Point 8 of the WERC Progam: Some background from the New Orleans/Gulf Coast Reconstruction Movement

Point 8:  Enact a massive national reconstruction public works program (minimum expenditure needed of $1 trillion) to rebuild the nation’s schools, hospitals and crumbling infrastructure and to put millions of people back to work at a union-scale wage. Provide all necessary funding for a genuine Reconstruction program in the Gulf Coast; enact the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (H.R. 4048).


Activists in the Gulf Coast Reconstruction Movement are demanding that the billions of dollars still destined to bail out the Wall Street speculators should instead be redirected to bail out the majority Black residents of the Gulf Coast. Today, in Orleans Parish, for example, only 56% of the hospitals, 43% of childcare centers, and 28.6% of the schools are open when compared to pre-Katrina levels.

Specifically, these activists are urging support for the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (H.R. 4048). This bill is being put forward by a national group of Katrina movement organizers. It has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, Calif., and has been co-sponsored by 27 other members of Congress. Thus far it has not been introduced in the Senate.

The bill would create a Gulf Coast Recovery Authority tasked with the creation of 100,000 new prevailing-wage/living wage reconstruction jobs for hurricane survivors, including both current residents and displaced persons.

Black activists are also promoting widely the lawsuit filed on behalf of Black homeowners and hurricane survivors by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

An editorial by Glen Ford, editor of Black Agenda Report, explains the importance of this lawsuit. Brother Ford writes, in part:

“Barack Obama’s domain will soon include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD was recently sued by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a coalition of civil rights and fair housing groups on behalf of more than 20,000 African-American homeowners from New Orleans. Theirs is a classic case of institutional racism.

“HUD and the Louisiana Recovery Authority collaborated in administering the $10 billion Road Home program, designed to allow homeowners to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Payments were based on either the cost of repairing or replacing the property, or the value of the property before the hurricane hit. And there lies the problem. Because of the legacy and ongoing reality of housing segregation, homes in Black areas are valued at less than identical structures in similar white areas. The 20,000 Black New Orleans plaintiffs charge that the federal and state governments have incorporated the race-based disparity in housing values into government policy. Plus, they say the compensation is woefully insufficient to replace what was lost to Katrina.

“Whites, whose homes are valued higher than Blacks, even when the houses are virtually identical, wind up being rewarded for housing segregation, while Blacks are penalized — again. …

“The New Orleans case goes to the heart of institutional racism, through which the past manifests itself in the present in clear and tangible ways. In this instance, the legacy of devalued Black neighborhoods (and devalued Black lives) is allowed to reproduce racial injustice in the present by shortchanging Black homeowners and making it less possible for them to rebuild their lives in New Orleans. Past evils become present injustices, the impact of which will affect the fortunes of future generations. …

“Correcting the racial wrong, in this case, will cost about a billion dollars. Let’s see what Obama thinks racial justice is worth — or if he can even recognize institutional racism when it stares him in the face.”

This is an open challenge to President Barack Obama from leading organizations in the Black community — that is, from those who were so pivotal to his election.

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