Community Organizer vs Corrupt Politician

Community Organizer vs Corrupt Politician


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



So Nancy Pelosi, the leader of Democrats in Congress, forbade even members

of the Congressional Black Caucus from speaking up publicly on the unfolding

spectacle of racially selective displacement on the Gulf Coast. Amazingly, the entire

Congressional Black Caucus silenced themselves on Katrina and refused to call

for congressional hearings, with the exception of Georgia’s Rep. Cynthia McKinney.  



Community Organizer vs. Corrupt Politician

The December 6 New Orleans Congressional Election

By Bruce A. Dixon


The congressional election in Louisiana’s 2nd district was delayed due to Hurricane Gustav, and will take place on December 6, 2008. What was once an overwhelmingly black district containing most of New Orleans and a sliver of neighboring Jefferson Parish is probably still majority black, but with a much thinner margin.

The Republican is a Vietnamese American who almost never mentions his party affiliation when campaigning inside New Orleans. The Democrat is disgraced nine-term incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, under indictment for bribery after the FBI discovered $90,000 stashed in the plastic containers of his home freezer. The Green Party candidate is longtime community organizer Malik Rahim, a co-founder of Common Ground Relief Network, a grassroots organization brought together in the wake of Katrina to open medical clinics, distribute flood relief supplies and repair and rebuild homes damaged by the flood. With a projected low turnout, it’s shaping up as a three way race that could go in a surprising direction. “We are shooting for 30,000 votes here,” a Rahim campaign spokesperson told BAR, “and we think we can win.”

Hurricane Katrina along with the series of man-made disasters, ethnic cleansing, and wholesale privatizations of the city’s school and health care systems in its wake have changed the face of New Orleans, and determine the fault lines for its politics even today. Accordingly, their responses to the Katrina disaster provide us with a useful and telling contrast between Rep. Dollar Bill Jefferson and Malik Rahim.

On the second day after the levees broke, hundreds of starving, dehydrated New Orleans residents (and some tourists) attempted to walk out of their drowned city toward the lights of neighboring Gretna. Their paths were blocked by lines of local law enforcement officers who menaced them with shotgun fire, cursed them, buzzed them with helicopters and drove them back into New Orleans. If ever there was a time when the relative wealth, the connections, the prestige and authority of a congressman might have done his constituents some good, this was it. But Dollar Bill Jefferson was not that kind of congressman.

Malik Rahim lived in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, one of the few places that wasn’t flooded, and where water supplies were not compromised. Ignoring orders to evacuate, Rahim was one of many local residents who remained in New Orleans to save lives and assist his neighbors, since the authorities would not. He helped other families evacuate, tried to get white vigilantes to stop shooting random black people and began organizing shelter and assistance to the victims of the flood.

While thousands of his constituents were swimming for their lives, trapped in attics, on rooftops and expressway overpasses, or penned up in the Louisiana Superdome, congressman Jefferson commandeered six Louisiana National Guard MPs and a five ton truck to drive to his home in the flood zone and linger there for an hour or more while he removed personal belongings including a laptop computer, suitcases and several boxes. According to ABC News:

The Louisiana National Guard tells ABC News the truck became stuck as it waited for Jefferson to retrieve his belongings.

Two weeks later, the vehicle’s tire tracks were still visible on the lawn.

The soldiers signaled to helicopters in the air for aid. Military sources say a Coast Guard helicopter pilot saw the signal and flew to Jefferson’s home. The chopper was already carrying four rescued New Orleans residents at the time.

A rescue diver descended from the helicopter, but the congressman decided against going up in the helicopter, sources say. The pilot sent the diver down again, but Jefferson again declined to go up the helicopter.

After spending approximately 45 minutes with Jefferson, the helicopter went on to rescue three additional New Orleans residents before it ran low on fuel and was forced to end its mission.

“Forty-five minutes can be an eternity to somebody that is drowning, to somebody that is sitting in a roof, and it needs to be used its primary purpose during an emergency,” said (ABC News consultant) Hauer.

The contrast between the personal bahavior of Malik Rahim and Dollar Bill Jefferson could not be clearer.

In Katrina’s aftermath of homicidal government indifference and incompetence Republicans saw vast opportunities.

Richard Baker, a prominent Republican Congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city”—which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos.

If Republicans saw opportunities in Katrina’s wake Nancy Pelosi, the leader of Dollar Bill Jefferson’s Democratic party in Congress, saw a trap. She wanted to blame Republicans, but she feared holding hearings to expose the homicidal incompetence and indifference of government would tie congressional Democrats to the cause of black New Orleans in the minds of voters nationwide. Better, from her point of view, to leave that alone. So Nancy Pelosi, the leader of Democrats in Congress, forbade even members of the Congressional Black Caucus from speaking up publicly on the unfolding spectacle of racially selective displacement on the Gulf Coast. Amazingly, the entire Congressional Black Caucus silenced themselves on Katrina and refused to call for congressional hearings, with the exception of Georgia’s Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

A fifth term representative, McKinney had just returned to Congress after a two year absence. Instead of restoring her seniority and committee assignments as is the rule in such cases, Pelosi unceremoniously stripped McKinney of her seniority, leaving Rep. McKinney freer than usual to reach across the aisle and do what not a single one of more than three dozen of her black congressional colleagues would do—hold hearings on Katrina.

