student, Tulane University, Organizer and co-founder, Latino Health Outreach Project, New Orleans




    Jennifer Whitney
    coordinator, Latino Health Outreach Project




    S. Mandisa Moore
    INCITE! New Orleans and the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans




    Aesha Rasheed
    Project Manager, New Orleans Network, New Orleans




    Jordan Flaherty
    Left Turn Magazine, New Orleans




    Dix deLaneuville
    Educator, New Orleans




    Courtney Egan
    Filmmaker, New Orleans




    Rebecca Snedeker
    Filmmaker, New Orleans




    Catherine A. Galpin, RN
    FACES and Children's Hospital, New Orleans




    Hamilton Simons-Jones, New Orleans

    Al Alcazar
    Educator, New Orleans




    Grace Bauer
    Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children




    Erin Bell, New Orleans resident

    Xochitl Bervera
    Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children




    Mario E. Carbajal
    New Orleans resident living in Houston




    Bess Carrick
    Producer/Director, New Orleans




    John Clark
    Professor of Philosophy (Loyola University)




    Brandon Darby
    Director of Relief Operations Common Ground Relief




    Diana Dunn
    The People's Institut, European Dissent, New Orleans




    Courtney Egan
    Artist, New Orleans




    Lou Furman
    Turning Point Partners




    Ariana Hall
    Director, CubaNOLA Collective




    Gwendolyn Midlo Hall Historian
    writer and lecturer, New Orleans and Mississippi Pine Belt




    Susan Hamovitch
    NYC/New Orleans




    Russell Henderson
    Lecturer, Dillard University and
    Organizer, Rebuilding Louisana Coalition




    Ms.Deon Haywood
    Events Coordinator, Women With A Vision Inc.




    Rachel Herzing
    Critical Resistance




    Rev. Doug Highfield
    Universal Life Church
    Cherokee, AL




    Joyce Marie Jackson, Ph.D.
    Cultural Researcher, LSU Dept. of Geography & Anthropology, and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge




    Elizabeth K Jeffers

    Dana Kaplan
    Safe Streets - Strong Communities / Center for Constitutional Rights, NYC/New Orleans




    Vi Landry
    freelance journalist, New Orleans/New York




    Bridget Lehane
    European Dissent and The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond




    Karen-kaia Livers
    Alliance for Community Theaters, Inc., New Orleans




    Rachel E. Luft
    Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of New Orleans




    Melana Luke

    M. Denise Miles
    Student, Tulane University School of Public Health




    Damekia Morgan
    Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children




    Saladin Muhammad
    Black Workers For Justice




    Ukali Mwendo
    (Hazardous Materials Specialist, NOFD),President, Provisional Government - Republic of New Afrika / New Orleans LA (former resident of the Lafitte Housing Development)




    Kalonji T. Olusegun
    2nd Vice President, Provisional Government- Republic of New Afrika, Founding lifetime member National Coalition Of Blacks for Reparations in America, NCOBRA: Trustee, Div. 330 UNIA/ACL




    Donna Paluch
    Loyola College of Law, New Orleans




    Thea Patterson
    Women's Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans




    J. Nash Porter
    Documentary Photographer and Co-founder of Cultural Crossroads, Inc., Baton Rouge




    Gloria Powers
    Arts Project Manager NOLA




    Valerie M. Prier

    Bill Quigley
    Loyola Professor of Law, New Orleans




    Linda Santi, New Orleans

    Roxanne Saucier
    Student, New Orleans




    Tony Sferlazza
    Director of Plenty International NOLA




    Heidi Lee Sinclair, MD, MPH
    Baton Rouge Children's Health Project
    Baton Rouge




    Carole Smith
    fine artiste (and i deserve to be kissed!)
    Florence, AL




    Justin Stein
    Neighborhood Relations Coordinator and Community Mediator, Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans




    Audrey Stewart

    Paul Troyano
    New Orleans




    Tracie L. Washington, Esq.,
    Director, NAACP Gulf Coast Advocacy Center, New Orleans




    Scott Weinstein
    former co-director of the Common Ground Health Clinic, New Orleans




    Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

    Jerald L. White
    Bottletree Productions, New Orleans




    Melissa Wells, New Orleans,

    George "Loki" Williams
    Founder, New Orleans Oral History Project / Humid City




