These are the people that the government abandoned…

These are the people that the government abandoned…

Powerful Words of survival, struggle and spirituality of Hurricane Katrina Survivors filled the First Congregational Church in Oakland last Saturday

tiny/PNN September 28th, 2005

International Terrorist George Bush “He was our Moses”, they stood together, bodies swaying slowly back and forth as if to carry their weary bodies through and out of the tragedies they had seen– eyes staring straight ahead – skin the color of the earth –holding hands that had held struggle, had brought forth life and had carried humanity to safety. “… “..and had it not been for him barbequing on the roof the helicopters would not have seen us – and that’s how we got saved” The soft voice of Amika Wilson, Hurricane Katrina survivor and lifelong resident of New Orleans, was referring to her fellow Katrina survivor and husband Benjamin Lorenzo Wilson. The couple took turns relating their experiences of barely making it out alive of the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. The couple were one of several New Orleans families that spoke to a crowd of artists and activists gathered in rapt attention at the First Congregational Church in Oakland last Saturday at an event entitled HONORING GULF COAST FAMILIES:Mourning Lives Lost and Celebrating the Spirit of Resilience “I am pleased to be here today, I thank god to have another chance to see life – I want to try to explain to you all what happened today,” Benjamin continued their story, “the day when the storm was broadcasted – we couldn’t get no gas – every one was trying to leave at one time – they (gas stations) started to raise the prices of gas – from 2.50 a gallon to over 3.00 and a lot of people tried to leave, but couldn’t get beyond a few miles out of town, cause they ran out of gas or they got stuck on the road. We only had a few minutes to leave and we could hardly take anything but we took a butane tank and our bbq grill. “We went to a church school – and when we got there – we moved up to the second level by the first night of the storm- we didn’t have any water- people were trying to come in and they were floating by – we had no rope so we had to throw people an extension chord – some houses all you could see was the pitch roof of a house- at night it was pitch black – you could hear babies crying –people screaming -and we had no food – there was no plumbing” Mr. Wilson sometimes spoke so softly that you could barely hear him, almost as though he was in the midst of tears. Amika took over the microphone, “No-one expected to see mothers throwing babies into our school building so they could be saved. The first night you could see rooftops coming off of buildings, we had a great aunt who was 400 pounds and we had to take her to the second floor, so my husband and our nephews had to lift her to the next level as the water rose. By the third day we had no food, hardly any water and we had people coming into the space who were hungry , cold, despondent and the hostility was very high” “Everyone was out for themselves- we had some young folks who tried to take what little we did have but my husband wasn’t letting that happen.” “By the third day, I asked the Priest to let us cook what little we did have on the roof’s barbeque, but he said no, and in my mind I wanted to say, ‘Pharaoh you gonna let our people go’ but then the next morning he came to us and said who has the Barbeque, cause the wind is not blowing, so you can cook, and so we went on the roof – we fed 200 people – there was no ice- there was no fresh water –and we had to ration what we did have, and I really don’t know where the food came from. And because of that barbeque the helicopters saw us and picked us up and took us to the Dome Amika continued on with her story, her eyes focusing off into a place far above our heads, to somewhere in the middle of a racist and classist government sponsored death and destruction, a place that even she had trouble believing she lived through, somewhere that no human being should have to go, a place where poor folks are forced to go everyday all over the world, “When we landed they put us under the bridge, her eyes glazed over as she continued, “there were no restrooms, the reek of human waste was so bad we could hardly breathe, with babies screaming and people crying for food and water and it was so hot.” “They (officials) did not treat us with respect; they would pitch water at us – warm water at that, cursing at us the whole time, calling us names”. “So After 10 hours of standing there under the bridge waiting for the “bus”, my husband said, ‘we are gonna walk’ so we gathered up our family, all of us stayed clumped together, like the children of Israel, until we got way out on the causeway, where we laid down our all of our belongings on the road and went to sleep. And I actually had reservations about leaving where we were because I thought well we are at least in the line, but my husband was right cause when we we woke up at 5:00 am we were at the head of the line and one of the first families onto the bus.” The crowd clapped and we felt a moment of collective relief before Amika went on, “So we left one pit and went to another pit, (Houston) but it was a little bit better cause there was water and it was a little bit cooler, but there was horrible stuff going on – including the rape of 6 year old girl – some gang activity, and a lot of other horrible things, but we stayed together, no-one separated.” Amika concluded by telling us that they escaped because their brother-in law who resides in Richmond rented a van and managed to find them in Houston, she added, “ There were so many wrong things that happened, including the fact that law enforcement did not do there jobs – people were just trying to get food – and they were being shot at – we were one of the chosen people and I am still praying for my brothers and sisters who are still there and desperately trying to get a way out” After the Wilson’s’ tragic story I stepped outside to finish crying a gush of tears that have not stopped since the corporate and non-corporate media coverage began of this tragedy. In the lobby of the Church I spoke to another survivor, life long resident of New Orleans, school administrator and principal of one of New Orleans largest high schools, John F. Kennedy,James Gorey, “We lost everything, we lost our homes, we lost two vehicles, we had to make some decisions , my wife and I have three beautiful children, and so we made a decision for them and for our future to relocate to the Bay Area” “My brother in law is a dean at Cal State Hayward, so I have that option , I have choices that a lot of folks don’t have.” To this last assertion, I, always searching for the position of people who have a voice versus those who don’t, had to ask Mr. Gorey how he would consider himself in terms of economic stability, “I would consider myself middle or upper middle class, and that’s why we had those choices, but there is a large percentage of folks there( New Orleans) who had lost hope, economically, systematically, and that’s why we were doing stuff with the school system to give back hope to the young folks who had lost hope.” I also asked Mr. Gorey about another sector of folks who are not even being mentioned in this tragedy, which isn’t unusual – cause they are rarely thought of without a tragedy- i.e., about the homeless folks in New Orleans, “There is a significant number of homeless people in New Orleans – and the reason people could survive homeless in New Orleans – is because people in New Orleans are caring people- and there were a lot of children in schools who were homeless = and we were working on programs to make permanent housing available for homeless people, but it hadn’t happened, and of course these folks had no options” I asked Mr. Gorey what his opinion of the way that the whole thing went down, I blame our state, local and federal officials. Period. New Orleans has always been under-resourced and now it’s coming to light.” After talking to Mr. Gorey, I went back into the auditorium and had the privilege of hearing from elder survivors, like George Sr, 80, who along with his family had walked through chin-high water for miles just to reach safety, which in his case meant project housing, where they could only stay a little while until they were taken to the Astrodome, and locals like Pastor Carl from Richmond who gave respect to his mother , father, sisters and brothers and knew that even though he was in the middle of his life in Richmond and one day away from having to pay the rent on his church had to rent a van and drive to New Orleans to find his family and bring them home to safety, family who were living in motels and about to be put out on the street because they didn’t have any more money left. Pastor Carl concluded, “And we got there right on time, because God is always on time, amen.” As I left the powerful event which was sponsored by the First Congregational Church and Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and included scholarship from activists Van Jones, and Poet Laureate Devorah Major, I remembered one of Van’s comments following the families stories’; “These are the people that the government abandoned,” And then as if in answer to those words I remembered the final comment of educator/survivor, James Gorey, “ the only reason people survived at all is because of all the beautiful people in California and Texas who have helped us all.”  


Originally posted by Poor News Network, where this was originally posted at http://www.poormagazine.org/index.cfm?L1=news&category=39&story=1604


K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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