Tag Archives: New Orleans

New Orleans Danziger Bridge massacre trial begins

An important event that happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when 2 people were killed and 6 injured on the Danziger Bridge.  This article examines that event in the context of police brutality.

[This article originally appeared on Liberation News]

Jail racist killer cops!

July 13, 2011

Lance Madison was placed under arrest after police killed his mentally disabled brother, Ronald on the Danziger Bridge.

The federal trial of seven New Orleans police officers began on June 27 and continues as we go to press with this article. The accused officers were involved in the Danziger Bridge massacre, where police opened fire on six unarmed African American survivors of Hurricane Katrina, killing two and maiming the other four.

The original charges against the police for the racist shooting and subsequent cover-up were dismissed in August 2008 , after District Judge Raymond Bigelow accused the prosecution of misconduct with the grand jury.

The two victims killed by the cops were Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 17. Madison died when he was shot in the back and then stomped repeatedly by NOPD officer Robert Faulcon. Brissette died from shots at the hands of three officers: Robert Gisevius, Kenneth Bowen and Anthony Villavaso. Five of the officers on trial are white.

Danziger Bridge:The horror of police terrorism

Former officer Michael Hunter, who has already pleaded guilty, stated that the officers received a radio call claiming that officers were und er fire and injured in a gun battle on the bridge. After commandeering a Budget rental truck, Hunter and the other officers drove to the bridge, where they found people whose only crime was walking down the street about a week after fleeing their flooded homes. The police opened fire using assault rifles, pistols and a shotgun.

Susan Bartholomew lost her arm in the shooting and had to be sworn in with her left hand. She testified that an officer found her hiding behind a barricade, clinging to another shooting victim. Both women were crying. An officer then leaned over the barricade and opened fire on them with an assault rifle in a sweeping motion.

After Susan Bartholomew was shot, the police demanded she raise her hands. “I couldn’t do it, because my arm was shot off. I raised the only hand I had,” she said softly.

The youngest victim was her 14-year-old son, Leonard Bartholomew IV, who was shot before being kicked and arrested by former officer Kevin Bryan Sr. He was then dropped off at a makeshift police station without money or shoes while his parents were hospitalized. He spent a week and a half living with a sympathetic stranger who blogged about Leonard’s situation until he was reunited with an uncle who had seen the woman’s blog posts.

The civilians on the bridge that day were unarmed. At no point did they engage in any behavior that would indicate they were hostile to the officers or that they possessed a weapon.

Jackie Madison Brown, the sister of Ronald Madison, took the witness stand on July 7. “My brother Rommel called and told me Ronald had been killed,” Brown emotionally recalled under questioning .

Ronald Madison was shot in the back by a hail of gunfire. His disability prevented him from forming full sentences and he had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. His family had always been protective of him.

Brown’s testimony came after that of former NOPD crime scene technician Tracy Haas. Haas testified that the department waited seven weeks to send a crime scene tech to the Danziger Bridge.

Haas collected 30 spent shell casings in the grassy area next to the Danziger Bridge. She testified that she was not even told a homicide had taken place; however, Sgt. Gerard Dugue did take time to point out a spot in the grass where he said a gun had lain after the shooting. Despite no evidence that any of the victims had guns, Haas took a picture of the spot and labeled it “possible gun location.”

After photographing the area, Haas made her way to the top of the bridge and started to head towards the Friendly Inn Motel, where Ronald Madison was shot and killed. But Haas told the jury that she was stopped by officers: “They told me they had an incident in that area but no evidence was found.”

A racist system through and through

The world looked on with horror at the racist government response in the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina that killed 1,836 people—most of whom perished in the floods after the hurricane hit New Orleans on August 29.

The Danziger Bridge massacre took place a week after the hurricane while many survivors were still trapped in New Orleans, which was 80 percent underwater.

Only a system that functions on the most violent and repulsive racism could produce such an event where people struggling to survive in the aftermath of a natural disaster are shot down in the street.

But the masses in Louisiana know all too well that Danziger is part of a system where terrorism against African American people is commonplace, from lynchings after the Reconstruction period to naming the largest prison in the United States, Angola Prison, built on the site of a slave plantation, after the place where the slaves were taken from in Africa.

