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Hurricane Survivors Open Headquarters In Seattle 12/11/08









All members of the press and public are welcome. Red beans and rice will be served.

For more information email hurricanesurvivorscouncil@gmail.com, or call Leith at (206) 940-3807.A group of hurricane survivors from New Orleans, who were displaced to the Puget Sound three years ago by Hurricane Katrina, have started setting up an office headquarters in Seattle’s Central District. Their office is located in the Umojafest Peace Center (2314 East Spring Street near 23rd and Union) which is sub-letting the room to the survivors’ group at less than market rate.

From this office, the group plans to reach out to Gulf Coast hurricane survivors throughout the Puget Sound and organize a region-wide survivors council.

“We know that over five thousand survivors were displaced to the Puget Sound in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, out of close to a million nationwide; and we estimate that well over one thousand of those evacuees may still remain in the Puget Sound,” says Joan Berniard, whose family is among those still here. “We aim to organize a survivors council composed of, run by, and for the benefit of our people who are still in this area, and including as close to 100% of them in active membership as possible”.

Joan and her sister Bernadette say that their council will facilitate dialogue between, and action by, survivors around such issues as: The Gulf Coast Reconstruction Bill HR 4048 currently in the US Congress; the mis-appropriation of money collected in the name of hurricane survivors over the past three years by organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross; the ongoing struggle by the Teachers Union of New Orleans to re-establish public education in that city; what opportunities the Employee Free Choice Act would open for working class hurricane survivors; the international rights of hurricane survivors as Internally Displaced Persons; the international prosecution of US federal, state, city and county governments for crimes of genocide committed against the Black and indigenous peoples of the Gulf Coast; and collective economic, social political, and cultural activities by which hurricane survivors can come together and help each other. They also intent to start a community food bank once they are able to get a space large enough. The office does not yet have a working phone line, but already their fellow survivors can reach them by sending an email to hurricanesurvivorscouncil@gmail.com, or a letter to Hurricane Survivors Council Office, C/O UPC, 2314 E. Spring Street, Seattle, WA 98122.

The Berniard sisters and their group approached the founders of Umojafest Peace Center after other organizations, like the Seattle Urban League, refused to assist in them in their work, citing the privacy laws they are held to by the government as the reason.

“The Urban League helped out with a bed and other furniture, a room, or a bag of groceries until the money stopped coming to them from FEMA, but they insist they can’t help in any way with contacting other survivors to organize for our own common interests,” says Joan.

Lee Fleming, a Black Vietnam veteran and Katrina survivor, adds his commentary while leaning on an aluminum cane to take the weight off of his wounded leg: “It’s like being back on the plantation where they won’t tell us what other plantations our fellow slaves have been moved to,” he says.

The Umojafest Peace Center, itself a new organization, is proud and honored to host the survivor’s office, having just recently hosted the Washington campaign headquarters of Green/pro-Reconstruction/Power To The People candidates Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente.

“We are glad that we can help”, says UPC founder Omari Tahir. “We would have much more space to offer if the big powers downtown would let us have our African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in that building the Urban League turned into white condos.” (Tahir is referring to the former Coleman School building near the I-90 tunnel, which he and other Black community activists occupied for over a decade to make into an African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center. They were successful in getting city block-grant money set aside for the project, and in negotiating an agreement to buy the building from the Seattle School District. But white developers, acting with the help of the Urban League, have intercepted and privatized both the money and the building.)

The effort to build the hurricane survivors council is a project of the Seattle Chapter of Common Ground, the nationwide organization co-founded by New Orleans resident, veteran Black Panther, and Green Party congressional candidate Malik Rahim, who has appeared many times on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. Common Ground has rebuilt flooded homes, set up relief clinics, and provided aid to over 80,000 people since the disaster. Common Ground was also a partner organization of the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund Oversight Coalition that organized the August 2007 International Tribunal on crimes against humanity committed by the US federal, state, and local governments during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The activities of its Seattle chapter also include an annual caravan (The Lagniappe Caravan) of survivors and relief workers from Seattle to New Orleans, which is organized by survivors in coalition with faculty and students of Shoreline Community College, Nova High School, and other campuses.

Malik Rahim will also give a public address at 7 PM on the evening of the same Thursday Dec. 11th at New Hope Baptist Church, located at 116 21st Avenue in the Central District. He will be introduced there by the church’s Reverend Robert Jeffrey.

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