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Points for Visiting Activists to Consider
by Sean, Camilla, Miss Claire, Simon Friday, Oct. 14, 2005 at 8:39 PM

As residents of New Orleans, we offer a few suggestions for people who have come to help us rebuild our city on how you can better stand behind the concept “Solidarity not Charity.”


As residents of New Orleans, we offer a few suggestions for people who have come to help us rebuild our city on how you can better stand behind the concept “Solidarity not Charity.” First, we must say that we are very glad that people are here helping, and we are glad that your skills, labor, and resources are being offered to communities that have needed them for a long time. We are not making these suggestions to make you feel uncomfortable or unappreciated, but to help you put your skills and resources to use in ways that are most helpful and least alienating. It is crucial at this point for returning New Orleanians to feel like they are coming home to the city they left, not to a strange place filled with well meaning, but unfamiliar people who don’t know our culture or our city.

We’re writing this as members of the New Orleans radical community. We share many experiences, political ideals, cultural values, and social identities with you. We are not intending to speak for our city as a whole, and make no claims to speak for the most intensely impacted communities, who are poor or working class African Americans. Even our presence here, our ability to access the resources that enabled us to return home, underlines our separation from the city’s overwhelmingly poor, mostly African-American, and indefinitely displaced majority. The point is that if we, the segment of the population most likely to identify with visiting hurricane relief activists, is made to feel alienated in our own home-town, imagine how un-welcome those who are less culturally aligned with you as well as less privileged may feel as they finally make it home.


• First off, because New Orleans is a relatively distinctive and self-contained city that has managed to save many of its quirks from the forces of cultural homogenization, logic that applies in other cities may not apply here. Try to ignore your expectations, especially if you weren’t already familiar with our people and customs.

• Make sure that projects you start here are sustainable and won’t just stop when it’s time to head home. Understand that any project undertaken without input from people who lived here before the storm and who will live here after you are gone will have no one to sustain it. It is important that anything you do is run alongside local people. One of the most important signifiers of a successful direct action or community project is the capability of the project to survive without its initiator. If the project as a body can survive without its head, that is a sign of success. If you can go home knowing a project you helped to start is being run by residents, you can go home knowing you’ve done a great service

• Be respectful of locally-organized meetings and cultural events. If you hear about a neighborhood meeting and feel that you might have something to contribute, send ONE or TWO delegates from your organization or project, who can then report back to the rest of the group. Please do not show up en masse with a dozen out-of-towners. When you do this, you risk overwhelming local initiatives and creating unnecessary tension between locals and outsiders. Whether or not you intend it, showing up in large numbers makes locals feel that they are being co-opted and excluded, and that their own initiatives are being overpowered. When a locally-organized grouping of people consists of more outsiders than locals, this creates a very alienating and unhealthy group dynamic. Right now local voices need to be heard loudest.

• It is not necessarily appropriate to be videotaping community events and meetings. This is not a summit; this place is home to many different types of people who are rebuilding their lives and communities and could feel uncomfortable being surrounded by cameras during that process. People living in New Orleans deserve privacy and to have that privacy protected.

• When going into communities you are trying to help, do it with a respectful attitude that involves listening instead of suggesting or offering advice. Before deciding what projects to start, try getting into neighborhoods to ask people what they need. Compile lists of houses that need to be cleaned or fixed or where meals or other services are needed. Don’t plan projects in neighborhoods you’ve never been to or have only been to once. For example, don’t start a community newspaper unless you are a member of the community it is intended for. Instead, try offering your own resources if asked to do so by locals trying to start their own community newspaper.

• Keep in mind that most New Orleanians haven’t returned yet. It’s a little strange to have relief workers literally outnumber the residents of the city. Please consider that moving in relief workers faster than residents are capable of returning may be straining resources that are intended for victims of the hurricane.

• Likewise, an important task in the recovery effort might be to organize to help the displaced New Orleanians who are scattered about the country return home so that they might be involved in the rebuilding of their own community, rather than recruiting even more activists to come down here from other places. An example of how you could help, is by telling friends in your town that instead of coming down to volunteer, they could instead spend what would be their ticket cost on buying a ticket for a stranded resident to return home.

