Our Highest Calling: Ensuring the Rights of the Dispossessed (Sep 05)

 They don't have money, or clout. They don't have a Web site, and they're barely reaching the independent press. So why should we care about Community Labor United and other groups like it in New Orleans?

We should care about, and actively support, coalitions and organizations like the CLU because they are knit from local groups working on local issues with local people. Even before Katrina, these groups were actively working in their communities to address many of the same problems that have become so glaringly obvious after the storm. In short, these are The People we should be listening to about redevelopment in the region. CLU spokesperson, Curtis Muhammad, told me that their intention was to bring the "genius" and energy of the people of that region to reconstruction efforts.

We must recognize how critically important this point is — there is always the threat of cultural genocide embedded in any situation where diaspora has occurred. In this case, we have hundreds of thousands of low income people-mostly black people- scattered across the country while contractors descend upon the area, positioning themselves for the reconstruction. Will money and power muscle out community and the residents' right to return and rebuild? It would be easy while the residents are thus dispersed unless we insist otherwise.

I want to keep this letter short to ensure that you read the piece we have linked below from Rick Cohen. He walks us, with great acumen, through some of the traps inherent in the current situation.

READ THIS: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/section/752.html

We need to hold our own sector accountable for its behavior in these situations. Reports from the region indicate that local nonprofits (and private citizens and volunteers) took up most of the immediate response work in the most badly affected communities, while some national entities who received the lion's share of donations refused even to make an appearance in those communities. Yesterday's New York Times reported that the Red Cross was loath to share with these local groups-who will stay and continue to work in those communities that the Red Cross refused to enter-any of the cash it has received to ensure that the longer term needs of the area are also addressed.

It's not that I don't understand the Red Cross's reasoning in maintaining reserves for future less high-profile disasters and I know that the Red Cross has played a large role in the Delta, but this particular protestation rings hollow in light of the fact that locals walked in and hunkered down where the Red Cross refused to tread-moving heaven and earth to attend to their neighbors. This is, after all, the value of community and a value that this sector is particularly charged to protect.