First Report From Barhc Caravan In New Orleans Liz Highleyma

New Orleans, Sept. 13, 2005 — The caravan of medics from the Bay Area Radical Health Collective and other local activists arrived in New Orleans on the evening of Monday, September 12. One truck made it through the checkpoint before curfew, and the others managed to persuade officers to let them through by showing their EMT licenses.

Soldiers, dogs, bodies, and aerial spraying

The medics on the ground report that the situation is surreal and extremely militarized, with armed soldiers and police everywhere. There are still areas underwater or smoldering, travel after dark is prohibited, and there are reports of armed vigilantes. Packs of dogs roam the streets, and there are still uncollected bodies of the deceased. Authorities are doing aerial spraying to control mosquitoes, and the atmosphere is described as highly toxic.

Infrastructure and supply chain

Nevertheless, Algiers, a New Orleans neighborhood on the dry side of the Mississippi River, is largely intact, with any of its beautiful homes still habitable. The neighborhood has running water and electricity was recently restored. While there is little working infrastructure in New Orleans itself, it is possible to drive to open stores in surrounding parishes for medicine, food, and other supplies. Communications are described as sporadic, but they've been able to get messages out via cell phone and wireless e-mail.

Refilling prescriptions in occupied Algiers

Medics have established a clinic near a local mosque, now named the Common Ground clinic, and activists are also distributing non-medical supplies like diapers. Days after the initial crew from MayDay/DC set up the clinic, FEMA finally arrived. "Officials" are providing medical aid, have set up a relief center near the local public hospital, and apparently are supplying medications, but many residents find their heavily armed presence intimidating. One medic reports that military trucks with loudspeakers are telling residents where to get help, in an apparent attempt to direct them away from the grassroots effort. Activists with vehicles have been driving residents with prescriptions to pharmacies in nearby parishes.

Needs for a long-term effort

The activists on the ground emphasize that this will be a long-term effort. While they are pretty well stocked now with medical supplies, some needs remain, including vitamins, glucose test strips, non-DEET insect repellent, office supplies, and things like extension cords and power strips. Herbs and other supplies the "officials" do not offer will need to be replenished on an ongoing basis. Given the fluidity of the situation, it is suggested that it may be preferable to donate money (so activists can buy what they need nearby) rather than shipping or delivering in-kind donations. Community meetings are held regularly to decide how to distribute funds. They are in the process of setting up a bank account and a P.O. box.

The real need is for more volunteers, especially those with medical training. There are about 9 medics there now. The BARHC team plans to leave at the end of the week, and by then the MayDay team will have been there nearly two weeks, so there's a need for new workers to rotate in as these teams rotate out. Incoming activists should expect to be self-sufficient in terms of tents, sleeping bags, and food (though water and food can be purchased in nearby parishes). Everyone emphasizes the importance of approaching this in a spirit of "solidarity not charity," as they work with the community to establish a long-term, locally-controlled operation.

Media

With electricity restored, activists are also now working to establish a local independent media center. They stress the importance of bringing in journalists of color covering the local Black community.

Written by Liz Highleyman in San Francisco on behalf of the BARHCers in New Orleans: Michael, Dixie, Bee, Arni, and Lucinda.

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