Five defendants have pleaded guilty to charges of hindering a federal investigation into the shooting by conspiring to cover up facts, lying to federal officials and lying about the actual felony itself, which was an attack on unarmed civilians in which the officers neither identified themselves nor assessed whether the civilians posed a threat.

The defense argues that Katrina was a mitigating factor in the shooting, and that officers were responding to a radio call stating that officers had been fired on at the bridge and were injured, prompting the seven involved to speed to the scene.

One tactic the defense is using is to show the involvement of many others in the NOPD, such as the officer who rewrote Faulcon’s statements. What is not being said, of course, is that the police responded in this racist, violent manner simply because this is the role of the police under capitalism.

As V.I. Lenin explains in State and Revolution,” the role of the police or the special bodies of armed men is to maintain the social order in the face of class antagonisms.

However, officers conspired to cover up the shooting—which began as soon as they drove to the bridge, and before engaging any of the people present—by claiming that guns were found at the scene but were “kicked off the bridge,” according to Hunter, who drove the Budget rental truck to the scene.

A first step for justice would be not only to jail the killer cops involved in the Danziger Bridge shootings, but indict all those who organized the racist terror against the African American survivors in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. A united, multi-national people’s movement is needed to assure that outcome.

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Filed under Hurricanes, Louisiana, North Carolina, police brutality, Southern United States

Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later

[This article originally appeared on thestar.com]

By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau

DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811, insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

They black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom involving slaves from a dozen plantations along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had, in one way or another, been “sold down the river” — a cliché that first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation after sunset on Jan. 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendents, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Gulf States, Louisiana, New Orleans, Race, racism, slavery, workers

BP spill: One year since worst oil spill ever

[originally posted at PSLweb]

April 18, 2011

Deepwater Horizon explosion, April 20, 2010

The writer was part of a delegation that traveled to the Gulf at the onset of the crisis to meet with affected fishermen, workers and activists as part of the Seize BP campaign calling for the seizure of BP’s assets to pay for the cleanup and fully compensate economic losses of those in the region. Demonstrations were held in cities across the country at that time.

One year after causing the worst oil spill in history, BP has claimed 2010 as their “best year in safety performance” in their company’s history, even as workers in the Gulf region continue to suffer from the disaster.

Adding insult to injury, BP executives recently rewarded themselves with “safety bonuses.” BP’s CEO Steve Newman’s bonus last year was $374,062, which is really just a tip since Newman usually rakes in almost $6 million a year. Transocean managers—the owners of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig—received up to two-thirds of the total possible “safety” bonuses.

Role of capitalist state exposed

The explosion on the Deep Horizon off-shore rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast left 11 workers dead, 17 injured and more than 200 million tons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, wreaking untold damage on the environment and economies of the Gulf states. The aftermath of the profit-driven catastrophe showed the true power of big oil and exposed the government and state as managers of the interests of the capitalist class.

Millions of gallons of oil poured into the Gulf and hundreds of thousands of gallons of Corexit and other toxic dispersants—banned in 19 countries—were pumped in to conceal it. At the same time, the Obama administration approved dozens of off-shore drilling projects in the early days of the crisis, showing all the more in Obama’s own words that the federal government’s relationship to big oil is indeed “cozy.”

It took BP several attempts to cap the gusher, finally succeeding on July 15—nearly three months later.

CNN just received the “prestigious” Peabody Award for journalism for their comprehensive coverage of the disaster, acting as only one mouthpiece of the apparatus to echo BP’s efforts and the federal government’s endorsement.

BP headquarters in Houma, La., carefully released information on their efforts and promises to deal with the disaster—although the press or public could not walk into BP headquarters to verify that. Again, to show the relationship between big oil and the government, it was not BP’s private security at the gates of their operations headquaters in Louisiana. It was staffed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, is pressuring federal officials for $100 million, not to clean up the Gulf disaster or compensate workers and residents, but to speed up the infrastructure to approve more permits for drilling in the Gulf. Already in mid-March, Anglo-Suisse claimed responsibility for another oil spill, while yet more lip service was given to the need for “federal oversight.”

