Friday, October 07, 2005


Please go to
  • Real Reports of Hurricane Relief
  • for more information.

    Sunday, October 02, 2005


    After a lapse of time, we’re back on this blog. Today we’ve added pictures and written commentary/descriptions of our experiences in Algiers, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. You will also find new links to important reports. In the coming days and weeks we will add audio recordings of interviews with local people, more pictures, stories, and commentary from the trip, updates from contacts that we made while there, and more important links.

    We want to use this blog to share what we saw, heard, and experienced with as many interested people as possible. A big piece of the history of this nation is being written right now. And we have the ability to affect it. We hope the blog does more than inform. We hope it inspires and mobilizes you to continue to support individuals from, and grassroots activities in, the Gulf region.

    It wasn’t easy to leave Algiers. Everyone in our San Francisco Bay Area caravan extended their stay because the need is so great and we were able to be so useful. We’re all back in the Bay (except Crystal, she’s in Flagstaff) and probably everyone of us is thinking about how and when we can return. I’d like to help more people go down there.

    If you are under the impression that the government is finally on the ground and serving everyone who needs help, you have been misled. There is a tremendous need for more volunteers. There are places that haven’t yet seen any aid. You don’t have to be a doctor or a construction worker or have any particular skill at all. You just need to be willing to seriously work. You need to know that at Common Ground and other grassroots efforts that I’m hearing about, the work isn’t charity, it’s solidarity. This is about supporting people to get through this most difficult time in whatever way we can AND about building infrastructure and community for the long-haul. No more band-aids, we want real change.


    What did we do? Many from our mostly medical and health care related caravan spent most of their time at the free community clinic that we helped set up. The tasks there included treating patients, organizing donated supplies, cleaning up debris in the area, coordinating the clinic to function smoothly, doing home visits with folks who couldn’t make it to the clinic, driving people to the nearest hospital for certain things, speaking with the media and the military, and making food for the clinic staff. The clinic has now seen over a thousand patients.Todd and I did a variety of other things as well. Garbage hauling, truck unloading, phone answering, bathroom cleaning and fliering about the clinic and where to get free hot meals and basic supplies. Todd took a lot of pictures and spent more time than he wanted uploading them to this blog. I did a fair amount of massage and spent a lot of time listening. I cried too. On our last night, Todd made a wonderful dinner for everyone. We met many wonderful local people and volunteers from all over.

    There’s a lot of energy going in many directions at Common Ground. Every day at least one team ventures out of Algiers and either scouts or helps out another area where people are not getting outside help. This is critically important work. The clinic operates every day, all day. When we left Algiers, folks were starting to come to the communications center to get help searching online for family and filling out FEMA forms.
    At Malik’s, trucks arrive daily and the supplies must be unloaded, sorted, and distributed. And there are the tasks of making the whole operation run smoothly: cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, refilling coolers with water, getting ice, answering the phone, etc.
    People arrive at and depart from Common Ground every day. The length of stay varies from a couple days to open-ended. The yard of Malik’s neighbor is a tent city where many volunteers sleep. Others sleep in Malik’s house, his front yard, inside the communications center (Malik’s neighbor’s place), or the clinic. Around 40 volunteers were accommodated in these ways while we were there. More housing is being arranged now. Just to note: Malik’s back yard is being used for supply storage.

    I don’t think Malik and Sharon (Malik’s wonderful and tireless partner) expected to be in the center of a force like what is now known as the Common Ground Collective. They responded to the hurricane by distributing food and within a few weeks it has grown dramatically into a community building and relief effort serving Algiers and numerous communities beyond. What’s so wonderful is that it’s all grassroots, people to people support.


