A diverse group of activists and students came together Friday outside Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office to call for her support of a bill that would affect hundreds of thousands of people… who live on the other side of the country.
The Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, or HR 2269, lays the groundwork for 100,000 jobs to repair infrastructure in the regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Introduced in May to the House of Representatives by Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat of California’s district 6, the bill is the result of a project started by groups local to the Bay Area.
The Speaker’s presence at her district office near the Civic Center at the Philip Burton Federal Building has brought the struggle to San Francisco. Organizers said before the rally that their efforts to get the Speaker’s attention have already been successful, as Pelosi’s office has already called them twice in the past two days.
Today’s rally was the next step in a much larger plan by a core group of local activists. The impetus for the bill came from a project started by San Jose State University students and their professor, Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton. A professor of sociology, Myers-Lipton showed his students Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke. “We all saw that and said, ‘Man, we have got to do something,'” says Myers-Lipton.
Inspired, the students and their professor headed down to New Orleans for what they called a “Lousiana Winter,” playing on the name of the “Mississippi Summer” of 1964 when northern students went to the South to register voters. It was January of 2007, and students went door to door asking residents what they would want out of federal legislation for the area. Thus began the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project.
“The people said, ‘We don’t want a minimum wage, we want a living wage, the prevailing wage… We don’t want a job that’s hard to get, we want a job that’s easy to get.'” Says Myers-Lipton. Also, he said, “We don’t want them climbing through 50,000 hoops.”
The result, say the project’s organizers, is a bill that provides jobs at fair wages to locals while rebuilding the area, thus bringing back lost services such as hospitals, schools and childcare. In addition, supporters say, the projects would protect the region from further storms. The bill has already gone to committee once, when it was introduced during the last session of congress. Currently in committee again, the bill may get wiped from the books next year if congress doesn’t vote it into law. The goal of this rally? Get Pelosi to move the bill.
At the rally, Diane Evans illustrates this point by displaying several forms of laxatives she’s bought at the corner drugstore. “I’ve got milk of magnesium, I’ve got Ex-Lax, and if that doesn’t work, I’ve got this enema!” A Katrina survivor who was living in the New Orleans neighborhood of Holly Grove when the storm hit, Evans wants to make it clear that the bill should get, er, moved out of committee ASAP.
Currently living in Burlingame, Evans wants New Orleans to get rebuilt so that renters like herself can move back home. “Did we own property in New Orleans? No,” she says, “but we had a life.” Reverend Jeff Moore of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP says that not only are rebuilding efforts not moving fast enough, but also the high wages paid to non-local workers are driving rents up. Moore has been involved in the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project since nearly the beginning, when the NAACP offered early support to the students’ plans.
“Jobs create pride in oneself, belief in oneself, and family unity,” says Moore. He also says family reunification should be a much higher priority. “If there was an earthquake here [in San Francisco], you’d want the people who were from here to be able to come back first and start rebuilding, wouldn’t you?” Evans agrees, saying, “What makes New Orleans special isn’t the place, it’s the people.”
By the time of the rally, organizers had secured a meeting with Pelosi to discuss ways in which her office could move the bill forward. “She has very specific, procedural ways in which she could move the bill,” says Myers-Lipton.