Workers, residents report chronic health effects

The working and oppressed people of Gulf have another story to tell. Exemplified in one man’s story who lives 100 miles from the coast, a recent report showed that he tested as having higher levels of chemicals from BP’s spill than actual clean-up workers.

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants were pumped into the Gulf at the time.

The health problems resulting from the spill continue to become apparent while peoples’ pleas for medical care to address the toxic health affects of the spill continue to be ignored by BP and government authorities.

Many of the clean-up workers were fishermen and others who became unemployed during the disaster. These workers lived under appalling conditions and became exposed to toxic oil and chemicals.

“If I wanted to be in prison, I would break the law and go to jail,” explained one clean-up worker when asked to describe the living conditions of the “floating hotels” set-up by BP.

At one point, these workers carried out a strike to demand better housing. Most of them are still waiting for compensation for their claims from BP.

Major health problems are being seen among people exposed to both the oil and the dispersants used in the cleanup. According to Dr. Rodney Soto, a Florida physician, both the oil and the dispersants contain volatile organic compounds that cause an array of negative health problems. (Al-Jazeera)

According to Soto, between five and seven VOCs have been found in his patients who also report symptoms and illnesses including vomiting, kidney damage, lung damage, burning sensations in the nose and throat, skin irritation and liver damage.

Alabama resident Lloyd Pearcey worked on a BP clean-up team for four months. He has chemicals from oil and dispersants in his blood, according to tests conducted by Soto. Pearcey is now battling cancer.

Others who did not work in the cleanup currently have similar medical complications. Even more troubling, others with toxins present in their blood today may present symptoms or illnesses later as a result of the exposure.

As time goes on, there are potentially “tremendous implications in the human immune system, hormonal function, and brain function,” according to Soto.

Untold environmental damage

While BP reports that they have completed clean-up efforts in Mississippi, residents report a strange foamy substance washing up on shore that could very well be connected to dispersants used.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state health departments and President Obama have joined the chorus with BP that the beaches and seafood from the Gulf are safe.

“It’s criminal for the government to tell people to eat the contaminated seafood, and that it’s alright for people go to our toxic beaches and swim in the contaminated water,” Dr. Soto said.

The environmental impact continues to be assessed with alarming statistics. One report showed that 60 percent of Louisiana coastal land erosion resulted from the spill. In reality, the extent of the erosion has not been fully calculated, but could be as much as the size of the state of Delaware.

The Gulf Coast shoreline is a fragile and complex ecological system—a system that protects the interior against hurricanes as well as providing a cycle of food for many different species. Thus, oil contamination on the coast kills off microscopic algae, a base food, cutting off nutrients to fish, shrimp, oysters and then larger species, such as birds, land animals and humans.

Toxic dispersants remain in the Gulf of Mexico. It is clear that this was a strategy not to clean up the spill, but to conceal it deep in the sea, impacting deep-sea wildlife for generations to come.

Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia. She presents evidence that the oil is not degrading as expected and is killing life on the sea floor.

Her videos and photographs taken deep below the surface show dead crabs, pale starfish and suffocated tube worms, which are all sea life key to the larger ecological cycle.

The sea life not only suffered from the oil itself; the fire that lasted for days produced a tremendous amount of methane and soot that ultimately will reach the marshes, beaches and barrier islands where other wildlife nest and breed in the Gulf.

No real compensation for the people of the Gulf

BP has assets of $152 billion. If British Petroleum were a nation it would rank 35th richest in the world, if its assets were calculated as gross national product. The Seize BP Campaign demanded that the assets of British Petroleum be seized by the government—the only entity that could carry out such an action.

These demands did not place faith in a government at the service of big oil, but demanded that the funds be placed into a trust that could quickly and easily assist the people of the Gulf and the clean-up efforts and be made available as more damages became uncovered.

This trust would have been administered by the people from the harmed area. The trustees were to include representatives of the fishers, shrimpers, crabbers, unions, small business people and workers in the tourism and recreation industry, local elected officials, clergy, and independent scientists and environmentalists.

Instead of full compensation for the people of the Gulf or the people of the Gulf having a say in their futures, Obama made Kenneth Feinberg trustee for distributing what BP was willing to pay. Feinberg was previously appointed to hand out the billions of taxpayers’ money in the bailout for the banks, insurance companies and their criminal executives. Feinberg holds the purse strings to the escrow fund rather than the people who are most impacted.

