Common Ground in New Orleans, 2005-2006: Volunteers and Residents Triumph, #1
People Helping One Another with Nary a Penny of City, State or Federal funding
Christopher Cardinale’s art-work for Common Ground in January 2006. Christopher was a volunteer who gutted houses before he did his painting.
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Below is first excerpt from the ‘Notes from New Orleans’ section in my 2015 book, Animals Are Always Making Music. This post also is first installment in a series about 21st-century Accomplishment by Volunteers and Residents whom I’ve been lucky to know.
As you can see, “Common Ground” (the always combined organizations of the Common Ground Collective and Common Ground Relief) got a pretty wide and vast amount of work done in months following the “Federal flood” of New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana. The flood, you may know, began its devastating invasion on August 30, 2005, as Levees, Walls, and Gates failed, the day after Hurricane Katrina swept through like a 130-miles-per-hour scythe.
What I want to show here and in further ‘Volunteers and Residents’ posts is HOW MUCH POWER WE HAVE WHEN WE GATHER FOR EACH OTHER. The perhaps deepest intention of Psychological Operations such as “ ‘9/11’ “ and “ ‘COVID-19’ “ is to traumatize populaces into feeling helpless. What does leading World Economic Forum spokesperson Yuval Noah Hariri, himself a quite little fellow, tell us? All human beings are “hackable animals” and most of us are “useless” … a remarkably overt echoing of NAZI values as basis for selective depopulation.
We, of course, are far from useless and even farther/further from helpless. We in 2023 have never had more of shared knowledge and tools for transformation in our hands. Our powers and our post-” ‘COVID’ “ awareness are why the WEF’s 100 Strategic Partners and other pyramidal tips of the really tiny in number, size and spirit Ruling Few are so intent on throttling us through this or that nonsense of their megalomaniac ‘Agenda.’
Below, please find uppermost a summary copied from Common Ground’s Breaking Ground publication on our One-Year Anniversary, August 29, 2006. Editors and writers of Breaking Ground were out-of-town volunteers or New Orleans’ natives. They were mostly college undergraduates. They were proud of what the whole set of Centers and Clinics and thousands of unpaid persons had achieved without a penny of City, State and Federal funding. They—like literal hundreds of us (I was Operations Director from June through December of 2006) worked 16 hours and more each day. How sleepless and scruffy we all came to look remains a pleasant memory.
Three more pages of Common Ground ‘Accomplishments’ succeed this first in the 20 pages of Breaking Ground.
Further below is a drawing by one of several artists from New York City who both gutted houses and contributed art-work for Common Ground in 2006.
Christopher Cardinale first traveled to New Orleans for Common Ground in January 2006. He joined us again in August/September. He painted our Anniversary banner then.
The prior, cold and clammy January, Christopher encountered three cousins across from Common Ground’s Volunteer Center in the Upper 9th Ward—Pat, Terry, and Kevin. They’d driven over from Houston to gut one of their extended family’s houses. Christopher has, I think, a huge gift for rendering individual characters and scenes’ revealing details.
Now to the ‘Notes from New Orleans’ in the Animals Are Always Making Music book.
Notes from New Orleans 2006-2010
The notes in this section are particular to their time and place, New Orleans over a span of five years, 2006 through 2010, but the positive news that they have to tell applies across our planet in the 21st century, I think.
The essential story these notes have to tell is: People are ready to help one another. People all over the Earth are already acting with great energy and sacrifice to help one another. People are steadily doing great things apart from Municipal, State and National Governments.
Most of the recovery in New Orleans since levee-failures flooded the city in 2005, post-Hurricane Katrina, has been done through the hard work and stalwart commitment of residents and volunteers, combined with contributions from supporters outside this city. Their number amounts to hundreds of thousands across five years.
Basic needs were provided first … Water, food, shelter, clothing, health-care and legal advice.
Next came efforts to remediate and restore housing. Next came projects for structures that might be sustainable in southeast Louisiana …
Accompanying every step was focus on the peoples and cultures special to New Orleans and southeast Louisiana A new model for the 21st century needed multiracial roots. Always the mix has been the same: residents, volunteers, and donors, come together for a place at the heart of the Americas….
A typical New Orleans’ residential street in October 2005.
Art by Mac McGill for Common Ground and Rebuild Green.
The Common Ground Collective and its subsequent companion, Common Ground Relief, was one of several organizations of volunteers worked every day of the week for months on end.
'In March alone, Common Ground had 2800 people gutting and cleaning houses citywide' wrote New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 1, 2006
Common Ground began with total funding of $50 in Malik Rahim's kitchen on the Friday evening of New Orleans’ post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans. Malik lives in Algiers Point, “across the River” from New Orleans’ Downtown. $50 was the sum that he, his partner Sharon Johnson, and Scott Crow of Texas, could put on the kitchen table that candlelit, power-is-out night.
A ‘Wellness Center’ was set up in the Masjid Bilal Mosque, 1138 Teche, Algiers on the West Bank of New Orleans.
Herbal medicines at the ‘Wellness Center’, September 14, 2005.