• There was a radical community in New Orleans before the hurricane hit and there will be one after you leave. Even though you might recognize some of us from protests, summits, or festivals, please keep in mind that WE LIVE HERE. When you meet someone for the first time who fits your demographic, please don’t greet them in a way that assumes they are not from here such as, “did you come over from Algiers?” or “Where are you from?” Instead, try asking “do you live here?”

• Also, local radicals are dealing with grief as well. Though some of our spaces look intact, our community is in shambles: some of us have lost our homes and we ALL have friends and/or family who will not be returning, so we may not be able to work as hard or at the same pace as you. We are working to rebuild our communities, but we are also trying to rebuild our own lives. Please be respectful of people who might seem “lazy” or “uninvolved.” This also means being mindful of your own pace so as not to make people feel uninvolved in projects in their own community just because they need to have jobs and clean their houses or maybe just cry for a while.

• New Orleans is home to an assortment of different cultures and classes. Don’t make assumptions about a person’s class background based on their race or their dress and appearance and don’t draw conclusions about the variety and severity of a person’s needs based on your perception of their class background.

We’re sending out these guidelines in an attempt to open a broader and more effective dialogue between locals and non-locals in the grassroots effort to support and rebuild the city we call home. We’re deeply grateful that there is such a strong relief effort, but we’re concerned that a lack of communication with local communities may cause much of that strength to be misdirected in wasteful or even counterproductive ways. We are just a handful of individuals, but we feel that because of our circumstances as radical hurricane victims trying to rebuild our lives as well as our city, our sentiments and concerns might be useful for anyone attempting radical or grassroots relief work in New Orleans.

Sean Benjamin
Miss Claire Gillis

We also want to thank our friends and neighbors who contributed to this statement.

add your comments

by D'tronic Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005 at 12:32 AM

Screw friggin Fran San Shitto, I wanna be back with ya'll!!!!

add your comments

by M. Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005 at 12:52 AM

Allow me to apoloize for Dtronic's irrelevant post. I think s/he was just overcome with affection at the sight of his friend's names.
Are there any specific instances of out of towners showing up en masse at local community events that the authors could mention? Maybe by example, we can eliminate ambiguity from the dialogue? Or would that just turn into fingerpointing?

add your comments

by Sean Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005 at 4:36 AM
sean.benjamin (at)

You're right; I don't think any of us wanted to be seen as fingerpointing, and I think we all genuinely appreciate the work out-of-town activists have done in our city. But I have personally witnessed two cases of large groups of out-of-towners having an unintended impact on local events, and I can't speak to what my fellow contributors might have experienced in addition to those.

One instance was a 'neighborhood' meeting in the Bywater on Tuesday night that was attended by an overly-large contingent of non-locals; I talked to many Bywater residents afterwards who found that ratio inappropriate and who felt the meeting was dominated by non-local voices.

The other instance was a second-line parade last Sunday for Chef Leslie Austin; it seemed to be attended by more out-of-town activists than locals, many of whom were toting cameras. I'm not saying that a couple of cameras might not have been appropriate; the first post-Katrina second line was definitely worthy of being documented. But the overwhelming number of cameras made it feel more like an antiglobalization protest than any second line I've ever been to.

I'm not saying that visiting activists don't have valuable contributions to make in terms of skills, labor, or resources, but but I wish y'all would be more conscientious about how you put those contributions forward. Local voices really need to predominate.

add your comments

Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition
by Russell Henderson Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005 at 11:00 AM 504 6164563

For more information on the Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition, contact R. Henderson or C. Brylski at (504) 616-4563 or (504) 460-1468 or email or


Goal of organization is to insure local, non-elected voices heard in rebuilding of Gulf Coast

