What's really cruel, sick, and harmful?
On Monday August 28th the Yes Men managed to call the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s policies out for what they are; ethnic cleansing. By posing as HUD officials and announcing a dramatic shift in the Department’s plans for public housing they have forced HUD and HANO to explain why they are choosing to close and demolish perfectly good housing.
Posing as “Rene Oswin” a HUD assistant undersecretary, one of the Yes Men announced that HUD has chosen to rededicate itself to building up strong communities. One immediate action announced by the fake HUD representative would be to reopen public housing in New Orleans which remains closed off to residents more than a year after the storm even though the majority of units experienced only minor damage and flooding.
After the Yes Men’s ideal HUD announcement the real HUD and HANO shot back calling the hoax a cruel joke. They claimed that it was just another way of victimizing the victims of hurricane Katrina. Several large corporate media outlets have fallen in line with HUD’s attempt to speak for public housing residents.
But public housing residents feel differently about the hoax. Sam Jackson, a former resident of the B.W. Cooper development responded to the real HUD and HANO statements by saying, “I don’t want them speaking for me. They’re the ones who have cruelly shut families out of their homes. What the Yes Men did was great. It exposed the real HUD and what they’re trying to do – get rid of people.”
I interviewed Patricia Thomas, a resident of the Lafitte development, where the Yes Men staged a ribbon cutting and hosted a party for contractors who they asked to help them in reopening public housing. Thomas participated in the hoax and ribbon cutting event on Monday. Local and national media, including the New Orleans Times Picayune, claimed that Thomas was one of the many residents who were cruelly tricked into thinking that public housing was reopening. Below is the transcript of our conversation. Far from being cruelly tricked, Thomas says she was “tickled” by the Yes Men’s prank.
Speaking with residents who were involved in the Yes Men’s hoax, as well as with residents who were fooled like the rest of us communicates something far different from what the media spin doctors at HUD, HANO, and Fox News are trying to say. Rather than condemning the prank or feeling hurt from false hopes, many residents are cheering the Yes Men for their critical intervention into their ongoing struggle with HUD and HANO to reopen their homes. By making an announcement that HUD and HANO could easily make, and by getting contractors on record as stating that public housing could easily be cleaned, repaired and reopened in New Orleans, the Yes Men have exposed HUD’s policy of keeping housing closed as nothing more than an attempt to carry out crass social engineering, to hand land over to powerful real estate developers, and to get rid of thousands of the city’s poor black citizens.
Interview With Patricia Thomas, Lafitte Resident Who Helped the Yes Men Publicly Shame HUD (Conducted August 29th, 2006)
Darwin – Alright, what’s your full name?
Patricia – Patricia Savero Thomas.
Darwin – And you live in the Lafitte?
P – 2213 Lafitte.
D – Tell me about, what did you do yesterday? What was the action that you took part in yesterday?
P – Well, we wanted, you’ve seen that girls behaving badly? We wanted to do Housing behaving badly. You know, we invited the contractors out to see the houses, that the houses wasn’t messed up. Yeah, it was a hoax, you understand me? But they [HUD] done pulled off hoaxes too by telling us that we would be able to go back in our units and leaving us with nowhere to stay, and leaving me living in a deplorable house. I wasn’t angry or appalled at all. I was tickled that they [Yes Men] did that, because that shows that what ya’ll say is ‘messed up’ is not messed up. And Ray Nagin, I think you is sick. I think you need to see the doctor.
D – Yeah, so this was a way to show that what HUD is doing is cruel and is a hoax and a lie.
P – HUD, which one of the HUD’s the real HUD or the other HUD….
D – The real HUD.
P – The real HUD is a poor excuse for people, because you took houses from people that is houses that is still livable. And, you know, you’re telling us all these lies. Then you wouldn’t let us in our apartments while the media is down here. So I want to show parts of the world what you all is doing and what you all have done to us.
D – Now let me, let’s be real clear. So yesterday in the Times-Picayune they wrote up an article, and they said that you and other housing residents were duped into thinking that HUD is reopening apartments and that this was a cruel joke perpetrated on you, and… Now, now were you duped by these guys that were impersonating HUD, or were, you, you were in on this right?
P – Yes, yes, yes, yes…
D – And so explain to me, the strategy was what, to shame them?
P – Let me show you, it was to shame them [HUD]. It was to shame them to being a part of all these killers and murderers with the levy breaking and them saying that they’re not a fault with them shutting us out of our homes that’s possible to live in, leaving us homeless, sick, and dying. You know, it was, they didn’t hoax me brother. I was there all the while. She [Yes Men prankster] told me, she told me, she told me. And I didn’t care. You know, I just wanted, you know, for the people to come see know. Some of the people that came to see was from out of town, so whether they looked at me being hoaxed or not is going to be seen on television. And I spoke to some people from Russia. So prepare yourself. I was not hoaxed into doing nothing. I was not appalled, I was happy. I was eating barbeque chicken, potatos, salad, pork and beans, ribs, bread, water, they had cold drinks, That means if they did have a hoax they paid for it. FEMA ain’t given you nothing!
D – One more thing. Explain, explain, okay… So they brought in all these contractors, right,
P – [Laughing]
D - …tell that story again, and then what did the contractors say?
P – You see now, this man [Yes Men prankster], this man isn’t from the projects, but this man could feel what was going on with people in the projects so he went to one of the bigger meetings and invited the contractors out there, cause I was at the meeting, I thought the man was real. You dig? But then he told me, she [Yes Men prankster] told me that ‘no, it’s not real, but we just want to call their hand, we want to let HUD look like the pigs they are, the killers, the murderers they are. You understand me? They need to re-elect resident councils out of each and every development. Excluding Ms. Cynthia Wiggins, because she been there for her community, and I think you know Mr. Jomo, know a little more about the St. Bernard, the St. Bernard has been out here real in the Survivor’s Village….
D – But when they invited all these contractors out to Lafitte Yesterday, and they said, they said to these contractors, the fake HUD people said to these contractors ‘what would it take to re-open this development,’ what did those contractors who know what it would really take say…?
P – Let me tell you… They said it would take less than it costs, 30% of what it cost to put them iron gates on to fix them houses, because we climbed up ladders and looked into the upstairs unit, and they was like ‘awe, man!’ And if it was a hoax on me, it was a hoax on them too. But we still led them, ate barbeque chicken, like I said, potatos, salad, pork and beans, ribs, bread…
D – To conclude, to conclude. What should happen at Lafitte?
P – They should just open up the houses and go in on with their foolishness, you know what I’m saying. They’ve been letting people into their houses to look in their houses, but not since they knew that people [media] was going to be in there, you know what I’m saying, that they told us we can’t get in our units for a whole week. They want the contractors and stuff to leave, but that was the only way we was going to get the contractors to stay, you know, come, because they’re going to be leaving in a minute. You understand? So they had to see it. And it will be shown all over the United States and the world. I was not hoaxed into anything. My name is Patricia Thomas, being of sound mind and body, you heard that.
D – Thank you Sister-Sister.