Another world opened along Malik’s block of Atlantic Avenue in the next few weeks. Activists and residents answered Common Ground’s call. Truckloads and busloads of Veterans for Peace crossed blockades. So did carloads from the Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, California, Florida…. Soon they were bicycling—”Yes!—cases of water and bags of ice round to houses in the dripping swelter there before Hurricane Rita blew through the West Bank in particular, late September 2005.
Soon, too, as the Mississippi River Bridge opened for traffic, Common Ground volunteers and residents trucked and trunked donated supplies to new Centers in the 7th, 8th, and Upper and Lower 9th Wards. Every night volunteers slept in tents or without cover in Malik’s back-yard. They waited for the one bathroom inside the house on Atlantic Avenue.
Autumn into Winter of 2005, “across the River” in the hard-hit 6th, 7th, 8th and Upper 9th Wards (the Lower 9th, across the Claiborne Bridge over the Industrial, was uninhabited), Common Grounders canvassed from door to door. What did residents most want? Food. Water. Clothing. Tools. Cleaning supplies. Medicines. Ways to communicate with their families.
CG Health Center in Upper 9th Ward.
Volunteers in New Orleans and across North America contacted more than 12,000 people associated with addresses in the Wards we wanted to serve. By far the most were in Upper 9th Ward, the Ward where successive Volunteer Centers were based.
Page 37 of the CG ‘Housework List.
What most residents said would them most toward their coming home was to have their houses “gutted”—to have their houses rid of mold and junk and made readier for renovation to be lived in again.
I arrived in New Orleans from the San Francisco Bay Area on January 11, 2006. My delay in joining Common Ground’s work owed to completing the DVD, “9/11 Guilt / The Proof Is in Your Hands”, that Jim Hoffman, Celestine Star had begun with video-taping in August. The January crossing from the Bay Area over Interstates took five days, as my 1974 Dodge van, converted to a 19-foot-long camper, shook like a teapot and threatened breakdown if driven faster than 50 miles per hour. Five dogs rode with me—the rebellious and tender Spark, part-Wolf and then 9; the very strong and largely Rhodesian Ridgeback mother Kareen; the fantastically athletic Whippet/Rottweiler mix Zazoom; and Spark’s and Kareen’s son and daughter, the pal pups Boomer and Matilda, each grown to about 75 pounds. Once into of New Orleans, we slept on Atlantic beside Malik’s house till I bought a house with running water and electricity in nearby Gretna, the next month.
"Common Ground" had working by end of January, five months after the flood, the following.
• The 'House of Excellence' for legal aid and computer-use in the 8th Ward. Teen-agers worked the 19 computers from 7:00 a.m. till 11:00 at night.
•Gardens and soil-remediation programs in three Wards.
•A micro-broadcasting radio-station, based in the Hollygrove neighborhood.
*A Health Clinic in Algiers and a Health Clinic in the Upper 9th Ward.
•Tools-Lending Centers on both sides of the River
•A Legal Aid Center.
•Distribution Centers for Food, Clothing, and Cleaning Supplies on both sides of the River.
•A Women’s Center.
•An outpost in the Lower 9th Ward, the “Little Blue House”, occupied by volunteers with flashlights and propane-stoves, there to protect residences, Churches and Schools from bulldozing through ‘Eminent Domain.’
In February 2006 housing for Common Ground volunteers opened at the Catholic Church's Saint Mary's of the Angels School in the Upper 9th Ward, nearby location of the former Desire housing-project, “the Desire” scene of shoot-outs between Black Panthers and New Orleans Police in Fall of 1970. The connection to “Saint Mary’s” firstly effected by Lisa Fithian, as I remember. Saint Mary’s was three stories of brick and masonry. It was cold, drafty, and ill-lit, but it was bigger and and thus better than our much-appreciated Volunteer Center in the Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Claiborne and Pauline Streets.
“Saint Mary’s” and volunteers in a later, very warm, August of 2006.
March’s Spring Break saw fresh busloads and carloads converge to help Common Ground. The numbers of College and University students, signed up through Internet and phone outreach, were almost more than we could handle. We opened a second Volunteer Center for lodging and meals and Hazmat Suits at the Art Egg building in New Orleans Gert Town neighborhood, between Mid-City and Broadmoor. Harvard especially “represented” there. Every morning we needed more Oatmeal from Second Harvest.
Such was the “production” of this wave that it merited a banner poster.
2854 Volunteers from 220 Colleges and 50 States and 8 Nations remediated (“gutted”) 232 houses, four Schools, and one Church of New Orleans over a period of 30 days.
Each of our Coordinators at Saint Mary’s and the Art Egg was under age 30 himself or herself. Each was by early April 2006 thin, pallid and haggard. Each looked the truth of their working 18+ hours a day at taking care of strangers and the mustering each morning of work-groups for the next residences to be gutted. Sean White, a Wobbly, was Coordinator of the Upper 9th Ward then. Kerul Dyer, Jackie Sumnal, Emily Posner, Carolina Reyes, Shakoor Alujuwani and his brother James, Sakura Koné, Olivia Katz, Tiffany Hickman, Suncere Shakur, … are among the many I remember “on the ground” then.