In the days following the Katrina disaster, Malik Rahim did what experienced community organizers do—he talked to his neighbors, he helped bring like-minded local residents together with volunteers from around the country and funders to create the Common Ground Relief Network. Common Ground distributed relief supplies, generators, food, fuel and tools to begin gutting houses and rebuilding. Malik Rahim and Common Ground solicited medical supplies and qualified personnel and opened up free medical centers in devastated New Orleans. He rallied volunteers and raised money for grassroots efforts with churches and others to get done on the ground what government officials like Jefferson could not or would not do. Under the leadership of Common Ground and Malik Rahim, some 13,000 volunteers have gutted roughly 3,000 homes to prepare them for occupancy in New Orleans. 

That’s community. That’s organizing. That’s leadership. That’s Malik Rahim, and that’s the choice before the voters of New Orleans on December 6. They can reward Republicans and Democrats for engaging in the same old politics of cronyism, privatization and avoidance of responsibility. Or they can send a community organizer to Congress.

This is a choice between a deceitful “minority” Republican, a brazenly corrupt Democrat, and an honest to goodness community organizer with a history that stretches back to his co-founding of the New Orleans branch of the Black Panther Party back in 1970. 

In the wired and interconnected environment of the early 21st century it’s no longer the exclusive choice of voters and activists in New Orleans. In some measure, this choice up to all of us who want a piece of it. This will be a three way race, and an extremely low turnout election, so it’s anybody’s game.  There’s even a chance, if the turnout is low enough, that the Republican can win.  It’s not a chance we chose.  It’s a chance that leaders of the Democratic party, nationally and in Louisiana forced upon us, secure in their belief that black and progressive voters in New Orleans would have no place else to go.  But they do.

Here’s what you can do.

You can click here to donate to Malik Rahim’s media fund THIS WEEK to ensure that he can air radio commercials in the final days before the election.

You can click here to volunteer your energy and phone minutes phone banking to New Orleans voters. You’ll be guided through a polite, well thought-out online script that informs undecided voters of the clear choice before them.  You don’t need to live in Louisiana to phone bank for Malik Rahim.

Is there a chance that supporting the Green candidate could lead to a Republican temporarily assuming the seat in New Orleans? Honestly yes, there is that chance. It would not be possible of Louisiana’s lazy and hollow Democratic party had bothered to come up with an honest and viable Democrat to represent hundreds of thousands of New Orleans voters. But they didn’t. And they won’t. There is also a chance of sending a real community organizer to congress.  One choice was forced upon us.  The other is ours to make, and to take.

It’s anybody’s contest in New Orleans December 6. We hope that our readers will do the right thing.  Forward the link to this page, and to Malik Rahim’s web site to all your friends, family and associates.  Give generously to put Malik Rahim’s radio commercials in play, to get him parity with the fat cats who contribute to his Republican and Democratic opponents. And participate in the phone bank that reminds New Orleans voters of the December 6 election. 

In a low turnout environment like this a few votes, a modest contribution of money or time can make a big difference.  If you want a change, be that change.

Atlanta-based Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report.  He can be reached at

Source: BlackAgendaReport

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Malik Rahim, born and raised in New Orleans’ Algiers neighborhood, has worked as an organizer for decades around housing and prison issues. During Hurricane Katrina, Malik stayed to assist the community and has been speaking out about racism and the failures of government exposed by the Katrina disaster.

* Co-founded Common Ground Health Clinic in September 2005 with Sharon Johnson. After Hurricane Katrina, it was the first health clinic in the city of New Orleans. * Co-founded Common Ground Relief in September 2005. * Founding member of the Louisiana anti-death penalty group Pilgrimage for Life, with Sister Helen Prejean. * Founding member of Housing is a Human Right a San Francisco, California citywide non-profit affordable housing advocacy organization in 1996 * National Coalition to Free the Angola Three * New Orleans Chapter of the Black Panther Party

The Louisiana Secretary of State changed the elections calendar after Hurricane Gustav, so the general election where you can vote for Malik is on December 6, not November 4.

Malik’s Platform

Hurricane Recovery & Flood Protection:

· Ensure our region gets the resources we were promised to continue our recovery · Fund category 5 (100 Year) flood protection for all of Southern Louisiana. · Develop Comprehensive Storm Protection by maintaining and preserving ecosystem services, including rebuilding our cypress swamps.

Rebuild a Sustainable Economy:

· Support economic and fiscal policies to strengthen working people and their families. · Fund green job training to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and provide pathways from poverty. · Jumpstart the regional economy by supporting the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project.

Quality Public Education:

· Invest in our public education system, inlcuding funding for smaller class sizes, so that every child is given the opportunity to excel. Education not incarceration. · Remove high-stakes testing as the sole criteria for federal funding · Support a teacher’s right to collective bargaining

Healthcare for All:

· Ensure that every American citizen has access to quality affordable healthcare. · Secure federal money to rebuild our health care infrastructure, including Charity Hospital. · Establish and fund community health clinics.

Comprehensive and Sustainable Energy Policy:

· Decrease our country’s reliance on oil. · Demand a shift to 20% renewable energy sources like solar and wind within five years. · End tax breaks and giveaways to oil companies.

Reform of the Criminal Justice System:

· Alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders.

Troops out of Iraq:

· Bring the troops home from Iraq as safely and quickly as possible. · Use the money that we have been spending in Iraq to rebuild infrastructure in the U.S.

Affordable Housing:

· Demand federal funding for the construction of affordable housing in the Gulf Coast. · Call for a full investigation now on the awarding of contracts for the demolition of public housing developments in New Orleans and their reconstruction

Source: myspace

posted 2 December 2008

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update 31 July 2012




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