Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Map of New Orleans -- Finally and Too Late

Hard green spaces, yellow no build zones, and overlapping red circles of uncertainty and financial ruin. New Orleans exists in a thin gray sliver along the crescent river--much as it did before the first reconstruction after the Civil war, even before that time when the Houma and Choctaw Indians warned the newcomers of the risk of building too close to the Gulf.

Water pumps, levees, changed river paths, the pseudoscience of an industrial age and the political need to deny catastrophe to be elected and to build into the swamps (not just in New Orleans, but into St. Charles and St. Tammany parishes)--the motion of a society into a past too soon forgotten. The 1927 great flood detailed in The Rising Tide warned us all--in fact Loyola History students found it required reading. Every hurricane season we prayed against the "big one" and thought the Ursulines or Fr. Seton or Marie Laveau would hold our flood walls strong. We are a culture of irrational belief and plastic beads.

But to still believe that homeowners can rebuild, that mortgages will be paid off, that land will be worth anything close to what it used to be, that jobs will come back, that people will be able to live somewhere other than hotel rooms--these are dreams. The dreams are perpetuated by leaders who are afraid to tell the truth and afraid to lead the way forward--without waiting for federal help. New Orleans is no longer civilization--it is uncharted territory and requires the courage of an fearless explorer--a City Founder--not a rebuilder. There is not enough left to rebuild.

Volunteers and activists can help people eat and survive, but short of establishing collectives and microcosmic communities, they are not city builders. I do not mean "real estate developers"--I mean the kind of men or women who found their way to new lands and built cities where no city had been. Stop redrawing the old and break into the new.

For the residents--the owners of land and houses no longer habitable--the Second story dwellers: New Orleans is the largest Love Canal of the Nation. Land value and damages (physical and emotional) must be awarded to these people. They cannot be left to suffer the loss of this catastrophe while millions and billions go to government and private concerns. Give compensation directly to the people and let them decide whether to stay or go themselves--2 million each would be less than the billions spent and planned--and may free these people from the political and emotional slavery they face as each meeting and newspaper report cuts them again. They are battered and weary. Let them go.

I could leave. That is what freedom is about. I could sell and pay off my mortgage. I could move and come here to seek a job. I could have stayed and tried to find a job. CHOICE--that's the precious gift that few people in New Orleans have.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rochester Greens..My first meeting

Tonight I went to the Monroe County Green Party meeting in Rochester NY. I was welcomed and felt quite at home--almost too "at home." The topic at hand is voting reform--more specifically voting machines to be bought by Monroe County (as "recommended" on a list by NY State Boad of Elections). Again, no standard for all--no guarantee of open source code (each manaufacturer wants to own the code--not the public), no consistent method of documenting the votes by receipts that could be durable and trustworthy, and very little accessibly for challenged citizens. That Federal guidelines (HAVA) may be mandating updating the lever system still used in Western NY state, but what is being offered is little better.

Ironically, I come from a state well know for electoral corruption and malfeasance-- Louisiana. But I had to admit one aspect of NY election law astounded me--the extraordinary extent to which the state law has restricted the poltical party system to a 2 party system--down to election and poll workers and officials (still underfunded and understaffed). If national figures like Hillary Clinton and Pataki and Spitzer want America to look up to their work in NY, they had better take care of business in their own house. This election nightmare is shocking to this daughter of the South--especially since as an Independent and as Green in LA, I have been able to serve as a poll watcher and register to be a election worker. I have never been asked what my party was--nor have I been excluded because I was not in 1 of the 2 major parties! Live and learn. National Reform to ensure fair elections for all citizens in all states and in all communites of these United States is long overdue. NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. (I heard that somewhere...or maybe we should just dip our thumbs or forefingers in green or purple ink?).

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Here in Rochester, just like in the towns and cities I drove through to get here, people think New Orleans is almost back to normal. They think the bus tour through the "9th ward" is a few blocks long. They don't know about Lakeview, or West End, or Slidell, or the 5000 homes in today's list to be demolished in Orleans alone. They don't know about St. Bernard--they think all this devastation that was in the news is maybe 10 blocks square.

