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(en) US, The Agitator Index* - Reflections from Little Rock By Peter Little

Date Mon, 16 Jan 2006 16:35:57 +0200

Two weeks after Katrina hit, I went to Little Rock, Arkansas to assist
Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children in organizing
evacuees with people inside the correctional system in Louisiana.
I arrived in the middle of heavy, muggy summertime heat. Some
days as I drove across the state, visiting shelters, I'd roll up the
windows with the air off and pretend it was the sauna I love to visit
back in Portland, Oregon. Some days I'd leave the windows down
and pretend it was the sauna I love to visit back in Portland.
I spent just under a week running from shelter to shelter. For the
better portion of the week I was there, no one appeared to have a
comprehensive list where people were being housed, let alone of
who was where. From the Red Cross to the Arkansas state disaster
agency, no one could offer an accurate list of where evacuees could
be found. A lot of my time was spent driving from empty camp to
empty camp, following leads from social workers or word of mouth,
until I finally found camps with people still in them.

It seems the state's strategy in Arkansas was to move people through
Ft Chaffee in the west of the state and disperse them into smaller
camps of 100s of people within 24-48 hours of arrival in the state.
Most locals remembered Ft Chaffee, a military base, as the site of
riots by Muriel boatlift detainees in the 80s.

By the time I'd arrived, most of the big centers were dismantled, and
many of the small camps were disappearing as evacuees disappeared
into local residences, got aid checks and wandered off, or were
shuffled around. BtR's research team was essential in getting me
good information to run with once I was on the ground.

The Baptist church shelter leadership were not interested in
speaking with the Catholic church shelters (who only housed
Catholics), and the Pentecostals and Methodists each maintained
the same sectarian stance. In Arkansas, our limited work was
peculiar in that beyond FEMA and a few social workers, we were the
only people communicating and reporting from one camp to the
This means that there was little or no interaction between the
different camps, or between the isolated individuals or families who
have begun to make it into the community in apartments and motel
rooms. Neither the Red Cross, FEMA, nor the social service
providers have a vision or interest for uniting the evacuees around
the right of return or any broader political vision within the Diaspora.

The camps were typically summer camps owned and run for their
members by the different denominations in the region. Different
camps varied in their warmth to our project and their own apparent
interest in the desires and needs of the evacuees. The church
staff/volunteers in the camps were white, FEMA reps were white,
the few social workers were white, and the sheriffs working the gates
or patrolling the grounds were white. Being a white kid from up
North, walking into the camps, where a solid majority of the
evacuees where not white, it seemed important to be clear I was not
representing the government, the social service agencies, or the

A couple of very different experiences are useful to demonstrate the
real disparity in conditions and methods of managing the different

At a Presbyterian camp outside of Little Rock, it was rumored a
couple of hundred evacuees were still sheltered. I pulled up to the
camp, greeted at the gate by armed sheriffs asking my purpose and
organization, who then directed me to the administrative office. At
the administrative office, I signed three forms, gave my name, legal
identification, and organization name, contact information, was
given an ID tag, and was then freed to enter the cafeteria. Halfway
through talking with and assisting two women in calling the
Louisiana Department of Corrections to track down their loved ones,
the camp administrator and another armed sheriff approach me in
the cafeteria. Interrupting my interview, they called me into the
office. Again, photocopies of my identification, queries about the
organization I'm assisting, and,” how do they know our
organization is for real, etc????" They had a hard time believing that
the organization (headquartered in New Orleans) didn't have an
address, letterhead, or simple contact information for its coordinators
(beyond a cell phone) two weeks after half of the city was submerged
by the broken levies.

In Sherwood, Arkansas, I rolled up to a small church building on the
edge of town. I walked across the gravel parking lot, greeted at the
back door by a group of evacuees sprawled, chatting in a circle of
lawn chairs. Hoping to be directed to the more sympathetic camp
administrators by the evacuees, I smiled, introduced my purpose,
and myself and asked who I should talk to about setting up shop. A
small, strong looking woman in her mid thirties addressed me from
one end of the group, with a touch of laughter in her voice.

"People in the correctional system? I'm the Chief of our tribe, and
I'm in charge of corrections. We don't have anybody in the state
system, and we don't have anybody missing. All of our members are
accounted for and safe. When we heard the storm was coming, we
got organized, got all of our people together, and got out."