    Something I think is really important to understand is how much trauma people are dealing with now and into the future. Mental health is a BIG concern. Everyone from New Orleans that I met is suffering multiple traumas at once. Almost everyone is missing at least one family member, friend, or co-worker. Not only their whereabouts are undetermined, but so is their existence –are they alive or dead? While some people were lucky and their homes are basically untouched, many, many other homes have either been lost completely or severely damaged. Whether one is a renter, a resident of a shelter, a home owner with a mortgage to pay, or someone who fully owns their home, one’s housing is in many cases unlivable as is. And most people haven’t yet been able to return to their homes to see what is left. Many don’t have the resources to return period. If and when folks do return to see their city and their homes I expect another wave of trauma will wash through them.

    Then there is the medical situation. For those who made it out safely and have resources, this is a non-issue. But many folks have not been getting the health care they need. It may be that they haven’t been able to fill a regular prescription due to the lack of money or access to a clinic. They might be suffering from an injury or a health problem that came on as a result of the hurricane, or like many, they may not have had the proper health care for years, if ever. At the free Common Ground Clinic in Algiers I saw numerous folks hear for the first time that they have high blood pressure or diabetes and how to take care of themselves. Many people rely on anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, and other mental illness related medications. What happens with them when they don’t have access to their medication? The issue of physical and financial access to medical care is a huge one.

    People lack food and other basic necessities as well. If one was poor before Katrina, one is even poorer now. A woman I met at the clinic was distraught as she told me she finally reached her bank by phone only to find that her account was empty. A loan company had decided to repay itself----before her money was even due. Her absolutely beautiful three-year old child played by her side. They left the clinic with a garbage bag filled with personal hygiene products and canned foods.

    Many people are further traumatized by having lived through the “evacuation” and/or the wrath of the hurricane. Holed up in their closets for ten hours, trapped on a highway or stuck in a dome with tens of thousands of others, people were frightened for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

    And then there was the looting. I’m not talking about people taking things they need from stores. I’m talking about the robbery that occurred in the homes of many poor people after they evacuated and the police decided to go AWOL. I visited two big housing developments in Algiers where nearly every apartment door was standing open and the insides were turned upside down, not from the hurricane, but from thieves taking advantage of the situation. A new friend, Kevin, took some of us to one such apartment complex to check on his home. It was ransacked, as was everyone of his neighbors’ apartments. All he had left was a pair of shorts and two t-shirts. Other Algiers residents who rode out the hurricane in their individual houses spoke of the sound of frequent gun shots and cars racing down their street. They feared for their lives.

    Some people feel extremely betrayed by the U.S. government’s response to the hurricane. I met folks who now feel that what they have believed about this country their entire lives is false. They feel they’ve been fooled and that makes them angry. Adjusting their perspectives from that of strong patriotism to one of intense distrust and disgust appears to be very traumatizing for them. It seems their worlds have turned upside down. Did I mention that the two people I spoke with most in depth about this voted for Bush?

    The future is really uncertain. Will they find their missing loved ones? Where will they live? When will they have a job again? Is it environmentally safe to go home? Will their home get bulldozed by FEMA? When will their city be rebuilt and will they be able to live there? The stress of all these unknowns can take a big toll.

    I’m emphasizing all this because I heard, saw, smelled, and felt these horrors while I was down there. I realize it’s very overwhelming to think about all of it at once. And that’s what hundreds of thousands of people from the Gulf Region are dealing directly with right now. This is real, and the effects of this hurricane and the response to it are going to last much, much longer than the news will report on it.

    It’s intense. I wish we could quickly make it all better, but it’s not that easy. One person, one household at a time is what we can do. And we must do what we can.


    All that said, there IS some “good” coming out of Katrina? The hurricane and the official response to it has fully exposed the racism of this country for all to witness. Some, not everyone, will allow this reality to seep into their consciousness and this will shift things. Those who allow themselves to see this racism, are angry, if they weren’t already. Anger, if understood, nurtured and organized, can lead to transformation not just in an individual, but on the societal level as well. That would be a very positive outcome of this massive disaster.

    That is to say there is an opening now. It is an especially important time for organizing, community building, sharing, learning and educating. As after other disasters and around election times, there’s a greater openness to conversing about poverty, race, class and politics, that are otherwise practically taboo. It’s a great time to act.

