Monday, November 27, 2006

NPR's John Burnett, Common Ground Relief

I’m in a good mood – I just wrapped up a good trip to Texas, and now that Thanksgiving’s past, I no longer have to click “next” when Christmas music comes up on my iTunes!

I’ve got a number of short post ideas, so over the next couple days I’ll post a couple blurbs at a time. I’ve seen so much here, met so many wonderful people, and felt quite a bit of growth these past three months! It’s going to be tough to leave next week. If it were up to me, I’d stay another 3-6 months after the holidays, but it’s not up to me. That said, away we go:

John Burnett
Burnett was one of NPR’s two Katrina correspondents. You could pretty much say he’s the reason DHS Secretary Chertoff finally learned of the Convention Center disaster. Burnett’s also covered Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Waco, and more. He wrote a book on his travels, and was at a local landmark bookstore a month or so ago to read, answer questions, and jam on his harmonica. I get to see events like that at Dartmouth all the time, so it was nice to have a touch of it here. I got a chuckle out of one of his stories – he was embedded in Iraq, and spent one firefight trying to make his 6’ 7” frame as tiny as possible in the back of a Humvee when an M16 slammed into his lap. “You’re from Texas!” screamed a Marine. “Use that thing!!” Burnett said he wanted to yell back, “Yeah, but I’m from AUSTIN!” I’ve got to remember that one! :-D Burnett has many personal memories of New Orleans, one of his favorite places in the world. Despite living in South America and covering Iraq and Waco, he called Katrina “the culminating horror” of his career as a journalist. Following the book reading (I’m reading the book now, and thoroughly recommend it), he played his harmonica with the guitar player hired to play before he spoke. There were only a few of us left, so it was almost like a private show! He was amazing – he takes three harmonicas with him everywhere he goes, and his whole body got into the playing. His official biography describes it as “bad-ass harmonica.” He was a fun guy.

Common Ground Relief
I’ve mentioned Common Ground a time or two, but I haven’t really explained it yet. They’re an amazing group headquartered in the upper ninth ward. Though they were founded amidst some controversy – one founder is a former Black Panther, and the other is under FBI investigation – they do amazing work. I visited their lower ninth ward distribution center once to learn about them. They have an extensive gutting program, focusing solely on the ninth ward. They also run a tool library, where residents can check out any tools necessary for gutting and rebuilding just like library books! They provide an Internet cafĂ© for working on government forms or contacting relatives, give away lots of donated clothing, and have some limited food distribution (four cans per visit, but they were big cans of meal items). CG is mostly known for its medical work – they have a free clinic in Algiers and helped to open one in the lower ninth. Their street medics (think nurses and EMTs on bikes) were among the first medical responders after the storm. You can imagine the shock residents felt when, after no sign of the government, a young white guy pulls up on a bike asking if they feel ok! CG also runs a small women’s shelter in the upper ninth ward. I’m not sure who the donation/volunteer base for Common Ground is, exactly. Most of their volunteers seem to be college-aged free spirit types. My guess is much of their support comes from people who want to donate to a secular Katrina group but are disillusioned with the Red Cross – but that’s just me running my mouth.

More to come!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


i thought you might be interested in this article which covers the events that lead to forming common ground.

thanks for the emntions, i just wanted to clarify.

at our height when NO ONE was on the ground we had 5,000 volunteers a week.

we risked our lives especially in the early days (literally) as i was almost shot by white vigilantes and the police
due to our politics of self determination
for the communities.
this is why the state brought us under investigation.

anyway thanks for your good work and good luck.

scott crow
co-founder of common ground