East Bay progressives, politicians, celebrities, and business and religious leaders rallied this week in front of the Federal Building in Oakland to alternately denounce the Bush administration and urge aid for the Louisiana and Mississippi residents displaced by last week’s devastating storm and floods.
And all across the East Bay this week, organizations and agencies raced to hold events or announced plans for future actions to support hurricane victims. The ad hoc coalition that assembled at the Federal Building demonstrated the sudden marriage between the anti-war movement and Hurricane Katrina victim relief.
More than 100 activists gathered for more than an hour and a half Tuesday afternoon, many holding up signs expressing anger at the lapse in the federal government’s initial response to Katrina and linking the Gulf Hurricane with the war in Iraq.
Included in the signs were “Full Funding For Disaster Relief,” “No More Lies—No More Excuses—Troops Home Now,” and “It’s Not A Horse Show. It’s A National Tragedy” (a reference to the fact that before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is heading the Katrina federal relief effort, FEMA Director Mike Brown was fired from his longtime job with the International Arabian Horse Association). Another sign read, simply, “Homeland Security My Ass!”
The rally was held on the sidewalk after Homeland Security officers said that representatives of the Oakland office of the federal General Services Administration, the caretaker for the Federal Building, had not signed off on a permit to hold the rally on Federal Building grounds.
Pamela Drake, a former Oakland City Council candidate, former aide to Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Nate Miley and one of the original organizers of the rally, said that a representative of Rep. Barbara Lee’s office had submitted the permit request to the GSA office several hours before the rally, but said that apparently no one was in the office all afternoon who could sign off on it.
Rally sponsors included Code Pink, the John George Democratic Club and the Oakland Black Caucus.
“Thank God we weren’t homeless and hungry and thirsty and surrounded by water when we needed a government official to be around,” Drake told the crowd. She called the permit mix-up “illustrative of the situation that’s going on in Mississippi and Louisiana.”
FEMA, Brown, and President George Bush came under attack by speaker after speaker for what was repeatedly called bungling and callousness in its relief effort.
Alameda County Board of Education member Gay Plair Cobb said she was “shocked, subdued, and saddened by the response of our government,” while Oakland School Board member Greg Hodge said that “the blood of our people is on the hands” of the Bush administration, and Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel said that “FEMA’s response to the tragedy was a tragedy in itself.”
Nadel was also one of many speakers who noted the ties and similarities between the East Bay and Louisiana.
“The demographics of Oakland are not much different from New Orleans,” she said. “Many Oakland citizens emigrated from there, and many have families who are still in the area.”
Nadel also said that the East Bay was “as vulnerable to earthquakes as New Orleans was to hurricane and flood.” She announced that Oakland City Council was meeting in emergency session Thursday afternoon to decide what it could do to help hurricane victims.
Informing the community of how it could help took up the bulk of the rally’s time. Among the announcements:
• Rep. Lee’s office as accepting donations.
• Oakland hip hop artist and entrepreneur Dwayne Wiggins said he was organizing an all day Oct. 1 jazz and hip hop benefit at the Kaiser Convention Center in conjunction with the office of Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks.
• AC Transit Amalgamated Transit Union bus drivers had announced plans to adopt New Orleans bus drivers and their families and relocate them to the East Bay until they could get back on their feet, said Sharon Cornu, executive director of the Alameda County Central Labor Council.
• A representative of the Ella Baker Center announced a jazz concert and spiritual event fund raiser at the First Congregational Church in Oakland on Saturday at 10 a.m., and Board Member Greg Hodge said that the Oaktown Jazz Workshop and resident dance companies at Oakland’s Malonga Casquelord Center would hold a fund raiser on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m. at Sweets Ballroom in Oakland.
• Oakland School Boardmember Dan Siegel said that at a community meeting held last Saturday at Allen Temple Baptist Church, a coalition of Oakland civic and religious leaders were working on a proposal to ask for the opening up of unused housing at the Oakland Army Base to relocate as many as 1,000 hurricane victims. In addition, Siegel said the group is asking the Port of Oakland to work with airlines flying out of the Oakland Airport to provide free transportation for the families to be relocated. Siegel also said that they were working with Congressmember Lee’s office to secure emergency Section 8 vouchers for hurricane victims relocating to the East Bay.
• Bill Patterson of the Oakland NAACP said his organization had set up a National Disaster Relief Fund to coordinate financial contributions to the area hit by the hurricane. Patterson said donations could be sent to the NAACP Disaster Relief Fund, 663 35th Street, Oakland, California 94609.
• A representative of Santiago de Cuba, Oakland’s Cuban sister city, urged residents to contact the Bush administration to accept Cuba’s offer to send 1,500 physicians into the disaster area. “We need to put aside politics,” she said. “We could be there in two hours.”
In other disaster relief action across the East Bay:
• Veterans for Peace and U.S. Tour of Duty will present “Direct from Camp Casey,” featuring military families and Bay Area neighbors for two appearances: Sept. 12 at the Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland, and on Sept. 13 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 405 South 10th St., San Jose. Both events will benefit hurricane relief efforts.
• At a fundraiser last weekend at Ashkenaz in Berkeley, the Aux Cajunals band and Tom Rigby raised more than $9,000 for flood victims.
• Berkeley’s Shotgun Players donated proceeds from their Labor Day performance of the play Cyrano to hurricane relief.
• Members of Berkeley Rep’s Teen Council announced a six-hour benefit of staged readings from plays set in New Orleans, to be held at the Berkeley Rep School of Theater on Sept. 25.
• The City of Berkeley announced a number of disaster relief activities, including coordinating temporary housing for displaced people from the disaster area and sending emergency and cleanup personnel to Louisiana and Mississippi.
• Many businesses around the area are collecting donations for hurricane aid.›