    There is so much need right now and many of us do not want to see Band-Aids applied, again, to temporarily quiet these needs. We want to see permanent change, real transformation. We want to see people standing up, providing what we need for ourselves in community. That’s what the Common Ground Collective is about. There is a lot of space for many more Common Grounds.

    Think. Act. Raise money. Go to the Gulf. Send others. Listen. Keep participating!!

    Saturday, October 01, 2005


    Just back from NEW ORLEANS, bay area members of the Common Ground Collective are giving two report backs
    in San Francisco…

    This Sunday, October 2nd at 7:00pm
    At Station 40, 3030B 16th Street @ Mission, San Francisco
    (be aware that you will climb two long flights of stairs)


    Next Sunday, October 9th at 7:00pm
    At Artists’ Television Access (ATA), 992 Valencia @ 21st, San Francisco
    (wheelchair accessible)

    Members of a medical and health care caravan who just returned from working in Algiers with the Common Ground Collective will share stories and a slide show.


    Tuesday, Oct. 4, 7pm
    An ANSWER Coalition Special Event
    Women’s Building, 3543 18th St (btwn Valencia & Guerrero) San Francisco

    Malik Rahim, a longtime community activist in New Orleans (and San Francisco), will talk about the situation in New Orleans today in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous response by the Bush administration and other government agencies. Malik, who lives in the Algiers section of New Orleans, will discuss the grassroots community relief and rebuilding efforts underway through the Common Ground Relief organization.

    Other participants in the program will include Maurice Campbell, Community First Coalition; Gloria La Riva and Bill Hackwell of ANSWER who traveled to New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston in the days following the disaster.

    A new 14-minutes video, “Heroes Not Looters: Eyewitness New Orleans and Houston,” will be shown.

    Donation of $3-10 requested. No one turned away for lack of funds.
    This event will be a fundraiser for Common Ground
    Relief in New Orleans.

    Friday, September 16, 2005


    If you can't make the trip, you can:
    1. Fund others to come down

    2. Send checks and needed goods to:

    Common Ground Relief
    P.O. Box 3216
    Gretna, LA 70054

    Note: Make checks payable to Common Ground Relief and
    Large shipments can be recieved at this P.O. Box

    A list of needed materials can be found at:

    Pictures from the city!

    We just got back from New Orlean's on Friday night. We took a little longer to get back. I am sorry I have not posted up to date stuff. Natasha and I will be updatig it in the next few weeks. We are both very busy catching up with our lives we left in San Francisco. I will be going away again on sunday, but I will try to get some photos up along the way. We have al lot to share from our trip!!!

    Thursday, September 15th, 2005

    Morning meeting. Lots of massaging of volunteers. I was very happy to massage Sharon, Malik’s partner in this whole operation, and Malik. Sharon evacuated her house in another area of the city and came to Malik’s to ride out the storm. She’s fundamental to the running of this whole effort.
    Things are very stressful just by the nature of the situation and because we know the authorities do not want this community to survive, they want the community to leave.
    Currenlty the law requiring MD’s and nurses working in Louisiana to have a Louisiana license has been overriden allowing doctors and nurses from anywhere to serve people here. It looks like that override will not be renewed, meaning that in within the next two weeks the clinic will have to have a Louisiana license MD on staff in order to write prescriptions. This is a big deal. We need more medically trained people, and ones for Louisiana are expecially important.
    At the clinic, things are more organized. The bicycle medics traveled around to treat folks in their homes again. I was there for less than an hour today and in that time I helped people look for things they needed -shampoo, soap, diapers, toothpaste/brushes, baby formula, tampons, etc. I got to play with some super cute kids too and help them pick out stuffed animals and books. The medics now have a nightly meeting.
    Oliver (the acupuncturist) and I (chinese bodyworker) did house calls today. Roger, a medic from the clinic, pointed us to two couples across the street from one another in Algiers. They wanted massage and acupuncture. We spent hours mostly listening to them talk about how they’re feeling and what has happened to them since the hurricane struck. They were seriously traumatized and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They had a LOT to say. None of them had experienced chinese medicine before. They were so grateful. We’re going back tomorrow to treat all of them again. We could really see a shift in their spirits by the time we left. They were much more in the present moment.
    Todd went to New Orleans with some press people and looked for a hotel room for a Belgian journalist named Gert. When they found that all the hotels were full, they went to the home of Todd’s friend, Jen, who had evacuated the city and said her place was available for people to stay in if necessary. Gert decided it wasn’t comfortable to stay there because of the horrible smell, the fear of being perceived as a looter, and the heavy military presence. Todd says things look like they are getting back to normal in the French Quarter and yet the city is really empty.
    Oliver treated folks with acupuncture most of the evening.

    Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

    We had the morning meeting. While trying to clear the driveway for Sun from MayDayDC to get a truck into Malik’s driveway i stepped into some grass and my foot and leg were invaded by fire ants. Fun times. I was rushed to the clinic and got superb care. The medics saw a bunch of clients in the morning, but the afternoon was real slow. Probably because the Walgreens opened and i heard there was a line two blocks long out the door. A post office also opened up and drew a ton of people to its doors. Local people are reporting that Walgreen’s prices are artificially high and that customers are paying more than a dollar more for items than they used to.
    The red cross came to Malik’s block for the first time since the hurricane, delivering a hot meal -ravioli, peas & apple sauce. Many deliveries to Malik’s from all over occur throughout each day and today one of the big ones was from a French organzation. They brought ten monitors, a bunch of computers & their fixin’s, a printer, etc. The communications center here is now offically hooked up and some of the computers will be brought to other locations for easy access by the community.
    Malik does many interviews throughout each day -tv, radio- there’s always someone asking him questions and recording his answers. I joined in and recorded one with Free Speech TV.
    Crystal from our crew and Kobie from Brooklyn went in the trade of plumbing. The kitchen sink at Malik’s had been really stuck. After using a snake and getting nowhere, they shoved a garden hose down the pipe and wadded up newspaper and shoved it around the hose and packed that with cardboard so that no amount of pressure could dislodge it. It worked -the clog was forced out!
    Lots of other things happened, many that i don’t even know about. More massaging of volunteers. Marenka went to Covington with Veterans for Peace folks. Bed.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Tuesday, September 13th, 2005
    We woke up and immediately participated in the daily morning meeting. It seemed a bit like a press conference because there’s a bunch of people here doing media. There’s a Danish television duo here making a documentary and there are several other people with video cameras and audio recording devices. Our entire crew went to the medical clinic, which is operating out of a mosque, all day and most of the night. We unloaded medical supplies from our vehicles, organized the supplies, the kitchen, and the hygiene donations for people to take. I spent a good amount of time cleaning up garbage around the clinic. The clinic was established a few days earlier and we were very much needed to build the infrastructure.
    Numerous people came from the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods to get treated. Plus, several medics went out on bicycle to see people not able to make it to the clinic themselves. High blood pressure is rampant and eating so many sodium-rich canned goods and the military’s MREs doesn’t help a bit. People are coming back for follow-up appointments. I talked with a bunch of patients and did one massage there. I also helped occupy children while their mothers collected donated hygiene supplies they needed in plastic garbage bags. Todd drove a bunch of patients to Jefferson hospital to pick-up prescriptions. He also drove an elderly character and his schizophrenic son to get free clothing at the Red Cross station that opened one or two days prior. FEMA is also here, they arrived a couple days before we did.

    ( Medical Center started by Common ground)
    Military personnel in full fatigues and gunned-up went around Algiers in groups handing out fliers announcing they opened a clinic, for two days--today and tomorrow. They also drove around in humvees making the announcement
    through a loudspeaker. A clinic for two days. It seems clear that the military is trying to work against the success of this clinic. This goal is for this is to create a permanent community clinic in Algiers.
    Cindy Sheehan and her crew came through Malik’s place and the clinic. It felt a bit like a politician on the campaign trail. It will probably help attract more volunteers, and that’s a good thing.
    A big group of us watched the sunset at the nearby levee looking over the Mississippi into New Orleasns. We had a big meeting at the clinic discussing important issues, including race dynamics. Curfew was at 9:00pm and not so bad. I massaged a number of volunteers. Bed..