    Morgan Williams
    Student Hurricane Network, Co-founder
    New Orleans




    Tyler Wilson, Rn,
    Pediatric Registered Nurse




    Gina Womack
    Families and Friends of Louisiana 's Incarcerated Children




    Signatures from Activists and Allies outside the Gulf region:

    Jim Ace
    UNtraining White Liberal Racism
    San Francisco




    Ujju Aggarwal
    Center for Immigrant Families, New York City




    Kirsten Angel-Lambert
    Art Educator




    Denise Barnes
    Prison Families Community Forum




    Scott A. Barton
    Board Member, Southern Foodways Alliance, Willie Mae’s Scotch House Restoration Project




    Beverly Bell
    Coordinator, Other Worlds collaborative, Albuquerque/New Orleans




    Charles Boylan
    Producer/Co-Host Wake Up With Co-Op!CFRO 102.7 FM
    Vancouver, BC




    James M. Branum
    GI Rights Lawyer / Texoma Regional Vice President, National Lawyers Guild, Oklahoma City, OK




    Ingrid Chapman
    Catalyst Project and Critical Resistance Oakland




    Kym Clark
    Founder, Prison Families Community Forum




    Chris Crass
    Coordinator, Catalyst Project San Francisco




    Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
    Writer and University Professor, San Francisco




    Hannah Eller-Isaacs
    Unitarian Universalist Association St.Paul, Minnesota.




    Cathey Golden
    native New Orleanian
    residing in Boston, Massachusetts




    Ramon Golden
    Boston, Massachusetts




    Priscilla Gonzalez
    Center for Immigrant Families, New York City




    Kevin Alexander Gray
    organizer & writer, Harriet Tubman Freedom House Project
    Columbia, South Carolina




    Saib Isa
    Software Quality Assurance Engineer
    Montreal, Quebec, Canada




    John Janovy, Jr.
    Lincoln, Nebraska




    William M. Johnson
    New York Rep. Common Ground




    Chris Kromm
    Executive Director, Institute for Southern Studies




    Prita Lal
    Center for Immigrant Families, New York City




    Jen Marlowe




    Sharon Martinas
    Challenging White Supremacy workshop, San Francisco




    Pilar Maschi
    Critical Resistance, membership and leadership development director, nyc




    Molly McClure
    Catalyst Project,Oakland




    Saiya Miller
    student, Simon's Rock College of Bard
    Great Barrington, MA




    Meshá Mongé-Irizarry
    Idriss Stelley Foundation , Law Enforcement Accountability




    Christopher Monson
    Architect and educator, Starkville, Mississippi




    Claudia Montesinios
    Architect, Atlanta




    Jovita Natal
    Prison Families Community Forum




    Donna Nevel
    Center for Immigrant Families, New York City




    Cheri O'Donoghue
    Prison Families Community Forum




    Ricky O'Donoghue
    Prison Families Community Forum




    Beatrice Parwatikar
    Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace / INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, Shoreham, VT




    Ed Pearl
    formerly of SNCC's Free Southern Theater, Los Angeles




    Lydia Pelot-Hobbs
    student Oberlin College, Ohio
    former member of Common Ground Anti-Racist Working Group




    Kyung Ji Kate Rhee
    Executive Director | Prison Moratorium Project




    Marc Rodrigues
    Student/Farmworker Alliance Immokalee, Florida




    Marion Rodriguez
    Organizer, NY Campaign for Telephone Justice/Prison Families Community Forum




    Gabriel Sayegh
    Project Director, Drug Policy Alliance, NY




    Mikell Grafton Skinner
    Louisville, KY




    Susan Slohm
    Organizer with SEIU
    Albuquerque, NM




    Matthew Smith
    Architect, Seattle Right of Return Committee
    (formerly representing Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility)




    Rebecca Solnit
    San Francisco




    Hon Andrew L. Somers Jr. (ret.)
    retired Judge , Fitchburg, Wisconsin




    Stephen Steinberg
    Professor, Urban Studies Department, Queens College
    New York City




    Ken Stowar
    Programme Director for CIUT 89.5FM the University of Toronto Community Radio station, Toronto, Canada




    Uda Olabarria Walker
    Left Turn Magazine
    San Francisco, Ca.




    Ivey Walton
    Prison Families Community Forum




    Sara Williams PAC
    Carolina Peace Resource Center




    Emily Winkelstein
    Harm Reductionist and activist, Brooklyn, NY




    Daniel Wolff
    Nyack, N.Y.