Gulf Watch: New Orleans economic summit honors King's legacy

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Citizenship Education Fund is currently hosting a conference in New Orleans titled "Greenlining Redlined America: The First Annual Gulf Coast Economic Summit."

Convened to hold the government accountable for its broken promises to the region, the two-day summit that opened yesterday is also commemorating today's anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We must not allow New Orleans to be forgotten," said Rainbow PUSH President Rev. Jesse Jackson. "We must demand that the Bush administration deliver on its promise to rebuild this city and this region. This summit aims to put New Orleans back on the agenda."

The conference organizers aim to develop strategies to promote reconstruction financing of areas that have not been rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina struck the region in 2005.

"We are looking at the whole reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf region," said Sheila Williams, executive director of the coalition's Right to Return and Reconstruction Project. "It appears that a red line has been drawn around certain communities and reconstruction of those communities has been very slow."

The summit is holding sessions on the education crisis in post-Katrina New Orleans, the use of tax incentives to spark rebuilding, and government and private-sector reconstruction plans and contracting opportunities. Today, Jackson will lead a candlelight vigil at the exact hour -- 6:01 p.m. -- that King was assassinated in Memphis 39 years ago while on a mission to support the city's striking sanitation workers.

On April 28, Rainbow PUSH and other groups are planning a march into New Orleans' storm-devastated 9th Ward to shine the spotlight on the slow pace of rebuilding there, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:

Jackson said the April 28 march will bring attention to the 9th Ward, which he called a "metaphor for neglected urban America," and equated the area to other blighted urban areas in dire need of retail and residential infusions. "In some real sense, the 9th Ward is Newark. The 9th Ward is South Side Chicago. The 9th Ward is neglected, abandoned urban America," Jackson said.

Last month, New Orleans city officials announced plans to invest $1.1 billion in public funds in 17 targeted redevelopment zones in the hope that the public money will in turn attract private dollars. The Lower 9th Ward and eastern New Orleans are slated to get the biggest infusions of cash at $145 million each.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin joined Jackson at the town hall meeting yesterday and said he welcomes the upcoming march as a way to draw attention to New Orleans' plight. Also attending the conference was U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), who promoted the Congressional Black Caucus' demand for a Katrina victims' compensation fund. She and others point out that a federal fund paid hundreds of millions of dollars to families of those killed in the 9/11 terror attacks and argue that the mostly black victims of Katrina also deserve compensation.

"If Dr. King were alive today, he would be doing what we are doing: highlighting the inequities and injustices in New Orleans, working to shift America's focus back on the rebuilding of these neglected communities," Jackson said. "Katrina is a metaphor for all the ills in urban America -- the lack of affordable housing, lack of high-quality education, the lack of efficient health care and the lack of economic development."