Authors: Steve Bradberry, Founder and Executive Director of The Alliance Institute
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, one of the most striking problems in the recovery from the storm has been that states are exercising too much power and the federal government too little. This imbalance has had a terrible impact on poor communities.
Perhaps this should not be a surprise. In the ongoing struggle between those who believe the United States must strive to live up to the idea that we are all created equal, and those who believe that the country is perfect and should not be made to change, states have often worked to maintain the status quo and oppose the inclusion of "have-nots." Whether the battle was about race, gender, or class, the resolution of the Federal vs. State question has always been key.
Now, in the Gulf region, poor communities are once again suffering under the weight of states' rights in lieu of the federal response necessary for a full and complete recovery. The feds gave Louisiana authority to administer funds for hurricane recovery; Louisiana turned around and spent that recovery money in Parishes that were not directly impacted by the hurricane. Mississippi used money intended for low-income housing to displace a Vietnamese community for casino development. Despite having federal money to help meet them, Alabama completely ignored the housing needs of its low-income communities within Coden and Bayou Labatrie.
In the past, it was the ability of the "have-nots" and their supporters to organize themselves into forces for change that moved the federal government to take decisive action. Whether it was the abolitionists, suffragettes, or civil rights activists, organized and determined people have opened the door for people of color and women to meaningfully participate in their government. The labor movement organized to create the middle-class, opening avenues for low-income families to enjoy a quality of life once available only to the rich. Where people organized, they were able to make a difference.
Five years after Hurricane Katrina, thousands of volunteers have come and gone. Another disaster — the BP oil gusher — has set back the still-recovering communities of the Gulf South. And still we suffer under the thumb of state legislators, governors, and federal representatives who have yet to ensure the security of our most vulnerable communities.
After Katrina hit, we needed a strong federal response. We still do. It is not governmental or corporate goodwill that will create that response. It is the power of everyday people, organized into a force for change. Like race and class bigotry, we can overcome dependence on oil and deep water drilling only when we come together and organize.
Stephen Bradberry is the Founder and Executive Director of Alliance Institute, a non-profit that provides training and technical skills for organizing across the Gulf Coast.