Today protesters fighting to save New Orleans public housing from demolition stormed the federal building. At high noon today, demonstrators protesting the federal government’s plans to demolish four major public housing complexes brought their message straight through the front doors of the federal building, local headquarters of the Departartment of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
As a crowd of several hundred thundered, “HUD Says Cutbacks, We Say Fightback!,” those in front streaming towards the doors flung themselves through the entrance to bring their message home to “the house of the people.”
While the chant continued at fever pitch, a frantic shoving match ensured between a beleaguered phalanx of federal security agents and those with one or two feet in the door.
The tussle was giving the World Wrestling Federation a good run for its money, a classic confrontation between Good and Evil. The doors remained flung wide open, the feds desperately plugging the entrance, the protesters continuing to push on but no further in.
New Orleans police officers stood back from the fracas, which technically is on federal property and so out of their jurisdiction.
One demonstrator discovered that a side door along the entranceway was unlocked, and yanked it open a number of times. The feds appeared to be unable to locate the correct key to lock it, and had to fall back on brute force to keep it shut.
As the brouhaha wore on, the chants changed to “Stop the Demolition Now!” and then a sarcastic “We Want a Condo!”
The action started with a rally and press conference in front of City Hall late in the morning. Preceding that was an action with people in the homeless encampment across the street in Duncan Plaza. They’re being threatened with eviction on December 20, a deadline that was orginally set for last Tuesday.
Soon the rally moved into the street, and remained there chanting until it took off and then turned right onto one entire side of Loyola Avenue. At Poydras Street the march swung left, spreading over all three lanes on its side of the street. At the intersection with St. Charles Avenue, the march stopped to rally again, as corporate highrises looked on, then lit out for the federal building.
Later at the gates of the empire, the confrontation boiled on and roiled into a standoff, showing no signs of abating by 12:30 p.m.
Finally Martin Suber of Peoples Hurricane, one of the leaders of the march, called people away from the doors, and gathered them in a circle.
“We made our point,” he said. “We have our people talking to their people. We want HUD to send down a rep to talk to us (they never did). This (demolition) doesn’t make sense. That’s why we need to make this an issue in New Orleans. This is very much about us being with the public housing residents and standing with them in their fight..”
Local supporters have untied with displaced public housing residents to form the Coaliton To Stop Demolition. The Coalition recently put out a call for people to come to New Orleans to join them, and a good many of those present today have answered that call.
Sharon Jasper, a former resident of the St. Bernard public housing complex, told the crowd, “We got victories. There’s no stopping us now. HUD, you can’t hide. You don’t have the right to tell us where to live. You know what? We gonna stop these demolitons.”
Bill Quigley, Loyola University law professor and the public housing residents’ legal advocate, announced that California representative Maxine Waters “is fighting on the floor of Congress right now to hold up spending for the entire US government until this matter is resolved.”
Quigley also said that his associate, Tracie Washington, had unearthed a city code that mandates that the demolition of public housing in New Orleans must be approved by the City Council, which has not voted on the issue. This failure is to be the basis of a lawsuit that will be filed in state court to halt the demolition process, which HANO/HUD has said will begin on Saturuday, December 15.
According to several sources, overnight the Coalition made a tactical decision to pull back on efforts to stop demolition work that began yesterday at the B.W. Cooper public housing complex. Yesterday the Coalition sucessfully blocked demolition equipment from entering the site, effectively shutting down demolition work which had started earlier in the day.
But because there was friction with some residents lilving there who support the demolition, in hopes of eventually getting better homes there, the Coaliton decided to avoid that situation. Instead they’re unifying to defend three other threatened sites, where HANO/HUD has barred residents from returning since Hurricane Katrina.
Ironically, HANO/HUD opened some apartments up in Cooper after Katrina only because of persistent demands that they be by some of the same groups now active in the Coaliton.
Equally ironic, because of the Coalitons’s decision, while today’s militant actions were going on downtown, demolition work resumed at Cooper.
The Coalition’s next action wil be at the St. Bernard public housing complex, in the 3800 block of St. Bernard Avenue, at high noon on Saturday, December 15, Demo Day.
Editor: Michael Steinberg is a former OBcean, who before he left us in the eighties, wrote articles for “The Whole Damn Pie Shop,” a progressive magazine published by Frank Gormlie, Rick Nadeau, Gregg Robinson, Scott Kessler, and Rise Burdman from 1980-1985.