More than 100 organizational leaders are organizing the Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition as a non-partisan, non-political collaborative to promote Louisianians in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast area devastated by Hurricane Katrina, announced organizers Cheron Brylski, Catherine Flowers, Jim Hayes and Russell Henderson.
”We are a collaboration of like-minded organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding Louisiana and the Gulf Coast with the talents of its own people and repopulating these areas with its native peoples as soon as possible,” said Mr. Henderson.
All displaced residents and interested citizens are invited to join the discussion through an email list-serve by contacting Ms. Brylski at or calling (504) 897-6152.
”This is not about one person, one issue. It is about people. We need to fill the leadership vacuum since this disaster occurred,” said Mr. Hayes.
Regular meetings of the organization are being held in Baton Rouge.
Partner organizations in the effort include the Advocacy Center, the Agenda for Children, AFL-CIO, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, the American Cancer Society, the Brylski Company, Checkmate Strategies, Common Cause of Louisiana, Digital Louisiana, the Institute on Migration Policy, the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, the LSU Agriculture Center, the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations, the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, the Louisiana Progressive Alliance, the Louisiana Progressive Democrats, the Louisiana Women?s Network, the New Orleans Video Access Center, Odyssey House, Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana (PCAL), SEIU, the Treme Institute of Community Development, the Women?s Health Access Project, and independent artists, small business owners, teachers and neighborhood leaders. Mission Statement
To rebuild an environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and culturally respectful community in South Louisiana, particularly the City of New Orleans, by learning from our mistakes; rebuilding in a way that coexists with, rather than conquers or ignores nature; supporting a process that is civilized and humane for all people, not just the privileged, and most of all, valuing Louisiana and its areas as communities not as a commodities for exploitation or entertainment.

Our vision is one of regional cooperation, inclusive housing and fair wages, accessible healthcare, ecological stewardship, and sustainable urbanism. The Coalition seeks to broaden and deepen a network of community, service, neighborhood, industry and cultural organizations, and individual leaders and area residents who will help to develop new directions and plans for the neighborhoods and people of the state of Louisiana.

The Coalition is focused at this time on developing directions and plans particularly for the communities hit directly by Katrina and Rita, but are concerned about the impact of the storm in communities throughout the state that have accepted the evacuees into their homes, neighborhoods, schools, and service centers.

The Coalition is adamant about assuring that as governments in the area invite contractors and non-profits to assist in the process of planning the redevelopment of our communities, that residents have a direct voice in the development of these plans. The Coaltion has determined that a process that provides numerous opportunities for open meetings at which a large number of community representatives can attend be programmed into all planning initiatives.

The Coalition further intends to make public its policies, recommendations, and positions on other plans as they develop to reach a broader audience for consideration of those policies. Our process will be transparent.

It is the hope of the Coaltion that this process will bring communities together to guide the future of our cities and parishes as never before. We believe that it is the lack of effective community networks in the past that have contributed to the lack of leadership during the recent catastrophic events. We hope new leaders will also emerge who can enter the political realm and help establish more representative and responsive government.

We further hope that we can break down some of the walls that have been built between political parties, neighborhoods, business and working people. We welcome all parties, leaders in business as well as working leaders, artists as well as collectors, teachers as well as students, service providers as well as service recipients to participate. We welcome all who care about the families, homes, culture, neighborhoods, history and future of our great state, cities, towns and parishes. We will restore and grow worldwide appreciation for our state as a source of creativity, caring, and community.

Areas of focus

1. To promote “smart” rebuilding of the devastated region by not attempting to do the impossible nor ignoring mistakes; to consult other cultures, especially those with flooding and major reconstruction histories; and to promote energy-efficient, quality structures and homes.

2. To make this historic rebuilding opportunity about our people, so that reconstruction initiatives are inclusive and reflect our talents, our history, our cultures, our traditions, our diversity, and respect our rights to work in significant ways on the direction of these projects throughout the Gulf Coast.

3. To make restoring transportation a priority for the region.

4. To demand accountability in the rebuilding, thus alerting current and past officer holders that political incompetence, misspending and empty promises will no longer be tolerated.

5. To demand that neighborhood integrity be maintained in the rebuilding, and that land-use issues be comprehensively addressed.

6. To provide quality healthcare for all people and insure access to health services, especially mental health services, for the displaced and children.

7. To make rebuilding New Orleans Medical complexes, especially its teaching hospitals, a priority.

8. To rebuild New Orleans schools into truly integrated, quality facilities now, recognizing this unique opportunity to “start over”.

9. To insure everyone’s safety no matter their color or economic status.

10. To promote a living wage criteria for all rebuilding efforts and as the area’s hospitality industry is rebuilt.

11. To call for a special prosecutor to be appointed by the U.S. Attorney to examine in a timely fashion the handling of all pre-crisis and post-crisis operations as it concerns the maintainance of levees, flood protections, homeland security and other contractors involved in the area’s safety during a hurricane or crisis.

