What Evacuees Need: A Seat at the Table

New Orleans resident Wade Rathke, who is also chief organizer for the low-income organziation ACORN and SEIU Local 100, has some thoughts about what's needed in New Orleans now.

Our first instinct is to send money or visit New Orleans to help, which isn't necessarily bad. But one thing that's critically needed is to bring together those evacuated and displaced into an organization that can demand they have a say in where money goes, how New Orleans is rebuilt, and other decisions that affect their lives:

Survival needs are increasingly being met for individuals. The relief organizations are gradually getting their acts together. People are responding generously everywhere.

But, there are skills we have, and those are the skills we need to use now. We need to organize all of the New Orleans neighborhoods all over again. This time we need to organize them in new cities.

People have issues. They desperately need to organize, and that is a way that we make a difference. This is about each individually terrible story, but it is also about all of these stories welded together and gaining a voice that can not be ignored. That voice can only be heard as it emerges from organized evacuees ...

People need to organize to force their way into the supply chain to get materials for homes and credit against settlements to rebuild. People are going to need assistance and training in "sweat equity" building methods on a mass scale, so that with their neighbors they can make basic repairs, since there will not be enough skilled trades people to help, and our people will not be able to compete for price.

People are going to need to organize around their jobs. They are going to have to organize to get unemployment. They are going to have to fight together for money to make it.

Certainly it feels better perhaps to be able to feel like you are doing something. People are people, so putting a human face on something matters. Giving a hug to someone in need or lending a hand and breaking a sweat to make something better.

But, just like doctors, nurses, and others, we need to act with our minds and use our skills, not just our hearts and passion. We need to think like organizers and get out there and start talking to our New Orleans people now living around the country and getting them to organize, mobilize, and make demands. We need to raise money to pay for this. We need to find and train more people to make this happen.

Money and effort still needs to flow to those saving people, making sure people are feed and clothed, and so on. But the biggest hole now is giving the people of New Orleans a say in their future. Right now, in the New Orleans war zone and beyond, decisions about people's lives are being increasingly turned over to the military, to FEMA, to relief organizations.

But who is going to give those who are affected the tools they need to negotiate the system, to rebuild their lives, and to have a say in their future?