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‘Walking to New Orleans’ to show solidarity

Published Mar 21, 2006 10:50 PM

Hurricane Katrina survivors, U.S. veterans, and other activists participated in an historic event, “Walking to New Orleans,” from March 14 through 19. United in political purpose, more than 100 people marched 150 miles from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans, La., under the slogan, “Every bomb dropped on Iraq explodes on the Gulf Coast.”

Tritta Neveleff of Jackson,
Miss. (left) and Vivian Felts,
director of SOS (Saving Our Self)
in Mobile, Ala., March 14.
WW photos: Minnie Bruce Pratt

The slogan, taken from the Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous 1967 anti-war statement, “Every bomb dropped in Vietnam falls in Harlem,” concisely expressed the solidarity of the dedicated march participants with each other as U.S. civilians and service people, and also in solidarity with the people of Iraq, in ending a war that is taking a brutal toll there and within the borders of the U.S.

An impressive list of community co-spon sors organized for the march, ranging from Common Ground Collective and People’s Hurricane Relief Fund in New Orleans; the Gulf Coast from S.O.S. (Saving Our Self) in Mobile; MIRA (the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance); Bayou Liberty Relief in Slidell, La., and C-3 NOLA.

Daily podcasts
Workers World reporter Minnie Bruce Pratt was on the entire ‘Walking to New Orleans’ demonstration and recorded live podcasts daily giving details of each day’s events.
Day 1-March 13 Download | Play
Day 2-March 14 Download | Play
Day 3-March 15 Download | Play
Day 4-March 16 Download | Play
Day 5-March 17 Download | Play
Day 6-March 18 Download | Play
Day 7-March 19 Download | Play

Final report and analysis
Download | Play

Veterans groups involved included national and local units of Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace.

The deep importance of the event showed in the range of people who committed to a grueling trek that involved a week of sleeping on the ground out-of-doors, cold-water bucket hygiene, and marching through rough terrain in heat, cold and toxic dust from chemically contaminated ground near the storm’s center.

William Perry, a
Vietnam veteran
(on car)
and Terry Perry in
Mobile, Ala., on
March 14, first day
of ‘Marching to
New Orleans.’

Some marching were neither veterans nor survivors but had either been born in the South or lived there at some time—people who identified their home towns as Jackson, Miss.; Carbondale, Ala.; Macon, Ga.; Memphis, Tenn.; Baltimore; Orlando, Fla.; Houston, Texas; and other deep and border Southern towns—as well as at least 16 states outside the South.

Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in the current Iraq war and drew national attention to the opposition of military families to the war by camping out at President George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, participated on the march.

Stephen Funk, the gay Filipino Marine who was the first Iraq war resister, marched, as did conscientious objector Sgt. Camilo Mejía. Both Funk and Mejía emphasized the intertwining of injustice—in the hypocritical discrimination of a U.S. “don’t ask, don’t tell” military that recruits lesbian and gay people as cannon fodder while denying their very identity—and in the fate of [email protected] soldiers driven to enlistment by the poverty draft and immigrants who join the armed services in desperation to get citizenship for themselves and their families.

Two generations of Alabama
ctivists, Quinton Amerson
and Mamie Mackey, Katrina
survivors, in Congo Square,
New Orleans, March 19.

Connecting wars here & abroad

Many participants commented during the march that they were walking a road made for this new generation by the Black civil rights and nationalist struggles in the South in the 1960s, and for generations before.

At the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., where the multi-national group of marchers were welcomed at the end of their second day, the Rev. Jesse Trotter said, “Not so many years ago we would not have even been able to meet together legally as we are tonight,” referring to the apartheid-like segregated system of the South that was finally broken by massive organizing.

As marchers passed through large and small Gulf Coast towns, from Mobile to Irvington and Codene, Ala.; from Biloxi to Gulfport, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula, Miss.; from Slidell to New Orleans, La., they were greeted everywhere with peace signs, thumbs-up, cheers and car and truck horns blaring approval.

Iraq Veterans Against the War in
Gulfport, Miss., March 16.

Many observers spontaneously joined the march at points along the route—like the four 10th-grade students from Van cleave, Miss., who said that armed-service recruiters were at their high school “every other day” and said everyone their age was against the war.

Perhaps most significant was the positive reception for the marchers in Slidell. One local resident, Naurine White, an African American born in New Orleans who has lived in Slidell for 20 years and has a son in the military, commented, “This is still a very conservative, very segregated town. So conservative that this is where David Duke [Grand Wizard of the new Ku Klux Klan] moved when he started to re-build the KKK.”

At one point in Slidell, as marchers passed a production facility for the military that makes Strykers armored vehicles built for two persons and used in Iraq, a group of white workers came out to the fence and gave the peace sign.

The South is the most militarized region of the U.S., dependent especially on the civilian jobs associated with military bases. It is, of course, also the region where the ruling class, from slave-owners to big business, has used racism and extreme violence to pit white workers against people of oppressed nationalities.

So the warm response to the march suggests that the double crisis generated by the Iraq war and the failed governmental response to the Katrina catastrophe has opened a possibility for working-class unity across nationality lines.

In Slidell, the Arabic news network Al Jazeera was interviewing participants. Iraq War veteran young Michael Blake summed it all up with this statement: “We are here in solidarity with the Iraqi people, with the people serving overseas, and with the people of the Gulf Coast. We want peace and justice.”

Minnie Bruce Pratt, born and raised in Alabama, took part in the entire march.