These excerpts from Common Ground’s 16-page Volunteer Handbook of June 2006 may show more of what was going on.
Lundi Gras of 2006, a ‘delegation’ designated by Malik went by van to Houston and by airliner to Venezuela to seek funding from the Hugo Chavez-led Government. Chiefly we wanted $500,000 for to secure land for residents in the Lower 9th Ward and to begin extensive farming there. Emily, Carolina, a Nurse from Algiers’ Common Ground Clinic, and I were the group. Film-director and organizer Catherine Murphy was our companion and guide. Tuesday through Thursday we met with Ministries and visited Cooperatives. Carolina and Emily presented a rich slide-show from Common Ground projects. On Friday morning Brandon Darby—who had been sick with the flu in New Orleans and postponed travel—joined the ‘delegation’ for an interview over national radio. We all had lunch with Chavez’s press-secretary, Alex Manes, and a Hip-Hop producer. Talk progressed about how much could be one with Venezuelan aid to residents and media in New Orleans … within a time-span as short as end of that March. Then Darby stood up from the table and declared that we we were forgetting the need for “armed struggle.” Darby said, voice loud and finger pointing skyward, that “Guns are what brought respect to Common Ground…. If we hadn’t brought guns to Malik this whole thing might never have got started. We need to be sure that residents in New Orleans are armed!” “They are armed, Brandon,” I said, “but their without any funding to rebuild their homes and their lives. That kind of “cooperation is what we’ve been talking about. Remember? This morning? Cooperativismo between the Boliverian Revolution and Common Ground. Because we serve the same people and we have the same goals.” “No! I was there! I know we need guns! Armed struggle is what we have in New Orleans!’ The sudden eruption from Darby, contrary to every essence that he and I had discussed from 7:30 a.m. onward, was the most dramatic incidence I’d yet seen, first-hand, of a person triggered by mind-control.
Our group went to the office of Mauricio Rodriguez in Venzezuela’s high-rise Ministry of Communication. Darby was by then becalmed. He was like one puzzled by a seizure that he’d undergone. “Brandon, what was that?” I said to him privately. “Cooperativismo, remember? That’s our message here. That’s what will bring us the funding we want.” “I know. I know, man. But we need armed struggle, too.” “Here, now, Brandon: Funding. Cooperation. Partnership so that Venezuela can have what it wants, too—a base among people in New Orleans.”
The next morning I took a taxi to the Simon Bolivar International Aiport in La Guajira and a Flight back to Houson. Premieres of “9/11 Guilt …” were scheduled for San Francsico and Grass Valley, California weeks before Common Ground’s trip to Venezuela arose. In Caracas Darby succeeded in enraging Carolina and disrupting Common Ground’s address to the National Assembly and in then splitting from the group. None of our desired funding moved forward. Emily and Carolina had the camcorder that I’d lent them stolen on the Beach before their Flight the next week.
In New Orleans, Common Gournd Centers grew and work advanced over the next few months. Michele Shin established a 24/7 CG base in the Lower 9th Ward.
Common Grounders occupied the Martin Luther King Jr. School in the Lower 9 and the Saint Augustine Church (captained by Suncere Shakur) in the Tremé .
thereby preserved both institutions for their Black communities.
Common Grounders entered the school on March 22, 2006 despite opposition from City of New Orleans and School. Residents endorsed and hailed the School’s preservation.
And in the 6th Ward’s Tremé.
Washington Post, March 19, 2006, predictive-programming loss of a Church vital to New Orleans’ Black community.
NBC News, April 9, 2006, presenting Pastor Jerome LeDoux and parishoners’ and volunteers’ determined victory—after ‘a small group of protesters shuttered themselves in the church rectory three weeks ago’. Saint Augustine’s Church endures inthe Tremé into 2023.
Most promising for Common Ground in Spring of 2006 was our entry into management of the Woodlands Apartment Complex in Algiers, New Orleans’ West Bank. The Woodlands was relatively vast—13.2 acres of partially wooded land, containing 361 units of at least two bedrooms each. The Woodlands held history reflective of New Orleans’ entangled racism. Opened in 1968 as a ‘luxurious’ enclave 10 minutes drive from the Central Business District and French Quarter, the Woodlands’ first tenants included New Orleans Saints’ football-players—Black football-players. City services for the complex soon foundered. By the year 2000 the Woodlands was mostly home to low-income tenants who paid their rent through Section-8 vouchers granted by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Its landlord was a multi-family entity titled the Woodlands Development LLC and its leading spokesperson in its verbal agreement for management by the Common Ground Collective was an illustrious fullback (1978-1982) for Tulane University, Anthony J. “Reggie” Reginelli. Reginelli hung out with maintenance-engineers at the Woodlands such as O.C. Draughan and Stanley Covington, both ex-inmates of Angola, and he seemed sincere in wanting to work with Common Ground for our new base. “What you’re doing is just great!” he said then, I heard second-hand.
One thing certain in June was Common Ground’s record of houses remediated in the Upper and Lower 9th Ward—work whose Green Dots would continue to multiply like little, merging beacons throughout 2006.
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