Thursday, September 15, 2005

Building The New Reservations

Tonight the president who would not return the governor of Louisiana's telephone calls stood in from of a well-lit cathedral in a clean and freshly mowed Jackson Square, and offered us his best.

We heard talk of entrepreneurship and charity, of the strength and generosity of the American people, a message of hope. We heard a condemnation of racism and our other lesser national traits.

What we heard, in short, was platitudes. Mostly we heard the same message for the poor we have heard since the urbanization of the 19th century. We will give you a pair of boots, and you may lift yourselves up by your bootstraps. Good luck.

We did not hear of any direct assistance to anyone other than businesses. Yes, businesses were destroyed, and the jobs with them. We need them back, more and better paying jobs in prospering business. I am certain that out government will spare no expense to make sure that the owners of the ownership society do not suffer needlessly.

We have seen the result of "enterprise" and "opportunity" zones. It is the very poverty and desperation so public paraded on our television sets just over a week ago. We have seen it in our inner cities, and on our reservations, and in the poorest urban counties in this country. It is not a pretty site.

For the rest, there was the promise of $5,000 in educational assistance so that the people of the Gulf Coast could get those "good jobs" the entrepreneurship of those who leech off tax breaks would bring.

Mr. President, the American people have noticed that corporations in America aren't handing out good jobs any more. Good jobs cost money. They ship those over seas, where people will work for less, so as to keep those at the top in the manner to which you have helped them become accustomed.

The survivors are people who have lost their homes--sometime the only asset they have--and their belongings and jobs and lives. And you offered them retraining assistance, as if they were someone sent out the plant gate to the corner bar one Friday night with a pink slip, by some accidental collision of tax policy and world trade.

You might as well have offered them 40 acres and a mule.

It was not enough.

A centerpiece of George Bush's generally empty address was the promise of an "Urban Homesteading Act," to allow the survivors to build homes--with mortgages or charity help--on federal land.

St. Bernard Parish is to be bulldozed, razed to the ground. This is likely the fate of New Orleans East and the neighborhoods between the London Avenue and 17th Street Canals, surrounding City Park.

Many of those homes had flood insurance, but not all. As tearful homeowners are finding, the best federal flood insurance they can buy will not rebuild the homes they had, or replace their possessions.

In the poorest section of the city, the Ninth Ward and the flooded neighborhoods of the central city, I believe we will find they had none. I should say, we will find their landlords had none.

There was a clear mention of changes to zoning and building codes to prevent this happening again. Those of us in New Orleans know what that means. It will mean much of the city may never be rebuilt, if Mr. Bush has his way.

The urban homesteading proposal is truly disturbing. There is no federal land holding of consequence in the city of New Orleans. It is an empty promise for those people, and a boon for those who would like to build a city without the bother of many of it's recent citizens: the poor, the black, the unemployed or marginally employed.

Bush has generously offered to the urban people of New Orleans to build reservations. I live in North Dakota, where large swaths of the least desirable land hold some of the poorest people in the first world, people who's homes were taken not by nature but by the good Americans of good European stock who now look down on the people of New Orleans.

It is not a good model. It is not an acceptable offer.

It is a program for the ethnic cleansing of a majority black city by removing most of its residents to a federal reservation elsewhere. It is cover for not rebuilding large swaths of the city. It is another abandonment, another clear message: Go Away. Stop embarrassing us with your suffering, your poverty, your strange ways.

There was no offer of a real urban homesteading. What that would entail would be granting the people of New Orleans the right to buy their former rental homes for a nominal cost, through condemnation and government purchase for a reasonable cost to the owner if the owner failed to rebuild a decent and affordable home.

It would entail promising to make whole those who are finding federal flood insurance is a false promise, and committing to build levees that will not fail them

It would require a real admission of failure, and a willingness to spend the money to make real restitution.

Bush has failed us again.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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