As I detail the width, the breadth, and especially the emotional/cultural/physical depth of the damage still, people look at me and become silent. As I say the street cars aren't running, that debris is still in the streets in New Orleans East, that job layoffs are continuing, that streetlights in many areas still aren't working, that too many "returning" citizens are 2nd story dwellers in gutted out homes---they become angry. Why haven't they been told? Why doesn't everyone know?

I don't know. But I do know that I want the whole world to go to Mardi Gras--to see the real news--not what is prettified for consumption. Take the gruesome bus tours through the 9th ward. Rent a car and drive in the darkness of New Orleans East and St. Bernard. Sit in emergency rooms of the hosptials and clinics that remain open--and try to talk to anyone. Listen to the silence. Miss the sounds of children who are still not back, of poor children still lost in the separating diaspora resulting from Katrina--no not Katrina--from the unimaginable chaos created by government neglect and lack of leadership at all levels.

Then scream to everyone you know--everyone you meet. Speak up. Stand up.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Start of a Life away from New Orleans

Part 1
I am a survivor of Katrina--I think. My house lost a couple of panes of glass and 24 feet of fascia--nothing really. No FEMA, No Red Cross, No claims. I housed a family from Pratt Drive (the Levee break was there). I gave furniture and clothes and food to people who were in need. Then I was laid off (ok so I could have fought to stay and beat out others who had lost houses and had families to support). But I am not generous. I have sold my house and driven out of town--all the way to New York state. Why?

I could not drive through Treme and the 9th Ward and St. Bernard and Lakeview. I kept seeing the faces of the women and families I knew and worked with--but in my mind's eye--not on the streets on their porches talking and calling out to each other.

I could not go down to the volunteer camps--I don't want to help people come back. I want to help them start over somewhere else. I can...because I am middle class. They can't because they are owned by the city, by the volunteers, by the ghosts of their mothers and grandmothers in this fiercely matriarchal city. The plantation economy that built their houses in the flood plains so they could work for nothing in the custodial and "tourist"service industries wants them back--of course. But why should the 1st reconstruction be followed by another so New Orleans genteel society can have its "better New Orleans" back? Better for whom?

I cannot conceive of Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest or gatherings in the old places among musicians and artists who make their day living cleaning houses or waiting tables? Who will go to the parades? Does anyone care that Big Chief Montana's costumes and the handmade regalia of the Mardi Gras Indians all over Central City soaked in flood waters for weeks, even months--rotting despite pleas from the community and the Indians themselves to let someone go inside the houses and rescue this history. What if the Rex or Comus archives had been threatened? Would Armed guards and City/State/Federal officials prevent the recovery of such history? Never.

I cannot work in the city. Yes, I have been laid off, but not just me. At first only some teachers were gone, then more, then private schools, then colleges, then community colleges, then doctors, then professionals at many levels. Yet the "word" is that education will bring New Orleans back. Where are the teachers? Where are the schools? Where are the children? And should the children be allowed back? Every mother and father must question whether "the city that care forgot" can provide safety, health, food, water, and normalcy for its own children?

I cannot go to buy food, or visit people, or talk on the phone, or read e-mail --even from NY without knowing how disabled the people in the city are. Lives have been put on hold, careers have been halted or changed, futures are questioned. Suicides, crying in the mall over the mortage for a house that is unhabitable, missing friends, who's here and who's gone: these are the everyday topics of casual conversation. I want to worry about silly stuff again--some gossip, Movies to see, Teenagers going to proms without chaperones (not without traffic lights in areas that remain dark and insecure).

Yes, people--brave people--are staying and will bring New Orleans back--hopefully not back--but forward. I am not brave. I am tired and cynical. I wish these people futures filled with hope, love, and all that a New Orleans can give to caring people. I hope the city never goes back to being the city that Care Forgot. It will never be the Big Easy--nothing is easy about New Orleans anymore.

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