BP has been promoting the idea that the tourist industry in the Gulf was not affected by the disaster. In fact, many hotels were booked with clean-up workers and others working on the spill. Yet hotel and tourist industry representatives report that these visitors did not come to the Gulf to enjoy the beaches, eat in the restaurants and participate in one of the largest industries—sport fishing.

Just a month ago, local workers who assisted in the clean-up efforts and are suffering from poor health and other damages to their boats filed suit in New Orleans, naming BP and the other co-owners of Deepwater Horizon as well as the manufacturer of the toxic dispersants. The suit is seeking compensation for bodily harm and unpaid wages.

The White House announced a criminal investigation into BP, Transocean, the well operator contractor, and Halliburton, the second largest company in the world in oil field services, which cemented the rig. We know all too well what the result of a White House-led investigation will be—a slap on the wrist at best.

The oil giants’ drive for profits has resulted in theft of land from indigenous peoples in Louisiana to peoples of the Middle East, untold environmental havoc and millions of deaths from wars and occupations. The BP oil disaster has made all the more clear the need to continue to build a movement to eradicate the private ownership of the earth’s resources, so that the people of the planet can plan and safely extract needed resources without jeopardizing the poorest now and generations to come.

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Filed under class struggle, Corporations, Environment, Environmental Justice, fishing, Florida, Gulf Oil Spill, Gulf States, Louisiana, Oil

Recent events in Florida’s Capital

[This was originally posted on the Tallahassee Socialist Organization’s blog]

By Mike C

There were a few events of interest in Tallahassee in the past week or so that should be noted:

Egypt Solidarity Demonstration 2/5/11

About a week an a half ago, a small crowed comprised of many TSO members stood at the Capitol to show their support for the Egyptian revolution.  The demonstration was a last minute call for a rainy day and was well received by those driving by on the crowded intersection of Apalachee Parkway and Monroe St.

The demonstration was covered by the newspaper of the Florida A&M University, the FAMUAN:

It was a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon as protesters assembled on the Capital Lawn carrying handwritten signs reading, “Freedom in Egypt” and “We Support Egypt.”

Local residents and organizations held a solidarity rally to express their support for freedom in Cairo.

Anti-government protests, demanding economic and political changes, began in Egypt on Jan. 25.

Since then, tens of thousands of people are filling the streets of Cairo and other cities and have called for President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in power.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” a famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., helps to define one of the many reasons why American protesters are voicing their opinions.

“It should affect us all as Americans because it is what a truly American concept is about putting in a democracy,” said Alla Hadi, an Egyptian-American attending Florida State, whose family, and friends that are worried about what is going on in Egypt.

“We have to voice our support.”

This demonstration was held the same weekend as demonstrations across the country, from California, to New York City, Washington, DC. and South Florida all held similar events, as well as other Southern cities like New Orleans. (For more information on other demonstrations, check out the ANSWER Coalition’s article)

Public Hearing on Racist Immigration Bill 2/7/11

On February 7th, a public hearing was held to discuss the possibility of the introduction of a bill similar to the now infamous  racist “SB1070” Arizona law that promotes racial profiling.  As the Florida Progressive Coalition Blog reports, 90 percent of the speakers at the hearing were opposed to the prospect of such a bill with only 2 people speaking in favor of it during the entire event.  Folks came from all over the state to voice their opposition to the bill as well as people from Tallahassee.

Here’s one example of the opposition voiced during the hearing:

Pro-Choice Action 2/17/11

Last but certainly not least was the recent visit to the Florida State campus by a group that attempts to equate abortion to genocide.  Florida State students organized a counter demonstration to show that groups that go around attacking womens’ rights are not welcome on their campus and that opposition will be loud and heard.  Chants like “When choice is under attack, What do we do? Stand Up, Fight Back!” were heard in a busy section of the FSU campus while those promoting their anti-choice message were attempting to spread their message of hate.

While the group that was traveling by may seem like a fringe group in its message, their visit to Tallahassee comes at a time when abortion rights are under attack by the Right-wing in America (including attempts to limit access, attacking Planned Parenthood).