I followed another evacuee inside, where she gave me the Chief's
contact information and took a load of FFLIC's flyers in the event
they came across other evacuee groups who could use the
information. It was only then that I met a church administrator, a
very sweet woman who was being ushered around by another
evacuee, in the middle of something that appeared important. She
introduced herself, and then was pulled away by other community

Typically, after the varied approval methods from the camp
administration (ranging from multiple copies of identification and
verification phone calls to just walking in a back door and getting
comfortable), and I'd walk into the cafeteria during a mealtime,
stand in the corner and shout out that I was here to assist people in
tracking down family, children, or friends in the corrections system
in Louisiana, and then wait in the corner as people streamed over.

Clear intersections of gender, race, and class in our society became
vividly clear through conversations in the shelters. Whether looking
for boyfriends, husbands, friends, their children or other family
members, the overwhelming majority of the people seeking to track
down prisoners were women. In the 60s, people began to expand the
understanding of worker to include the entire nuclear family unit,
recognizing how home workers were essential in maintaining the
productive capacities of the worker in the factory. Imprisonment
takes in predominantly young males in the same way production
work traditionally did, leaving the women in the community to care
for the needs of not only the prisoner, but the economic and
emotional needs of the children, parents, and families left behind on
the outside.

The different perspectives, feelings, and experiences of people in the
shelter were a good reminder of the complexity of consciousness.
People’s ideas about their experience in the shelters, the
Convention Center, in the city and the storm itself, varied widely. I
sat down with a group of women, and after exchanging information
on prisoners they were looking for, we chatted for a bit. I asked them
a little about what they thought about the way things had gone down
in New Orleans. The first told me how terrified she was, how she
had heard crazy stories about crazed violence and desperation, how
she was disappointed in hearing about,” all the looting."
The second looked at her, looked at me, her eyes lit up and she
exclaimed,"Shit, looting!? Hell yeah!! I was looting!" And they both
burst into big smiles and laughter.

My last days in town, the shelters and aid agencies began to brace
themselves for a new wave of evacuees, as Katrina's evacuees were
shuffled north out of Texas in anticipation of Rita. The Sunday
before I left, I sat on the porch of the Women's Project, one of the
only independent, feminist resource centers in the region, chatting
informally with one of their organizers. Just as she had arrived at the
office, heavy rain began to fall from the thick wall of dark clouds that
had passed over the city's clear skies that morning. As Hurricane
Rita's remnants brought storms and flooding to Arkansas, we talked
about the ways that Katrina had blown the lid off of submerged
contradictions and realities in the United States, and of our hopes for
a new social movement to be born out of it.

The struggle over New Orleans is a smaller reflection of broader
struggles being born of the dismantling of the post WWII Keynesian
pact-peace from the trade union bureaucracy in exchange for labor
peace and a welfare net for those left outside the trade union
structure. As I sit back at home in Portland, I can't help but believe
that in the Diaspora’s story, their journey, and the struggle to
retake their city lie the seeds of a new movement.
Pete is a member of Bring the Ruckus. He lives in Portland.plicitly
to return to our
communities and share what we have seen and apply the lessons to
our own forms of struggle. This workshop is our response.


On January 1, 1994 the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion
Nacional) rose up in arms in the name of democracy, liberty, and
justice. They have since been organizing internally to create
participatory governing structures and autonomous health and
education services for the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico.
the 19th of June 2005 the EZLN declared a Red Alert throughout
Zapatista territory and mobilized to protect meetings held in
Zapatista communities. Out of these meetings came the Sexta
Declaracion de la Selva Lacandona. This declaration called for all
anti-capitalist groups in Mexico to come together to create a
project called La Otra Campa
The Bring the Ruckus web site seeks to be an intellectual center for
the development of a new revolutionary politics. We publish articles
that we think help develop a politics along the lines set out in our
political statement. We often run articles written by non-BTR members.
(If a writer is a member of BTR, it's indicated at the end of an article.)
We also publish articles that disagree with our politics if we think
they are useful. All articles that reflect an official BTR position
are identified as such. Otherwise, please don't assume that the articles
published here constitute an "official" Ruckus line.
* Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.
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