How Art Can be a Catalyst for Change

On December 12th, 2015, New Orleans was the site of a special, one-day exhibit, Art for Rights, bringing together more than a dozen artists from around the world to highlight 12 of the most troubling human rights cases we face today. In honor of International Human Rights Day, and in conjunction with Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights campaign, each canvas told a bold story about injustice, persecution, and also courage. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Katrina, Six Years On: Criminal Justice and the NOPD

New Orleans Commemorates 5th Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans Commemorates 5th Anniversary Of Hurricane Katrina, © 2010 Getty Images

The longstanding problems of New Orleans’ criminal justice system were documented by Amnesty in its 2010 report Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast.  Now, six years after the levees broke in New Orleans, there is an opening for deep, lasting change in New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, when its community was most in need of protection, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) was involved in a stream of deadly incidents. Officers reported that soon after the flooding began, they were given permission to shoot looters by their second in command.

On September 2, police shot and killed a young African-American man, Henry Glover, then dumped his body in a car and set it on fire.  That night, a police officer shot Danny Brumfield, Sr., a 45 year old African-American man, in the back, killing him in front of the convention center. Matthew McDonald was killed by police the next day.  Then on September 4, seven NOPD police officers opened fire on a group of seven African Americans crossing Danziger Bridge, killing James Brissette and Ronald Madison.

Justice in these cases has taken years. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

War for Human Rights Existed Before Katrina

By Colette Pichon Battle, Gulf Coast Fellowship for Community Transformation

As community groups, survivors, advocates and families prepare to commemorate the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the region feels alive again – a stark contrast to what I returned home to in the wake of the storm in 2005.

It is hard to forget the sheer enormity of the damage. Entering any part of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina required survivors to find the courage to experience total destruction.

Gulf Coast Oil Clean Up

The right to livelihood and a healthy environment in the Gulf Coast were compounded by the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill. © Win McNamee/Getty Images

I call it an experience, because “experience” is not just what your eyes allow you to see, but includes what you smell, how odd things sound and what your soul feels.  As I drove through New Orleans, Chalmette, Slidell, Pearlington, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Bayou La Batre, Coden – hoping to find something other than the stark commonality of death, I only experienced complete ruin.  Over and over, the entire region was described as a war zone. And it was hard for me to believe that anything good would ever live here again while experiencing all that surrounded me.

Media images confirmed that the Gulf Coast was indeed a war zone. But the war for human rights existed before the wrath of Katrina.  A war where income, race and gender acted as indicators of your allegiance, and one where (like most wars) there could be no true victor.  The aftermath of Katrina was the moment when the nation agreed, through collective shock and dismay, that there are simply some things that no one should have to endure. It was in that moment that my country acknowledged what many of us had known for some time — that all was not well in the Deep South.

Much of the devastation of Katrina is no longer visible. Today the debris is cleared, most buildings have been rebuilt and many of the people, once displaced, have returned to begin anew.  But the brutal truth, five years later, is that all is not well. Practices that hurt the most vulnerable; policies that benefit the most powerful; and, systems designed to generate inequality – have also been rebuilt. Amnesty released a revised version of a report yesterday called an “Un-Natural Disaster which specifically highlights these persisting human rights violations.

With the survivors from the Gulf Coast, the nation must now choose to experience the courage to dismantle the structural inequity that subsists at the core of this country’s socio-politico systems.

The US now stands where people of the Gulf Coast stood five years ago – in the ruins from a flood of hate caused by breaches of human dignity; our moral responsibilities drowning in tidal surges of individualism; and, our liberty being uprooted by the deadly winds of privatization.

As victims of a national hurricane of fear and hate, we must do more than contemplate a just and equitable recovery if we are to weather this storm. Reminded by the images of Katrina, we must open our eyes to the poverty, racism and political disenfranchisement that exists throughout this country.

The Katrina 5th Anniversary commemoration will honor all that we have lost as a region and all that we have yet to achieve as a nation. We offer our prayers, music, tears and stories with the hopes of inspiring those outside the Gulf Coast to have the courage to engage in the experience of fighting for a better nation.

Right now, you can help empower Hurricane Katrina survivors during this time of recovery by calling on Congress to establish an Advisory Council that gives communities of color and low-income communities a voice (and a vote) in Gulf Coast clean-up efforts.

Colette Pichon Battle, Esq., is Program Director at the Gulf Coast Fellowship for Community Transformation.

AGM's one minute

This year’s AGM was a huge success! Over 600 Amnesty supporters were in attendance, ranging from staff to interns, to student activists and newly recruited members. At this year’s AGM 2010 All Rights for All People Conference, we decided to give Amnesty supporters one minute to share their excitement about the event.

