Dispatch from New Orleans

Time for a Gulf Coast Civic Works Project

Scott Myers-Lipton
Guest Blogger

As the sun set over New Orleans, Sen. John Edwards walked into the newly rebuilt Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward, and was greeted by approximately 20 community members and 20 college and high school students. The latter group were involved in various service projects in the Lower 9th, and had come to show support for the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project (GCCWP), which is the national effort to develop 100,000 jobs to rebuild the region.

Truthfully, we had expected hundreds, if not thousands, to be there. At a previous Edwards event in San Jose, where we had the opportunity to talk to Edwards about the GCCWP, there had been over 500 people in attendance. We expected the same in New Orleans, especially since this was the beginning of his well-publicized "Poverty Tour," where Edwards would be visiting 11 cities and towns over the next three days.

We had come to the "Poverty Tour" to make some "positive noise" for the GCCWP. We had planned to hold up several large banners on the Poverty Tour so that Edwards and the press would visually see the GCCWP message. However, at this opening event, we were told to put
the banners away. Since the person who made this request was also an ally of ours, we put the banners away. Also, since there were only 40 people in the room, we felt like we would be able to get our message across in the Q and A period ... and we did.

In his speech, Edwards talked about creating "50,000 stepping stone jobs" for the people of New Orleans. A reporter asked him to clarify what these jobs would be, and he said that the jobs would be in schools, libraries, and community centers. He said that these jobs would build a "work ethic." Not exactly the modern-day version of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which is what the GCCWP envisions.

Then, Edwards asked the audience for questions, and one of the first questions was from a community resident who was a member of New Orleans ACORN, who asked him whether he supported the GCCWP. (New Orleans ACORN is a strong ally of the GCCWP.) He said, yes, this was what he meant by his "stepping stone jobs." However, we were not totally satisfied with this response, since the GCCWP calls for jobs to build the hospitals, schools, libraries, and parks, not just to work in them.

The next morning, Sen. Edwards was on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer, and the GCCWP was there. Amber McZeal, a Katrina survivor and evacuee, who now lives in the Bay Area and is working with Color of Change, asked Edwards whether his "stepping stone jobs"
were similar to the jobs called for in the GCCWP, pointing out that the latter called for jobs to rebuild the schools, hospitals, and parks.

Edward's response was clear and unequivocal. He said yes, that was what he was supporting. He even used the words "Gulf Coast Civic Works" in his response. We were thrilled to have had a major presidential candidate so clearly endorse the project's vision.

One more thing: Amber and I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of people in New Orleans in many community meetings during the past week. In almost all of the meetings, the people said that the silver lining of Hurricane Katrina was that people and organizations were talking to one another, and that didn't happen much before Katrina.

Clearly, there is a powerful spirit of social action in New Orleans. America, are you ready for the change that is about to burst out in NOLA? Let's hope!

For more information about the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, please contact:
Scott Myers-Lipton at (510) 508-5382 or smlipton@sjsu.edu
Amber McZeal at (510) 355-7927 or evolutionmuse@gmail.com