Almost ten days ago, Common Ground posted three audio files of Rahim and Crow talking about the founding of the Common Ground Collective, what it has faced so far, and what it plans for the future. For those unfamiliar, Common Ground "is a local, community-run organization offering assistance, mutual aid and support to New Orleans communities that have been historically neglected and underserved."
I loaded the three mp3s on my iPod and listened (not to worry, through my car stereo) as I drove around on my errands and to and from work yesterday. Maybe not the wisest decision, since I was alternately banging my fist on the dashboard and crying a good bit of the time. But I got all the way through the talk, and I'm really glad I did. If you want to understand what it has been like on the ground, since the early days of the flooding, and if you want to understand more about the history of criminal neglect of low-income people and African Americans that contextualizes what we are seeing now—then you must listen to Crow and Rahim.
Scott Crow is a community organizer from Texas who has been involved in the National Coalition to Free the Angola 3. In Part 1 (14:55), he tells his story of going to New Orleans with a friend, in the first days of the flooding, to try to rescue Robert "King" Wilkerson, one of the Angola 3 who was finally released after thirty-one years of wrongful imprisonment—almost twenty-nine of which were in solitary confinement. Crow's story is harrowing and moving and reveals a great deal about what was actually happening in that first week after Katrina. Through his amazing efforts to save Wilkerson, which were ultimately successful, Crow met up with Malik Rahim and began working with him to bring free medical care and food and other relief to the storm victims in NOLA and its environs.
Malik Rahim was a member of the Black Panther Party in NOLA in the 1970s. He lived in the Bay Area for a while, but several years ago, he returned to NOLA and to his work there as a community organizer and activist. From early on in the disaster, Rahim has been outspoken about the criminal neglect and the racism and contempt for the poor that have compounded the disaster beyond all imagination. In Part 2 (37:23), he speaks at length about conditions on the ground in NOLA from the earliest days of the flooding, and he provides essential background information about the criminal justice system, poverty, racism, and the white power structure in New Orleans. Someone who is a fast typist should transcribe this one, so Rahim's background information and analysis can get wider circulation.
In Part 3 (17:20), Scott Crow talks about the mission, vision and strategy of Common Ground. Crow emphasizes the point that he and others, who are outside, white activists, are there not to "help" Black and poor people but to support the work that local members of the community are doing with resources that may not be immediately available to them.
While the Red Cross and FEMA vacillate between concerted neglect and appalling incompetence, Common Ground delivers effective aid to thousands of people affected by the storm. In some cases, Common Ground has been the first respondents hurricane victims have seen. In the particularly appalling case of the Native American community in the city of Dulac in Terribone Parish, when Common Ground showed up at the end of September, after Rita, they were bringing the first (and only) aid to an area completely devastated by flooding. If you want to be sure your money or your supplies or your volunteer hours go directly towards aiding the people of New Orleans, I recommend giving to Common Ground.