We want to thank all who attended and made this event possible, and for those that missed out, here’s your one minute peek at this year’s AGM.

Watch other Amnesty supporters  give their “Amnesty Minute!

All Rights for All People Kicks Off Today!

AGM_smToday, we’re gathering with human rights advocates from around the world in New Orleans to demand and fight for all human rights for all people!  While the challenges facing human rights activists are great, the energy and determination to meet them are even greater. We’ll be mobilizing with those assembling in New Orleans to attack injustice from Burkino Faso to Biloxi, and grow an even stronger human rights movement.

Already the word is getting out:  today we’ve seen a spike in coverage about our reporting on the human rights abuses of Hurricane Katrina victims.  New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has become synonymous with the marginalization of people living in poverty in the richest country in the world.  The U.S. government and Gulf Coast states have consistently violated the human rights of hurricane victims since Hurricane Katrina killed about 1,800 people.  Check out the buzz:

> Amnesty: US guilty of Katrina-related abuses (The Washington Post)

> Amnesty International: Hurricane Katrina Victims Had Human Rights Violated (The Huffington Post)

Not Pretty: New Orleans Still Devastated Almost 5 Years After Katrina!?

AGM Countdown: In the run up to Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting in New Orleans this weekend, the Science for Human Rights program will be posting a new blog entry every day this week. All of the projects presented this week—and many more—will be at display in New Orleans.

With the AGM being in New Orleans this year, and as we are fast approaching the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast, Amnesty International is committed to raising awareness about the slow progress in housing recovery, as well as the demolition of public housing, and the problems of blight and homelessness in the city of New Orleans. Recent estimates of homelessness in New Orleans have ranged from nearly 10,000 individuals and families to as many as 12,000.

AI has been active in working to protect human rights in the Gulf Coast as the region rebuilds after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Initially focused on the right to housing, AI’s Rebuilding the Gulf project now focuses on promoting a broader range of human rights concerns that arise in disaster affected areas.

In an effort to raise the visibility of the human rights conditions in the region, Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights Program has created a visual representation of the level of destruction and lack of reconstruction using aerial images taken of the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, before and after Hurricane Katrina, and also by analyzing postal information by Census Block, again before and after Katrina hit. This information plainly shows how many people left the area and have not been able to return (or at least aren’t receiving mail any more) as well as the amount of infrastructure that was damaged, and as of 2009 when the aerial image was taken, hadn’t been repaired.

New Orleans postal data

Click image to see full visual

In addition to this visual representation, AI is creating a Google Earth Layer, implanting photos taken on a GPS camera from a recent AI mission to region, including stops in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans. These geo-referenced photos, along with some additional images, show the level of devastation that STILL exists to this day, as well as simultaneously demonstrating the lack of progress of reconstruction that has occurred, in particular to, the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. This GE layer will be uploaded to our website soon.

Although it has been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, much still remains to be done to rebuild the Gulf Coast. AI believes that the best and most effective way to secure and rebuild lives is by respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of those affected.

If you happen to be in New Orleans this weekend, please check out this project, and many other Science for Human Rights projects at AIUSA’s AGM.

Last Call for New Orleans: Bring people together and save

All Rights for All People human rights conference in New Orleans

All Rights for All People human rights conference in New Orleans

Online registration for the All Rights for All People conference has been extended until April 2nd!

That means there are only a few more days left to reserve your spot with us in New Orleans. To achieve the goal of all rights for all people, we need everyone to contribute. We want to bring as many people together as we can in New Orleans April 9-11th to share ideas, inspire and support each other, organize communities, and speak out on behalf of those who cannot.

Here are some ways you can help us make this possible and save big in the process:

You won’t want to miss out on all the cool opportunities to connect with human rights supporters from around the world and participate in critical human rights discussions, including:

  • Confronting the cycle of poverty – exposing slums, maternal mortality and corporate accountability
  • Assessing the human rights situation in New Orleans post-hurricane Katrina
  • Simulating crisis response strategies for the upcoming elections in Myanmar (Burma)
  • Lobbying 101 and legislative tactics for connecting with elected officials
  • Engaging the media to cover social issues and best practices for communicating your message
  • Exploring a multimedia art fair on human rights

And don’t forget a special celebrity guest will be joining us in New Orleans!

After you register, share the news on Facebook and post on Twitter using the hashtag #agm10.

Learn the newest and best strategies for human rights advocacy and mobilization from people who live the movement every day. There’s no better place than New Orleans to get inspired for helping all people achieve all rights!