Twenty-two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf region of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, residents are still fighting to save their communities. We speak with Monique Harden, co-director of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights and organizer of a caravan of Katrina activists to the U.S. Social Forum this week. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Twenty-two months ago, Hurricane Katrina hit land and devastated the Gulf region of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The effects of Katrina are still widely felt.
Hundreds of Gulf residents traveled Atlanta this week for the U.S. Social Forum. Many of the activists came aboard the People’s Caravan. Monique Harden helped organize the caravan. She the co-director of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Welcome to Democracy Now!
MONIQUE HARDEN: Thank you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Talk to us about the message that you’re bringing to the Social Forum.
MONIQUE HARDEN: Well, the message that we’re bringing from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region is that, you know, don’t believe the hype. Gulf Coast reconstruction or recovery, it’s not a slow thing. It’s a massive privatization scheme that’s taking our communities, our homes, our schools, our healthcare systems and hospitals and clinics and job opportunities away from the people who have been displaced, because — following the hurricanes.
Right now, we have 300,000 people from the Gulf Coast who remain in this away from their homes. They’re internally displaced people who, through no fault of their own, had their homes taken away from them with floodwaters and levee failures. All of these folks, and including those who have been able to rebuild or work towards rebuilding, which is the case for my family and I, we all deserve the right to return with dignity and justice. And that has been denied by our federal government.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way has it been denied, Monique?
MONIQUE HARDEN: Well, specifically, the way it’s been denied is that, number one, there was no real evacuation that would ensure that people without vehicles would be able to get outside of the city, and the majority of the people are African-American residents of the Gulf Coast region, so we had a racist evacuation policy to begin with. And then we saw what happened when folks were trapped inside the city and communities throughout the Gulf region after the storm passed.
Now what we’re seeing is our federal government putting together these government private partnerships that call for giving huge tax breaks to developers, repealing environmental and public health laws, privatizing public schools and other public services and healthcare systems, this is the — you know, a nail in the coffin of recovery for our communities.
We want a just, sustainable, anti-racist rebuilding of our communities, and we want to fight for it. But what we have blocking the struggle is our government. Just last week, the Army Corps of Engineers produced reports showing that after two years, roughly, since Hurricane Katrina, of its work to repair and address the structural needs of the levee systems and canals through the city of New Orleans, that no African-American neighborhood will see any substantial reduction in floodwaters. Only predominantly white neighborhoods will. And this, the Corps projects, will be the case for the next five years until they complete this massive upgrade to the entire levee system by the year 2011. So what that says to African-American neighborhoods —
AMY GOODMAN: Monique, you’re having a protest in front of the EPA today?
MONIQUE HARDEN: What that says to African-American neighborhoods is that you’ll have to pay more insurance for your homes. Every nickel that you put into rebuilding will be underwater, because of a subsequent hurricane or a major rain that causes flooding. And so, you know, this is how you make African-American neighborhoods poor. And it’s an issue of racism. We see our government — this entire recovery effort has done nothing but cause more racial disparity in the Gulf Coast region than was before Hurricane Katrina.
AMY GOODMAN: Monique, a protest in front of the EPA office in Atlanta today, you’re having?
MONIQUE HARDEN: That’s right. We have another situation with ways in which our communities are being taken from us throughout the country. With Katrina, we have gentrification. In our other rural communities, we have environmental racism, where our government has permitted toxic facilities, oil refineries, petrochemical plants, to operate in very close geographic proximity to homes, to schools, to churches of African-American and other people of color communities. And EPA, our Environmental Protection Agency, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are partners in crime in this. EPA gives the polluters the permits. When contamination and health problems arise up and people begin demanding some justice, —
AMY GOODMAN: Monique, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you very much for being with us. Monique Harden, co-director and attorney with the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, attending the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia.