Q&A: Southern Movement Assembly meets in New Orleans on 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Ten years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on along the United States Gulf Coast, devastating large swaths of three states – Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. More than 1200 people died, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, and subsequent levee breaches causing extensive flooding and damage from which the city of New Orleans has yet to recover. President Barack Obama marked the anniversary in New Orleans where he said while “the storm began as a natural disaster – it became a man-made one.”
This week, the fifth Southern Movement Assembly convened in the still struggling New Orleans. FSRN’s Nell Abram speaks with Crescent City Media Group’s Trap Bonner about the assembly and what the groups gathered there seek to accomplish.
Nell Abram: While many people use the terms “resiliency” and “recovery” to describe the Gulf Coast region in the context of the economic and ecological disaster, social advocacy groups gathered in New Orleans this week say the plague that Obama described still exists, and that reconstruction is more about resistance. Trap Bonner is a local New Orleanian and founding member of the Crescent City Media Group, one of the anchor groups for the Fifth Southern Movement Assembly, a convergence of front-line advocacy groups from across the U.S. South.
Trap Bonner: Some of those front lines include political education through democracy, governance and power, folks who are addressing state violence and just transition – issues of those sorts. And folks who work regionally across the Gulf Coast tend to have a lot of thing in common across our state lines, out boundaries. Part of what we do when we converge is to cross –pollinate some of those organizations in terms of those front lines, and how folks can better work with one another to solve issues in their local community – but have those issues that they focus on in their silos respectively compliment the regional work. It’s through this idea that we believe we are strongest together and we are constantly working to weave, to interlock our front-lines into one strategic movement.
NA: What is the Southern People’s Initiative and how is the assembly specifically focused on advancing it?
TB: The Southern People’s Initiative is about us taking this assembly process into a concerted effort toward collective action. Right. So as we’ve spent several years building up these assemblies, it’s time for us to coordinate actions with one another, rolling into the 2016 presidential primaries, et cetera.
NA: A lot of the people organizing now were active in recovery efforts. What kind of conversations are emerging among those who have been doing the heavy lifting, on the ten year anniversary?
TB: You know I think the significant thing about the focus on resistance has to do with, more to do with moving on forward, beyond commemorating but continuing our collective efforts towards action that we’ve been engaging for the past few years. Many of us who are native to New Orleans and southern Miss are folks who’ve been dealing with and working through the rebuilding process, but not contributing to this idea of resilience as if we’ve accomplished something thing by being beaten and saying we’ve stood and taken your beating. It’s more about saying we’ve fought against the progression of development that had nothing to do with the citizens. And so the Southern Movement Alliance is really about a people-centered movement, and not a top-down approach to advocacy organizing or approaching solutions to the problems in our communities.
NA: Does that go to a distinction between U.S, democracy and a true democracy?
TB: Yes, absolutely. You know the idea of communal governance is the thing we are focusing on over the next few days. One thing we are certain of is that when representatives who supposedly represent community stakeholders decide to make decisions about their communities without their constituents it’s not communal governance. So we are trying to get back to this idea of one person, one vote – a representative government that’s truly representative of the people – and we feel like don’t have that right now. So what we are doing through the Southern Movement Assembly is rethinking this process of communal governance and looking at using our citizenship as a toll as opposed to a right.
NA: Personally, have you been surprised by what has – or hasn’t – changed in years following the disaster?
TB: Well, you know President Bush, he’ll be in town this week. He’ll be in town on the day that the hurricane actually hit. And we were hoping that ten years ago he would have been here two or three days after the disaster and support the residents of the Gulf Coast. And so, part of it is the lack of response. And the other part of it is how do we respond to disasters ourselves without depending on the government. How do we have disaster preparedness ideas and solutions within the fold that have nothing to do with leaning on our representatives to get it done. They should be a component of our rebuilding efforts, we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket when it comes to rebuilding efforts with support of the federal government.
NA: Moving forward, what do you hope to see happen in the foreseeable future?
TB: Well you know for Louisianans, we have a huge election cycle coming up this fall that’s going to set the tone for how we govern and how we are represented over the next five years. And so it’s important that we converge and discuss ideas on how we can lend support to one another through fall elections, but also how do we continue to build this idea of communal governance throughout our governance council within the Southern Movement Assembly. Projecting forward into 2016, what we hope to have is again a more concerted effort at addressing our front-lines moving forward.
Trap Bonner is a founding member of the Crescent City Media Group – one of the anchors of the Fifth Southern Movement Assembly, taking place in New Orleans.