12. To empower new people to provide new leadership and vision for our region.

Advocacy Center
Advocates for Science & Math Education, Inc.
the Agenda for Children
the Alliance for Affordable Energy
the Alzheimer’s Associationof Louisiana/New Orleans Region
the American Cancer Society
the Brylski Company
Calcasieu Democratic Party
Central City Renaissance
Checkmate Strategies
Citizens Against Widening Industrial Canal
Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
Common Cause of Louisiana
Committee for a Better New Orleans
Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse
Creative Industry Louisiana
Crescent City Peace Alliance
Digital Louisiana
Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association
Greater Treme Consortium
Holy Cross Neighborhood Association
Hope Credit Union
Hope House
the Institute on Migration Policy
the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies
Kingsley House
Lakeview Civic Improvement Association
the LSU Agriculture Center
LSU Health Sciences Center
League of Pissed off Voters
Leesville Together
the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations
the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families
the Louisiana Progressive Alliance
the Louisiana Progressive Democrats
Louisiana Roots
Louisiana Shrimp Industry Coalition
the Louisiana Women’s Network
Maple Area Residents
Medicare Rx Access Network
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Association of Social Workers
National Low Income Housing Coalition
The National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness
New Orleans AIDS Task Force
the New Orleans Council on Aging
the New Orleans Musicians Clinic
the New Orleans Video Access Center
Odyssey House
Oxfam America
Partnership for Prescription Assistance-Louisiana
Pennington BioMedical Research Center
People’s Institute for Surviving Beyond
People’s Organization for Social Equality
Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana (PCAL)
River and Coastal Program Coordinator/Tulane and Xavier Universities
the Treme Institute of Community Development
UNITY for the Homeless
UNO’s International Project on Non Profit Leadership
Unitarian Universalist Church
the Women’s Health Access Project

New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 897-6152
FX (504) 897-0778
Cheron Brylski Catherine Flowers James Hayes
Russell Henderson
504 6164563

add your comments

Hope you get home
by Nutmeg Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005 at 9:06 PM

Hey, I'd feel the same way if I were ripped from my home and had to live in a strange city. Especially under these particular circumstances. Hope you get home D'tronic and even tho I live in San Fran shitto, I would want to be home if the tables were turned and I was somewhere else for no fault of my own.
Hopefully us SFranciscans have made you feel as much at home as possible but I don't think your comments were "irrelevant", just starkly honest.
Thanks for the tips on outside activists, truer words were never spoken or needed.
Some of us who try to be "more human" forget what it's like for others affected in such a godawful way and sensitivity to the fact that this community is NOT ours should be foremost in people's minds! Duly noted!

add your comments

to sean and miss claire and etc
by humanity Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005 at 6:06 AM

listen guys.....i understand where you're coming from......and the second line i can't really comment on, but that 'community meeting' was so badly organized --- outside a bar, with a bunch of drunk white people yelling at malik for not doing what the city should be doing (picking up garbage and etc) -- malik is doing the best he can!! why bring a bunch of drunk bywater locals to yell at him about it? that's really not fair to blame out of town activists for THAT.....

and another thing, the great local artist hero of the bywater/9th ward white hipsters (hipsters who claim their local authenticity, but who themselves moved into the 9th ward, and have been gentrifiers from the JUMP, ever since i got to town in 98) Dr. Bob was out bragging the other day about how he shot looters.....what kind of local hero is that??

i'm not trying to shoot down your efforts, i'm just saying you shouldn't blame out of town activists for some of this shit.....i mean, if you want to do numbers, then FEMA contractors, halliburton thugs, federal agents and out-of-town cheap labor outnumber us we got to keep unified, and be glad there's folks with lots of experience organizing against police brutality, for housing rights, for volunteer cleanup and etc in town.....we need all the help we can get!

add your comments

sometimes passive aggressive hippies just piss me off.
by Matthew Newman-Saul Friday, Oct. 21, 2005 at 11:59 AM 410-218-4986

