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February, 2006

'Somebody's Got to Do Something,' says New Orleans Activist

Editor's note: Ted Quant, Director of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University in New Orleans, spoke recently at a benefit for New Orleans musicians in Chicago. Below are excerpts from his speech. He is available to speak through Speakers for a New America, 888-691-6888, or email info@speakersforanewamerica.com.

Trying to put their lives back to gether after Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, I despise you because you're filthy, but I love you because you're home. I love New Orleans. Poverty, police brutality, people going to the hospital and getting a prescription that they can't fill because they have no money, and nobody caring. Cops just beat up a man on television, but that's not the first time.

I work with twenty-one year olds. A kid was murdered by the cops. His mother danced on her son's coffin in the street. It's hard to understand, but that's New Orleans. The cops came to bust things up. She broke out her camera and started filming. The police said she initiated a riot and arrested people. Then they came to snatch her video. She said, "Oh, no, not my camera. I paid $400 for it." She was arrested for assault. Then the media got hold of it and it was just like you saw on television. It happens over and over. That's New OrleansÂ… the only reason for evil in our society is because people do nothing about it. We can no longer be bystanders! Katrina symbolized lives, people's whole connection to being human.

Psychologists talk about trauma by betrayal. They asked the kids why no one helped them. The kids said, "Because people just don't care about us." It's a horrible thing to be betrayed by a country and a people. People have been traumatized. For this to happen, there must be a previous history of devaluation of a people. Then, in times of crisis, those people can be targeted as scapegoats for the problems of the society. So they looked at people and called them looters.

If there's food in the store, I'm going to eat. Aquinas said "He who is dying of hunger must be fed." America we have to change. Katrina was nothing but a wake up call. People are being abandoned and then treated like a criminal. They said someone was coming to save people on a roof and they shot at them. They shot to make sure people saw them. So, you had the spectacle of dying people and military people afraid to go rescue them.

The conditions faced in New Orleans are what people everywhere are facing today. But, the generosity that people felt in the wake of Katrina -- they are blind to it in their own cities. It was a metaphor of what we are facing and the naked truth has been exposed by this storm. I love New Orleans.

While I was sitting here listening to the music tonight, I closed my eyes and I was on Ramparts Street. I was back home. But I can't go home because my home ain't there. What we celebrate tonight is so wonderful, but the music's roots, where it came from, the people who loved the city, the people from where this music is home, can't go back, in part because of the storm, a storm that was a natural disaster. But, another reason is because of an unnatural disaster of how our government responded to this disaster.

I don't know what it is to be homeless, but I do know what it is to be an evacuee. I used to be like you, helping people, always feeling good, but I never knew what it was to be on the receiving end of help. It's different. I felt bad. I gave money, and then I went back to my life. My life was food, people, entertainment, etc. But, people who have no hope, people whose babies will die because they can't meet their needs -- have no hope.

I want to show you pictures of the state of the art levee systems in Holland, England, Venice, and then New Orleans so you can see the difference. It's a tragedy and a crime. It didn't have to happen. People dying of hunger and thirst. National Guards too afraid to pick up the people. So, a man just drove his car in with a sign that said, "Bringing Relief."

Katrina was a natural disaster, but what is happening in this county is unnatural and unnecessary. Somebody's gotta do something. It's me and you. You're doing something tonight. Tonight is charity. But tomorrow is justice. We cannot live on charity or good will. Right wing people understand this. They take every manifestation of every disaster and turn it into an instrument in their interest. First they suspended the Davis-Bacon Act which meant the federal contractors could pay lower wages. Then they brought in workers from Mexico who have no rights. This is America, America. Somebody's gotta do something.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
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