All They Will Call You Will Be ‘Refugees’

All They Will Call You Will Be ‘Refugees’

Katrina ‘refugees’ sat in the streets outside New Orleans Convention Center waiting to be evacuated

The mass media has been calling the poor and the Black New Orleans residents, who could not afford to evacuate New Orleans, “refugees.” As if these are sub-human people or, as the constitution first stated, 4/5 of a human being. It reminds me of  Woody Guthrie’s song Deportees, about the plight of Mexican laborers during the depression:

Deportees by Woody Guthrie

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting  The oranges are filed in their creosote dumps

They’re flying ‘em back to the Mexico border  To take all their money to wade back again.

Goodbye to my Juan, farewell Roselita  Adios mes amigos, Jesus e Maria

You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane  All they will call you will be deportees.

My father’s own father, he waded that river  They took all the money he made in his life.

It’s six hundred miles to the Mexico border  And they chased them like rustlers, like outlaws, like thieves.  The skyplane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon

The great ball of fire it shook all our hills.  Who are these dear friends who are falling like dry leaves?

Radio said, They are just deportees”.  Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?

Is this the best way we can raise our good crops?  To fall like dry leaves and rot on out topsoil

And be known by no names except deportees”

The floods of Katrina are just the catalyst for the events that have victimized these people. Instead of evacuating these people, with the transportation that we now know was available, the powers to be left them to die. It is the logic of the bipartisan polices already in place.

The tragedy of Katrina has exposed the fact that Racism and class hatred are rampant in this society. The levees may have been broken down, but the racial and class divides are still standing.

In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in April 1967, The Other America, King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his 1963 Dream, he talked about the Nightmare of the economic condition of Blacks. He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist” ; about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity;” and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.” Nothing has changed.

To the capitalist class, these victims are expendable (“refugees”). What they see as a solution to the “welfare problem” and “urban blight.”

The rebuilding of this port is an economic necessity, due to the strategic location of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River. When they set plans to rebuild the port of New Orleans, the largest port in this country, these refugees are not included in their concept of the new port city.

This process can be found throughout this land, the inner cities are being gentrified, by both the Republican and Democratic Parties, in the service of big business, and the poor are being scattered to the winds—just like these “refugees.” It is how the rich are handling unemployment and poverty in this country.

Black Commentator’s radio station’s audio commentary on September 2 2005, Will the ‘New’ New Orleans be Black?, expressed the problems and the process quite well:

One of the premiere Black cities in the nation faces catastrophe. There is no doubt in my mind that New Orleans will one day rise again from its below sea level foundations. The question is, will the new New Orleans remain the two-thirds Black city it was before the levees crumbled? Some would say it is unseemly to speak of politics and race in the presence of a massive calamity that has destroyed the lives and prospects of so many people from all backgrounds. But I beg to differ. As we have witnessed, over and over again, the rich and powerful are very quick to reward themselves as soon as disaster presents the opportunity. Remember that within days of 9/11, the Bush regime executed a multi-billion dollar bailout for the airline industry. By the time you hear this commentary, they may have already used the New Orleans disaster to bail out the insurance industry — one of the richest businesses on the planet. But what of the people of New Orleans, 67 percent of whom are Black? New Orleans is a poor city. Twenty-eight percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Well over half are renters, and the median value of homes occupied by owners is only $87,000. From the early days of the flood, it was clear that much of the city’s housing stock would be irredeemably damaged. The insurance industry may get a windfall of federal relief, but the minority of New Orleans home owners will get very little – even if they are insured. The renting majority may get nothing. If the catastrophe in New Orleans reaches the apocalyptic dimensions towards which it appears to be headed, there will be massive displacement of the Black and poor. Poor people cannot afford to hang around on the fringes of a city until the powers-that-be come up with a plan to accommodate them back to the jurisdiction. And we all know that the prevailing model for urban development is to get rid of poor people. The disaster provides an opportunity to deploy this model in New Orleans on a citywide scale, under the guise of rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. In place of the jobs that have been washed away, there could be alternative employment through a huge, federally funded rebuilding effort. But this is George Bush’s federal government. Does anyone believe that the Bush men would mandate that priority employment go to the pre-flood, mostly Black population of the city. And the Black mayor of New Orleans is a Democrat in name only, a rich businessman, no friend of the poor. What we may see in the coming months is a massive displacement of Black New Orleans, to the four corners of the nation. The question that we must pose, repeatedly and in the strongest terms, is: Through whose vision, and in whose interest, will New Orleans rise again. For Radio BC, I’m Glen Ford.

What is needed is a massive public works project, to rebuild this city—the birthplace of Jazz—to employ the people who have been disposed by Katrina and to rebuild this city from the ashes of the old!

September 5, 2005