    ( This is the Red Cross/Military food distribution center that opened up 1 day before we got there. The question is: what will the people do here when they leave? And what took two weeks for them to get here!?)
    7:04 pm
    Morgan City. Our plan is to sweet-talk our way passed the check point into Algiers. However, we’re expecting to have to camp outside Algiers. We’re disappointed.
    7:30 pm
    45 minutes from New Orleans on hwy 90. We’re a little over an hour behind one of the other trucks. We just spotted our first sign of military presence.
    9 pm
    One hour and counting in the check point line to Algiers. One of our vehicles made it through the checkpoint far ahead of us. Military police are walking up and down the line of cars.

    Our arrival
    After nearly three hours in the checkpoint line outside of New Orleans, the two lanes turned into one and it was time to roll down our windows to talk with military personnel. We were instructed by the folks in our caravan who got in an hour or so prior about how to get through. We rolled down the windows and handed all of our drivers’ licenses over and said we were part of an emergency medical team from California, that people were expecting us in Algiers, and that a truck full of people from our group already got through and another one was a ways behind us. Quickly we were waved to move forward. I couldn’t believe it, we got in!

    We drove through New Orleans, it was dark and difficult to see details around us. We did see lots of abandoned cars along the road and on the bridge. Most signs and lamp posts are bent at deep angles. Roof tops blown off, shingles everywhere, billboards blown-out, trees down, debris everywhere. Streetlights in parts of the city are on, while other areas are totally dark. No life, except stray dogs and cop cars. Really desolate. The feeling was something like what i feel in a funeral home -morbid, eerie, quiet, and empty.

    We descended from the West Bank Expressway on the General Degaulle exit and within minutes we pulled up to Malik’s house. It was 10:30pm. People greeted us from the porch with shouts as we drew near. We jumped out of the truck after a 57 hour, 2200 mile car ride and walked across the street to the house. Before we got there, a private security vehicle came toward us from down the street and the folks on the porch yelled for us to come through the gate and into the yard quickly. We didn’t understand what was happening and scuttled nervously into the yard. The car stopped in front of the house and the guys in the car drew their guns on us and didn’t say anything. We were on the street past curfew, see. The folks on the porch didn’t seem a bit phased. One African-American woman yelled, “Don’t worry, there’s only four black people left here.” Our group is mostly white, with two Asian-Americans. There are a lot more white people than black people already at Malik’s.

    Mostly everyone was extremely friendly. People were everywhere. The long hallway from the front door to the kitchen was lined with supplies. Malik was asleep. Marenka and i both did a little massage. Our third vehicle made it to the house around 12:30am. We set up tents in the front and back yards and several people slept uncovered on the porch. One guy who arrived days before us, named Blank, slept on the kitchen floor on a couple of couch cushions with the light shining on him all night. He says he can sleep anywhere.

    Around 1:15am one of our members went to the truck to have a private telephone conversation. A bunch of us saw her run to the truck and knew that she wasn’t clear about the severity of the curfew. We were very concerned and after 15 minutes i tried calling her phone, but she didn’t answer. I ran to the truck and told her that i wished she would come back because it wasn’t safe to be there. She said she’d be another two minutes, so i told her to duck if she sees another car coming down the road. I ran back to the house and an few minutes later a humvee came down the road with a moving search light. We were so scared for her. After they turned a corner, she ran back and realized how bad that situation could have been. She had ducked. After supposedly firing a warning shot, they can shoot you if you’re out after curfew.