The pro-choice counter-demonstrators outnumbered those anti-choice by dozens, and stayed until the anti-choice folks packed up for the day, opposition to their second day is expect as well.  The student newspaper is also expected to run a story on the event.

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Filed under ANSWER Coalition, Florida, Gender, Human Rights, immigration, Imperialism, Leftists in the U.S. South, LGBT, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Students, Women

Rally for the Brave People of Egypt, New Orleans, Louisiana

By hastenawait

Signs from yesterday's rally

Hundreds took to the streets of New Orleans yesterday to march in solidarity with the revolutionary peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. A rally was held in front of the steps of the federal building before protesters began winding down the streets of downtown New Orleans.

 Protesters not only challenged dictatorships in other parts of the world and U.S. imperialism – many made the connection between the inspiring struggles going on elswhere and what is happening here in Louisiana, the South and the United States. The signs which read, “New Orleans, walk like an Egyptian,” and “Egypt -1; Tunisia – 1; New Orleans, ?” distilled this popular sentiment. Among others, chants of, “One solution: Revolution!” could be heard echoing through the streets of of the Crescent City.

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Filed under Anti-Imperialism, class struggle, Gulf States, Human Rights, Imperialism, Louisiana, Solidarity, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States

No Demolition! Hands Off Iberville! (New Orleans)

David Gilmore, the federally-imposed-administrator of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, want to make life even more miserable for working class New Orleanians by demolishing the Iberville Public Housing development. To add insult to injury they have given the contract to greedy developer Pres Kabacoff, who drove hundreds of poor families from St. Thomas and still, a decade later, has not built the 100 off site apartment he promised.  But, to carry out their crime, HANO, Landrieu, and Kabacoff need a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Housing Urban Development. Join us Saturday, December 18 as we demand:

·         No to a HUD Choice Neighborhood grant to demolish Iberville

·         Yes to a massive public works program to rebuild Public Housing, Schools, Hospitals and Infrastructure

Press Conference, Rally and March

Saturday, December 18

12 Noon

Meet on neutral ground, corner of St Louis and Basin St.

Sponsor: Hands Off Iberville.  For more information call 504-520-9521

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Filed under African Americans, austerity measures, budget cuts, class struggle, Demonstration Announcements, Event Announcement, Gulf States, housing, Human Rights, Louisiana, National Oppression, New Orleans, Public housing, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States, Upcoming Events, workers

George Galloway prevented from Entering U.S., addresses Louisianians via Skype

 
 
 

By hastenawait, December 14, 2010

 

The Muslim Legal Fund of America is a non-profit organization which has existed since 2001. It supports legal cases across the country which impact civil rights, freedoms, liberties and principles of justice in America, particularly where Muslims are concerned. The organization focuses on important cases which affect the Muslim community and public policy. Their decisions about which cases to take up, therefore, are strategic.

Last night the MLFA hosted a benefit dinner in Kenner, Louisiana . Kenner is a smaller city that borders New Orleans. The benefit was intended to raise funds for the organization’s work and to raise awareness about ongoing injustices facing Muslims in the United States. Around 100 people attended, with the majority being Louisiana Muslim community members. A handful of non-Muslims were there as well.

Speakers included Adulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born New Orleans businessman who has achieved a degree of fame because he rode out hurricane Katrina and then went around rescuing people in his canoe. For his good work he was arrested, labeled a terrorist and imprisoned for 23 days.

The daughter of Shukri Abu Baker also spoke. Baker was the president of the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States. In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush regime charged the organization with supporting Hamas in Palestine. The organization was subsequently shut down and Baker is now serving a 65-year prison sentence, essentially for providing charitable aid to victims of the ongoing genocide in Palestine. All of the speakers gave powerful and moving presentations.

The keynote speaker was former U.K.-parliamentarian and long-time activist, George Galloway. Galloway is known for his activist work in support of Palestine. He is a founding member of a charitable organization called Viva Palestina, whose mission is to break the blockade of the Gaza strip by bringing badly-needed aid. For these activities, he was denied entry into Canada from March of 2009 until October 2010. He has not, however, been officially blocked from entering the United States.

