Ten years ago when Katrina’s floodwaters left the Gulf Coast ravaged, the pictures and stories that remained were those of utter destruction and abandonment. It was clear that Katrina’s disastrous aftermath was an indictment of the financial and policy disinvestment in communities of color.
For example, the United Houma Nation lost nearly three-fourths of their land due to the destruction by the storm, the BP oil spill (five years after Katrina), and the fact that the federal and state government’s cost-benefit analysis deemed their land not worth public investment. This is the picture for frontline communities living in a changing climate, suffering from a dirty energy system, and ignored by a government not accountable to community.
Yet, despite these challenges, communities like the Houma nation have continued to fight for justice and opportunity that will build a more equitable and fair society not only for their people, but for all. The resilience, leadership, and struggle needs to be supported by better policies, more resources, and new structures that allow for such a society to exist.
Through their story, we are reminded that the struggle for racial equity and justice for all is deeply centered on the tradition of resistance rooted in the Gulf Coast. Consider:
- 300 years ago: Indigenous and Black communities fought for freedom during French colonization;
- 150 years ago: Free and enslaved Black Americans fought for freedom in the Civil War;
- 50 years ago: Residents demanded Voting Rights and Equality;
- Today, these same communities are demanding justice in our economy, policies, and in tackling our pressing challenge of climate change.
Ten years after Katrina, I am fortunate to bear witness to this fight for justice and to be in solidarity with these incredible leaders at the commemoration organized by the leaders of Gulf South Rising, a coordinated regional movement. The movement is driving towards solutions that promote a just transition away from a dirty and extractive energy economy and towards a renewable and community-driven one. The movement is led by a collaboration of over sixty local organizations—a testament to the deep leadership capacity that exists across the Gulf South States.
While Mayor Landrieu, former Presidents Clinton and Bush, and President Obama garnered much of the media’s attention, Gulf South Rising was trending on Instagram and Twitter. And this isn’t a surprise. We at CSI had the distinct privilege to partner on a research report with some of these very leaders and organizations that elevated the leadership capacities of communities of color all along the Gulf Coast. Back in 2008 and 2009, the work showed that despite the national narrative, people have the expertise and knowledge to build a new way forward, and that these organizers need resources to support their ground-up drive.
This truth rings as loud as a trumpet when the Gulf South Rising community says, “the seas are rising and so are we.” As a nation we are on a collision course of climate change, an inequitable economy, and a disinvestment in communities of color. Yet, the solutions to these challenges are right here in the Gulf. Leaders across the South are showing how it is possible to tackle climate change, build a community-driven economy, and say Black Lives Matter all within the same effort.
I encourage you all to learn directly from this powerful Southern community leadership here: https://www.gulfsouthrising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Gulf-South-Rising-2015-SD-2.pdf .
For more on the events and stories, check out the hashtags #GulfSouthRising #KatrinaTruth #SMAV