This is the second part of Malik Rahim’s talk on Saturday, January 12, at the Unitarian Church in New Orleans:
“We were the first to serve the Vietnamese community, the Native American Community, the Latino Community [after Katrina].
“We were the first to expose the exploitation of migrant workers. A certain politician had them put up in a hotel. Ads in South America promised $15/hour to work here. The first thing you know after arriving here, you have to give up your green card and accept whatever you’re given. It was no more than plantation exploitation. If they complained, they were deported.
“We persevered with sending a person to Fischer and other public housing after we were told that it was too dangerous for whites. He went every day. And what was his reward? He was arrested for the heinous crime of double parking at a known distribution center-my house, after I’d been living in Algiers Point for 32 years.
“They demonized the clinic, calling it the ‘Panther Clinic.’ They came to raid my mother’s house, because some of these John Wayne people said we had armed people in the house, that we were selling looted goods. That night they waited until 11.
“Instead of seeing armed blacks, they saw 70 or so young white kids. They thought they’d been given the wrong house [address].
“The next day they sent the police back. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ they said to the white kids. ‘Why are you here with them?’
“Then we started hearing in New Orleans that Common Ground was ‘nigger loving outsiders.’
“At St. Bernard [public housing] we were right there to help. I was invited by the city to a speaking engagement there. Then they found I out I was not just another nigger. I was founder of Common Ground. Then it was, ‘No we don’t need your help.’
“That’s when the infiltration began. People came in to create hostility.
“One of the tactics now, used since the beginning, is the re-emergence of COINTELPRO.”
COINTELPRO was an FBI counterinsurgency program used to destabilize and destroy radical US organizations in the 1960s. The Black Panthers were one of its main targets.
“They pit people against each other,” Rahim said. ” ‘Malik’s got all this money. Malik’s senile, he’s being used by these whites.’ ”
One of Common Grounds subsequent projects, after starting the health clinic, was taking over management of an Algiers apartment complex. They had plans to buy it, and the owner had agreed to sell. Common Ground employed residents to work on the building, and planned to transform it into a housing co-op.
“We kept the rents at pre-Katrina levels, when everyone was doubling them. They refused to let the owner sell to us. The police raided our office without a warrant, took our records and computers. The police were in front of the building for the seven months we were there.
“We had to lay off people at Christmas, and also tell them they were going to lose their homes.
“Why am I saying all this as we go forward? I have no fear of arrest, no fear of going to jail, no fear of death.
“Because I believe I’ve accomplished some of the greatest feats of anyone in the nation. I’ve worked with some of the greatest people.
“Over 14,000 white kids have worked at Common Ground. Why did Algiers not flood from Rita? The city didn’t come in and clean it. Common Ground people worked 20 hours a day for three days to clean out the storm drains then [before Rita’s floods].
“These things I’ve been privileged to see, all done by the Common Ground Collective.
Eventually Common Ground separated into different components, the main ones being Common Ground Health Clinic, and Common Ground Relief.
“It didn’t break up the way I hoped it would, on friendly terms,” Malik said. “I knew it was coming. We did create an independent entity to guarantee there’d always be free healthcare.”
Malik next told of Common Ground projects happening today, and one’s they’re planning for the future.
“Common Ground Relief has developed into one of the best first responders in the nation, outside of the US Army. We can serve 5000 people in an hour. We have tents, communications, computers, and a refrigerated truck that can hold up to 80,000 pounds of food.
“We’ve started the Common Ground Development Corporation. We’ve purchased our first piece of property, and are in the process of developing it.
“We started back up a training program, to train 100 residents in New Orleans in the construction trades every month, until we reach a goal of 400.
“Common Ground has gutted over 4000 homes just in the city of New Orleans. We’re always getting calls for help.
“Another program is the Common Ground Prescription Assistance Program. We’re hoping to enter into a collaboration with Partners For Prescription Assistance, a national organization that assists people with their prescriptions.
“We have a civic responsibility youth component. Last year we gave youths $50 a month to get involved in a civic responsibility program. We sponsored 100 kids at Perry Walker [High School] and we’re starting again.
“”We’re now in partnership with 40 kids who’re signed up to go into the Lower 9th Ward, which had the most deaths and destruction, to clean it up. We’re blessed that Brad Pitt went in with the art exhibit. Now we can keep it clean. We plan to involve 200 kids.
“Economic development will fund and keep other projects going. A person I respect got us $45,000 from the state-I’m not going to give it back. We’re working with a blessed pharmacist in Algiers to break the city off into five sections-corresponding to the five city council districts. We’ll give $50 to 100 residents in each district to use towards the cost of their prescriptions, for two months. That’s $50 they can use for their other needs. We have two months to raise $25,000 so we can continue that program.
“We’ll be starting Common Ground seafood and vegetable markets so that we can pay for that. We’re also starting a construction component to build houses. We’re about to open a restaurant. We’ll be selling clothes, especially children’s.
“We were the first organization to go to San Diego when the fires started last fall, to show the lessons we learned. We stayed in a Unitarian Church there. We met a lot of Latino families and organizations, and made connections so we can go to factories in Mexico and get clothes there.
“Our goal is to make Common Ground a self sufficient organization. Solidarity not Charity.”
When asked about Common Ground’s current needs, Malik answered, “Construction tools, investors, a truck that works. We need jobs, and buses, a way to take people to and from job sites. We have a BBQ every Saturday evening to raise funds and share community. Bring us propane, a pot, so we can show how a holistic approach to recover this city works, to make it new instead of old, with justice for everyone. To show what we can do when we come together.”
For more info:http://www.commongroundrelief.org
The Community Breakfast is held the second Saturday of each month from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Unitarian Universalist Church, Jefferson and S. Claiborne, New Orleans.