You can imagine the surprise of the audience last night when it was announced that Galloway would not be speaking with them in person, as he had been denied entry into the United States over the weekend. He was supposed to be traveling the country for a multi-city speaking tour, but was told by airline officials that he would not be able to enter the U.S. because there were problems with his visa.

Undeterred, Galloway instead addressed the crowd in Kenner via the computer program Skype. A laptop was hooked up to a projector, and a live video could be seen on two large screens in a convention room of the Crown Plaza hotel, where the event was held. During his talk Galloway stated that it is not clear whether his being denied entry was the result of a technical or bureaucratic glitch, or whether it was a political measure carried out in secrecy. He explained that efforts were made to resolve the situation throughout the weekend, but that nothing came of it.

 
 
 

Galloway addressing audience in Kenner, Louisiana

 

The main body of his talk concerned human rights violations carried out by the U.S. government against Muslims worldwide, and particularly the grave humanitarian situation in Palestine, which has resulted from Israeli-U.S. imperialist settler policies.

Because his being denied entry to the U.S. may be an instance of political repression (and we know that this is not unlikely) he reiterated his resolve to not be silenced. He said boldly : “Nothing will stop me. Not the government of what they call Israel; not the government of Canada or the U.S.” He continued: “I cannot be silenced…I hope the U.S. government understands that. We live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook. There will always be a way for me to speak.”

He went on to describe his speaking visit to New Orleans last year. He said that New Orleans is a city which he loves deeply, and that he has every intention of visiting it again, and speaking to New Orleanians again. He vowed that he would fight to get back into the United States and that this event would be rescheduled.

When speaking about the Muslims, solidarity activists and charitable workers who have been the target of political repression in the United States since 9/11, he argued: “Anyone of you as I look around this hall could be the next one to hear the knock on the door, to be unjustly accused…even because you’re doing charitable work for a country that has been wiped off the map.” He was referring to Palestine.

Galloway’s provocative statement that he “cannot be silenced” because “we live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook” is particularly pertinent at this time. People have been talking about the political implications of the digital revolution since it began, just as people in other eras discussed the political implications of other media and technological shifts. But in the wake of the WikiLeaks revelations and other events this year (such as FBI raids on anti-war activists) the contradictions implicit in this social revolution are perhaps clearer than ever – and they are certainly heightened. These contradictions are increasingly characterizing the contemporary world, and, broadly speaking, they boil down to this: the new digital media open up the way for new democratic transformations and unprecedented levels of openness in public institutions on the one hand; on the other, they open up possibilities for frightening forms of surveillance, opacity and authoritarianism. A resume of U.S. government activities since the Bush administration should leave no doubt about the latter tendency.

At one level these contradictions are overdetermined by another prevailing social contradiction which is inherent to capitalism, and that is the contradiction between massively-socialized production and economic life generally, on the one hand, and private ownership on the other. (The struggles over intellectual property, file sharing etc. all take place within the trajectory of this contradiction.) At its base, this contradiction is about who has power in society and who does not.

It is increasingly clear that the new digital technologies make governments, corporations and other powerful entities newly powerful but at the same time newly vulnerable (just look at the attacks on the websites of Visa and MasterCard by “hacktivists” following the latest round of leaks by WikiLeaks). The same is true of the people who are resisting the powerful. For example, these technologies make it easier for governments to spy on activists, but they also provide the means of organization for those activists. It should be noted, in regard to the 2010 FBI raids on anti-war activists, that because of social networking sites like Facebook, an organized response was beginning the very day that the raids were taking place. Within hours there were videos on YouTube. Press conferences, demonstrations and the like were all in the works.

Galloway’s appearance via Skype last night highlights the liberatory dimension opened up by these technologies. Whether the U.S. government is in fact preventing him from entering the country, or whether there was a technical glitch does not change this. The fact is that his lack of physical presence did not prevent him from addressing Louisiana community members. He was not prevented from speaking.

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Filed under Anti-Imperialism, Anti-War, Censorship, Digital Media, Human Rights, Imperialism, Islam, Leftist media, Middle East, National Oppression, New Orleans, Palestine, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, Technology, The Left, Theory, Uncategorized, United States, Wikileaks