I have had several different relationships with this city.
I squatted here in 97-98
I lived here briefly in 1999
I visited regularly for extended stays ever since.
I moved here about a month before the storm.
I have no interest in defending my legitimacy as a 'local'
As a first-hand observer of the beginnings of common ground and food not bombs in post-katrina-nola i have a few things to add.
- many of the people here to help are just as much here to prove that they are better or more effective than the red cross or fema - this will never be a good basis of helping people.
- There is an ignorance that almost reaches racism when people talk about how hard-core they are for living in the 9th-ward -- Note: The LOWER ninth ward was flooded. that is the other side of the Industrial Canal. Go there and get some perspective if you need to. Where common ground was located was in a fairly gentrified neighborhood already (the country club, markey's, etc.) and it suffered little damage... ya herd? aight?
- Washington Park (where common ground is located now) is in the Marigny - an area that was hardly damaged and now has sky-rocketing land values... who are you trying to help again?
- I observed a specific incident where people from out-of-town, here to help, tried to kick a local out of the 'common ground' for bringing a 'bad vibe.' This person had all their belongings destroyed and most of their friends were missing. To the people who guise their selfserving goals in a mask of good deeds a hearty Fuck You, may your spine break from all the patting of your own back.<br><br>

- On that note - of course there have been very decent and hardworking people I have met in this process. Thats how it should be and I am sure none of them do it for the recognition, but i did want to differenciate.
<img src="">
-Matt Newman-Saul

add your comments

9th ward
by one thing Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005 at 7:59 AM

'common ground' is not in washington square
that is the 'welcome home kitchen'....

who is 'common ground' serving?
meet the 100+ poor black and white (and now hispanic and vietnamese) folks being served on a DAILY basis at the clinic.....
the gentrifiers don't need a clinic - they can just go to a private hospital.
people have walked to common ground in algiers from the 9th ward to get supplies because there is nothing in the ninth ward.
which is why common ground is now opening a distro center and offering cleanup/debris removal volunteers in the upper ninth ward ......(NOT washington square, that is a separate relief group altogether)

sorry if your friend had a bad experience, but recognize that there are lots of folks coming in and out at common ground -- some are sensitive and hardworking, some may unfortunately be callous or flighty or any other bad thing.......
try not to blame all the volunteers for something one or even a few did or said

this is a hard time for everyone ...... we need to work together without sayin 'i'm more GENUINE nawlins than yall'

we're all in this together....
new orleans saved my life when i needed her, and now i'm here to help bring her back to life......anyone else who is down with this effort is welcome, in common ground or anywhere else ...... let's get together and fight these corporations trying to take over new orleans once and for all, NOT fight each other.


add your comments

by Jeff Thursday, Nov. 03, 2005 at 9:35 AM

I can assure you that after i send this article to people i know that are helping your "radical community" they will have a change of heart. So in other words stay out of our community, we just want money. Only 44% of the people in the 9th ward owned their own homes. They lived off of tax payers money and do not take responsibility for their actions. New Orelans had a crime rate higher than any other state, your going to tell people helping rebuild New Orleans how to handle themselves!!! If the people of New Orleans knew how to handle themselves they would not have the proverty rate, crime and welfare rate that it does or should i say did. The political figures of New Orleans are African American. They DID NOT take care of their poor "radical communities". Look at William Jeffereson and his freezer full of money and his beautiful home, did he help your "radical community"? I think NOT. Your mayor is African American and so are your local political figures. This is a joke and the people really need to see what they are up against by trying to help the "radicals" of New Orelans and with my help they will!

add your comments

Thank you for the advice
by from Northern Californian Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005 at 3:21 PM

Thank you to some of the New Orleans radical community for the advice. All people wanting to work in solidary with marginalizad communities need to think of these things that to some are very basic.

It is very important for people to relize no one chooses to have there leaders sell them out or ignore them. Often in struggles of marginized communities, those most hurt by the bad examples and desicions of the rich black, or native, or woman leaders are blamed as if they had power over these people. Actually they have no more ability to contact these people then I a white woman has to contact Hillary Clinton.

Please stop blaming the survivers.
The communities of New Orleans have the right to express what they need from supporters because that is what we are meant to do support those whom need it in the way they want.

Please dont try to punish them for their expression.
And again thank you for the great advice.
Sorry for any spelling mistakes.

B-wild from Northern California.

add your comments

Uhh no
by Ben Kilpatrick Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 at 9:24 AM


The home ownership in the ninth was 70%, one of the highest rates in the city. We around here don't just want your money, but we do want people to be respectful.
Oh, and classism ticks a lot of us off.


add your comments

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