Tuesday, March 14, 2006
On Tuesday, March 14th, 10,000 Katrina survivor families were scheduled to be evicted from hotels in Mississippi and Louisiana. The same day, several congress people, civic leaders, and Katrina survivors held an 85-minute press conference in Congress (2226 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.), addressing the dire situation for many survivors and legislation proposed to address the needs of survivors. HR 4197’s stated purpose is “to provide for the recovery, reclamation, restoration and reconstruction of lives and communities and for the reunion of families devastated by Hurricane Katrina and to address the issues of poverty exposed by Hurricane Katrina.”
The bill was introduced by Representative Melvin Watt from North Carolina on November 2, 2005 and referred to the House Budget Committee on the same day. It is still in the House Budget Committee with no hearings scheduled to get it out of committee and onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The 62 co-sponsors of the bill are John Barrow [D-GA], Sanford Bishop [D-GA], Robert Brady [D-PA], Corrine Brown [D-FL], George Butterfield [D-NC], Julia Carson [D-IN], Donna Christensen [D-VI], William Clay [D-MO], Emanuel Cleaver [D-MO], James Clyburn [D-SC]. John Conyers [D-MI], Joseph Crowley [D-NY], Elijah Cummings [D-MD], Artur Davis [D-AL], Danny Davis [D-IL], Eni Faleomavaega [D-AS], Chaka Fattah [D-PA], Harold Ford [D-TN], Barney Frank [D-MA], Charles Gonzalez [D-TX]. Al Green [D-TX], Raul Grijalva [D-AZ], Luis Gutierrez [D-IL], Alcee Hastings [D-FL] Michael Honda [D-CA] Jesse Jackson [D-IL] Sheila Jackson-Lee [D-TX] William Jefferson [D-LA] Eddie Johnson [D-TX], Stephanie Jones [D-OH], Carolyn Kilpatrick [D-MI], Dennis Kucinich [D-OH], Barbara Lee [D-CA], John Lewis [D-GA], Cynthia McKinney [D-GA], Kendrick Meek [D-FL], Gregory Meeks [D-NY], Juanita Millender-McDonald [D-CA], R. Bradley Miller [D-NC], Gwen Moore [D-WI], Eleanor Norton [D-DC], Major Owens [D-NY], Donald Payne [D-NJ], Charles Rangel [D-NY], C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger [D-MD], Bobby Rush [D-IL], Janice Schakowsky [D-IL], David Scott [D-GA], Robert Scott [D-VA], Bennie Thompson [D-MS], Edolphus Towns [D-NY], Debbie Schultz [D-FL], Maxine Waters [D-CA] Diane Watson [D-CA], Lynn Woolsey [D-CA], Albert Wynn [D-MD].
Pastor Ron Weegar (at right) from Gulfport Louisiana spoke of the pain and misery many Katrina survivors are still experiencing.
An important highlight of the bill would give Katrina survivors the right to vote in satellite voting operations much like what our government recently provided for Iraqis and Afghanis living in this country but wishing to vote in their home country’s elections.
Several speakers explained how the upcoming elections scheduled in April in New Orleans are in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires certain states (including Louisiana and Mississippi) to “preclear” changes in electoral process. Hurricane Katrina dispersed over 300,000 survivors among 44 states. The voting process moving forward at this time disenfranchises all these survivors unless they are able to physically return to New Orleans to vote.
While the press conference was winding down, about 200 people marched from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for a rally and vigil. The rally took place in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. To the dismay of the marchers, they were greeted in the park by U.S. Park Police who were intent on imposing every little park regulation they knew against the people gathering. Bicyclists were not allowed to park their bikes to park benches. Camera people were not allowed to use their tripods. To the delight of all those present, the organizers of the event passed out t-shirts supporting HR 4197 and the inalienable rights of Katrina Survivors.
The highlight of the afternoon was Courtney Dove singing her original song “On the Rise”. Courtney’s voice rivals Tracy Chapman’s, and it is indeed DC’s loss that she left here to go live in New York City.
One of the most moving speeches was from Damu Smith, who got up off the radiation table at a local hospital to come to the park to speak. Damu recalled the days of the antiapartheid struggle in DC, when Congresspeople and celebrities would routinely get arrested at the South African embassy protesting against apartheid. The effort to secure equality and human rights for Katrina survivors will take a consistent concerted long-term effort in Washington in order to exert the necessary pressure on the rightwing establishment to make these changes happen.