    Monday, September 12th, 2005

    9:20 am
    I’m sixty-five miles west of Houston, in one of the three trucks in our small caravan to Louisiana. Oliver is driving and Marenka is considering sleep after driving half the night, while Democracy Now plays on the radio, coming out of KPFT FM. The electronic road signs state that Hwy 10 is closed in New Orleans, LA. I just left a voice message with a contact who has been moving between Austin and Algiers, asking where Hwy 10 is closed and if it will affect our ability to reach our ultimate destination, Algiers. Algiers is on the West Bank of New Orleans.

    Now we’re on our way to a mall parking lot on the outskirts of Houston to collect our posse. We’ll decide where we will drop off some of our donations to sort through for different shelters. Last night we finally made direct contact with Kori of the Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC). Thanks to the many, many people who responded to the call for donations, we have office supplies (copy and fax machine, office paper, pens, etc.) and $1218 to deliver to them.

    11:50 am
    Just got word that Kori from FFLIC is waiting for us in Sulphur, LA. We’re on our way. With no warning we’re hit by a crazy tropical storm – within seconds visibility decreased to 15 feet ahead of us. We keep moving slowly and steadily.

    12:05 pm
    We survived! The storm has cleared as quickly as it appeared.

    6:11 pm
    The last six hours have been ridiculously intense due to pressure to arrive in Algiers by the 6:00pm curfew, which obviously we have not achieved.

    At 2pm we had hit a parking lot of a traffic jam due to a semi truck driving off a bridge. Through smart maneuvering with and 4-wheel drive, we succeeded in cheating at least 30-40 minutes off an otherwise two hour delay of stop-and-go traffic.

    Later, in Sulphur, we met up with Kori Higgs of FFLIC at a gas station off the highway and transferred our donated office supplies (copy machine, fax machine, paper, pens, and $1,218.) Kori was extremely happy and thankful and repeatedly expressed FFLIC’s appreciation. They are still looking for a space to replace their office in New Orleans. Once they secure a new office location they will be able to respond to the amazing outpouring of support they have received from the email they sent out within days of the hurricane (included in Natasha’s email.)

    Also in Sulphur we filled up 30 gallons of gas canisters and bought 64 gallons of bottled water and lots of bug spray. At the gas station Michael Kozart asked about alternate routes from two dislocated residents of New Orleans. One man told Marenka, “Yeah, I used to live in New Orleans… up until the 29th.” He said their families are alive but in shelters and
    difficult to get a hold of. The other man said, “I’ve lived in New Orleans my whole life – 53 years. We’ve had hurricanes before. But this… It’s like a dream and I just haven’t woken up yet.” They inquired what we were doing with all the gas canisters. When we told them, one man asked how much we were getting paid to help. He was clearly surprised and pleased to know people are making deliveries without monetary compensation.

    oliver in rainstorm

    Sighting of highest gas prices...needless to say we didn't fill up.

    Border patrol near El Paso TX

    The caravan left from San Francisco on Saturday, September 10th, 2005 around noon.

    This blog is mostly being written by Natasha. She has no blogging experience whatsoever and little time to work on it. This blog is especially focused on communicating with the people who have supported this caravan’s efforts and who are considering coming here, so that they may have a better sense of what it’s like here and what we’re doing. Todd is the photographer. The information on this blog is not at all comprehensive about the work that, the Common Ground Collective, as the operation running out of Malik Rahim’s place is now being called, is doing. There’s so much work to do here, and so much being done, that getting the chance to write and finding out what everyone is doing is difficult. So, this blog will talk about what Natasha and the immediate people around her are doing. We hope it inspires others to donate their resources and time to this very fast-growing relief and community building effort!

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005



    This caravan’s mission is to support people directly affected by Hurricane Katrina as well as by the government’s appalling (non)response to the disaster. The nine of us make up one of the many pioneering grassroots response teams coming from all over the United States and the world bringing supplies, medical support, money, hands-on help and compassion.
    This is a beginning, where we solidify contacts, experience on-the-ground realities, contribute whatever is within our power, and report back to our respective communities so others may continue to respond with increased efficiency and effectiveness to those in desperate