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‘Walking to New Orleans’

Lessons from a historic march

Published Apr 1, 2006 8:41 PM

From a talk given by Minnie Bruce Pratt at a Workers World Party meeting on March 24 in New York.

Minnie Bruce Pratt in Congo
Square, New Orleans.
WW photo

“Walking to New Orleans” [March 13 to 19] was significant because the two groups that organized the march have historically been pitted against each other in the U.S. South—the mostly white working-class veterans and relatives, represented by Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, and the mostly African-American community leaders responding to the government-induced Katrina catastrophe, represented by Saving Our Selves in Mobile and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund in New Orleans.

‘Walking to New Orleans’

Katrina survivors and military veterans were "Walking to New Orleans" from Mobile, Ala., March 14-19. Workers World reporter Minnie Bruce Pratt marched with the demonstrators and recording live podcasts daily.
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

We heard from Katrina survivors—a Peruvian family being aided by the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance; we marched by tables of Mexican and Guate malan male workers at lunch who waved to us; we heard how Vietnamese fishing people in Mobile were put out of work by the hurricane; in New Orleans, we—and especially the Vietnam vets!—were given a place to sleep by the Vietnamese community. And we heard how Jamaican and Haitian workers at the gigantic casinos along the Biloxi gulf shore were abandoned by their employers as the fury of the storm struck.

There were stretches of road where cars and trucks blared their horns in support of the march so incessantly that we couldn’t hear each other chant. This happened in a region where that symbol of racism, the Confederate flag, has been replaced for the most part by the U.S. flag, which overt racists can hide behind in voicing their white supremacist views.

The ruling class—from slave owners in the 18th century through steel mill owners in the 20th century—have tried to split the working class by instilling and fomenting racism within the white working class against African Americans and also immigrants of color in the U.S. South.

The South is being globalized, perhaps faster than any other part of the U.S. In the 1990s the South attracted more than half the foreign investment. One out of every eight workers in the South now gets her/his paycheck from a non-U.S. employer.

Most of the well-paying factory jobs are still going to white workers, and the bosses are still fighting to keep the region non-union. The U.S. South is the most militarized and the most dependent on military-related civilian jobs.

The following statistics include jobs, both military and civilian, in this very poor region:

* 42 percent of U.S. troops came from the South in 2002 (the region has just one-third of the country’s population).

* The South accounts for seven of the 16 states where military recruiters enlisted the greatest share of 17- to 24-year-olds (and those seven states include Alabama and Louisiana).

* 51 percent of active-duty U.S. military personnel in the continental U.S. are stationed in the South.

* 38 percent of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and 47 percent killed in Afghanistan had been based in the South.

* 43 percent of prime military contracts from the Department of Defense went to the South in 2002, and 32 percent of those contracts in most of 2005. (Institute for Southern Studies)

In the 1980s, white supremacist David Duke tried to resuscitate the Ku Klux Klan in Slidell, La., as a well-educated, articulate, 20th-century hate group. Duke ran as a Republican for the Louisiana Senate in 1990. But before that, in 1981, Don Black, his right-hand man, put together in Slidell a group of nine other neo-Nazis and Klansmen plotting to invade the Caribbean island of Dominica, overthrow its government, and turn it into a “white state.”

We were greeted warmly in Slidell by young white male workers, Latino workers eating lunch, a young African-American male truck driver, older white couples and young white women in their cars. This warm response suggests that the double crisis generated by the ruling class through the war on Iraq and the re-doubled oppression of the working-class by way of the Katrina catastrophe has opened a possibility for working-class unity across national lines.

At the final rally in historic Congo Square in New Orleans, a speaker-phone broadcast included Fernando Suarez, whose son died in Iraq and who has became an outspoken critic of the war, especially the targeting of [email protected] and other youth of color by military recruiters.

Jeff, an Iraq War vet, a young white man in his 20s, a member of a Louisiana Army Reserves unit deployed to Iraq during the Katrina catastrophe, said, “When the disaster hit, I was serving a 13-month sentence in Iraq. There we drove trucks, cleaned up debris, established mortuaries for deaths caused because the U.S. made preemptive war against a sovereign country, against the U.N. Charter.” Finally, he spoke of having seen an Iraqi woman lying dead, and how that was the turning point for him. He cried out, “I thought to myself, what if that were my mother lying there? My sister? What would I do? I would fight! I’d be a freedom fighter for my country! Here in the U.S. the Iraqis who fight are called terrorists. I call them freedom fighters.”