212.4 Talking the talk and walking the walk?: Non-profits and the contradictions of New Orleans' post-Katrina coalition to stop the demolitions

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 9:36 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Jay ARENA , SASW, college of staten island, New York, NY
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk?: Non-Profits and the Contradictions of New Orleans’ Post-Katrina Coalition to Stop the Demolitions

In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina state and corporate elites in both New Orleans and Washington used the disaster as an opportunity to quickly and massively close and privatize public services. A prime target of this agenda was the city’s public housing communities that provided shelter for mainly low-income African Americans families. Neoliberal reforms over the previous decade had slashed the number of apartments, but the post-Katrina plan envisioned a clean sweep of the city’s remaining five large public housing developments. While a number of NGOs eagerly collaborated in the privatization and displacement initiative —euphemistically referred to as “deconcentrating poverty”--some of the progressive variety joined the movement to defend public housing. The progressive NGOs employed a human rights and right to the city framework and language to legitimate their advocacy work. At the same time, the funding these NGOs received from foundations that were involved in the privatization of public housing and the larger neoliberal makeover of the city placed real constraints on how far they could go in defending public housing. In this paper I analyze how these contradictions were expressed and managed through an examination of the intense battles over the demolition of public housing between November 2007—when the courts gave the green light to the Bush and Nagin administration’s demolition plans--and March 2008—when demolition on the last remaining development began.  

Data for this study is drawn from four years of participant-observation, from 2004 to 2008, of New Orleans’ pre and post-Hurricane Katrina public housing movement. This data is supplemented with documents distributed by activists and lawyers, participation in and study of activist email discussion list serves, newspaper articles, and interviews with key participants.