Letter from Kathy Engel: People's Hurricane Relief Fund

"The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants and the wealthy white districts of New Orleans like the French Quarter and the Garden District."

Original statement of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund

19 September 2005

Dear Friends and Family:

I've just returned from several days in the Gulf Coast area. Most of my time was spent in the Jackson, Mississippi, just-established office of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Reconstruction Project. My friend and sister poet Suheir Hammad and I arrived to work just one hour after they had moved in, housed by the wonderful Young People's Project, created by graduates of Bob Moses' Algebra Project. In other words, the space is singing with the deep roots of the civil rights movement and the young people are there, carrying on, so beautifully.

I also visited Algiers, on the edge of New Orleans, Malik Rahim's Common Ground Collective and the Common Ground Health Clinic, serving as a center for those in Algiers and evacuees wishing to return and needing to organize.

This morning, Mama Dee of N. Doregenois, New Orleans is publicly opening her home as another center for connecting, organizing, gathering urgently needed supplies, and reconstruction.

The people who've been abandoned and disrespected are taking things into their hands, making life possible for themselves and their families and communities. They will determine their destinies, a phrase so often used by the great Chilean poet and humanist Pablo Neruda.

I am working on a piece about my week, but I didn't want to wait to send you this appeal. All of you and everyone you know has given in one way or another already to support the relief efforts. We all share horror and shame at the blatant criminal neglect of the black people and all people living in poverty in the Gulf Coast area. The racism we have known to be a bloody river of shame in this country can no longer be denied by anyone, even those working so hard to look the other way or explain it away.

Here's the opportunity: support the efforts and determination of those whose lives have been ravaged to control, oversee, determine THEIR OWN RELIEF, RECOVERY & RECONSTRUCTION. That' s what the People's Hurricane Relief Fund is about, spawned from the 7 year old Community Labor United, a local coalition of more than 42 grassroots, community, black and progressive led groups. The effort now has national and international recognition.

The people are going to do this. They are going to find each other, reunite, test the soil, water, air, teach their children, demand a role in the official process, take care of each other and business. But they need all of our support. That is the pledge for change. Because humanitarian aid alone won't assure anything. The millions and zillions of dollars of aid won't do the job if it isn't directed towards the self determination of the evacuees.
This I firmly believe.

Think of giving differently because this needs to be incorporated into our daily lives. Church people know this! Don't think: "I've already given…" Think, what can I do differently. Not to take away from fulfilling your needs, but is there something you do each week or month that you could not do and put that money towards the PHRF and celebrate that? Is there a piece of something you could sell? On Ebay? Can you skip a family vacation, still have a wonderful time at home, or working together in support of the reconstruction, and donate the $ you would have spent? Can you put an empty can on your kitchen table and agree to put a certain amount in every day or week? If you are an artist or performer how will you tell the stories? If money is not an option, can you gather your friends, colleagues, family, community to make a plan of solidarity, perhaps a regular potluck?

In Latin America in the 80's I heard people say: solidarity is the tenderness of the people. What can that tenderness mean and become?

The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast will show the true soul and determination of the people of this country, and will effect all our other efforts for justice and peace.

The Red Cross is not going to do it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. built a poor people's movement and denounced the war in Vietnam. This is what we must do. Saturday the world will be watching as we march in Washington demanding an end to both wars -- the one against Iraq and the one against people of color and people with little or no money in this country.

Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan who caught the world's attention when she camped out in Crawford, Texas understands her connection to the mothers and people of the Gulf Coast. The military understands; they're recruiting in the shelters.

Together, merging two movements, two arms of one body, we have the chance to claim ourselves, our souls and build democracy.

Please let me know what you do.

With thanks and love,

Kathy Engel

People's Hurricane Relief Fund:
3656 Wheatley Street, Jackson, Miss. 39212
601 346 5995

tax deductible contributions:
c/o Vanguard Public Foundation, 383 Rhode Island Avenue, suite 301
San Francisco, California 94103
Earmarked for People's Hurricane Relief Fund

or you make a contribution at www.vanguardsf.org/

The People's Hurricane Relief and Reconstruction Project intends to work with community groups to oversee all aspects of relief, recovery and reconstruction, is submitting a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and is calling on the government to:

" provide funds for all displaced families to be reunited:

" allocate the $50 billion for reconstruction to the victims of the hurricane in the form of a Victims Compensation Fund;

" accept representation on all boards that are making decisions on spending public dollars for relief and reconstruction

" place displaced workers and residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in public workers' jobs, offering union wages;

" publicly account for and show the entire reconstruction process