The World’s Eyes on New Orleans…again: Eve of the SPP

“I live in New Orleans, I don’t have time for anything else.”

This phrase written–with no explanations or clarifying context–in my notebook. Maybe I was thinking it, maybe someone else said it, but either way it struck a chord that I am still feeling two weeks later. Not that I don’t read and listen to events in other parts of the earth. News of people’s struggles is my lifeblood, inspiration for all the work that I do and no doubt connected in our global struggle against imperialism and corporate capitalism and for direct democracy and the healthiness of the earth, land on which we live and eat and breath. (I reflect now on Zimbabwe’s three week delayed election results, on the recent events in Tibet, on the almost surreal parade of the Olympic torch, and the sensory-numbing consistency in the attrition of life, health and history in Iraq and Palestine that might drive us all to irrational means of survival if faced with starvation and silence.)

Peace be on every just being tonight. And let nightmares fall on President Bush, President Calderon and Prime Minister Harper on their way to New Orleans for a behind closed doors meeting to spread complete US hegemony to two nations already blackmailed into NAFTA and other agreements that have the force of law. The summit meeting of the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” is executive branch only.

If any enforceable decisions come out of this bypassing, or coup, of the republic/democratic (small d) tradition than it would be a strong and clear move toward fascism. A president is meant to be a nation’s head of government, an inspiring voice of strength and reality in difficult times, its leading diplomat to the world and in touch with its peoples concerns that it can assist, with the initiative of representatives, in translating into law.

The foundation of law in this country has a long and ambivalent history of maintaining slavery while hypocritically alleging free speech, free assembly, free choice of religion in the first amendment in the constitution.

It seems just at a time when citizens continue to hold this country to those ideals and they’re starting to gain traction, its leaders have partially abandoned that foundation, that process of representation and checks and balances (the judiciary hardly even tries to check the executive branch right now). Democrats, of course, are against the SPP (though you would hardly know it with their silence) because Bush is a Republican and Republicans carry on as if these summits are business as usual–indeed a cause for profit-sharing celebration–rather than an affront to democratic and republican principles of governance.

Here, in an ode to Vermont’s lively successionist movement, I say: break your allegiance with the state. when it becomes foe to the least capable of us spirited and honest folks, when it refuses to acknowledge discrimination and the human rights to shelter, food and health, then we know its function is outdated and must be replaced within our own communities by building relationships and unified, but autonomous organizing that will continue to heal, re-energize and spread the love and support of an across-educated (across cultures, classes, borders), liberated and participatory society.

through experience, and the sharing and listening of all our stories and histories and knowledge bound up together, with an endless commitment to each other as human beings we will grow to sustain, support and check each other’s survival, needs, wants, desires and visions for maintaining our unique thread in an intricate tapestry of justice.

Published in: on April 21, 2008 at 3:07 am  Comments (1)  
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NEXT WEEK: People’s Summit in New Orleans! Counter the new NAFTA!

The People’s Summit : Our Response to NAFTA Expansion

April 20 – 22, 2008 · New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Coming together for our communities

Linking the Gulf Coast struggle to the fight for the survival of communities in Mexico, Canada, & the rest of the United States

Building collective knowledge and action to transform NAFTA & other unjust economic policies pushed by Bush, Calderon, & Harper

Sunday, 4/20

12:30 pm – NAFTA Workshop in coordination with the New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival. FREE at Zeitgeist.

1:30 pm – Press Conference outside Ashe Cultural Center, 1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

3pm-5pm: Pick-up Soccer at City Park. Go on Orleans Ave. away from French Quarter a couple miles until City Park Ave where it turns into Marconi Blvd (on western edge of C.P. ). Stay on Marconi underneath Interstate 610, fields on left between road and a canal.

6pm: Conclusion of New Orleans Fifth Annual International Human Rights Film Festival with Jena 6 Documentary and Panel. Perhaps a social gathering

Monday, 4/21

9am – 12pm Community Tour of New Orleans & Story Circles along Algiers Riverfront (a ferry’s ride across from the French Quarter, pick up at base of Canal St. & leaves on :15 and :45 of every hour from Canal Side, :00 and :30 from Algiers Riverfront side)

12 – 1:30pm Opening Ceremony & Lunch along Algiers Riverfront

2pm – 5pm Understanding Who Profits & How: NAFTA+ and Katrina Profiteering (Craige Cultural Center)

5pm – 6pm Dinner

6pm – 9pm Understanding Who Profits & How: NAFTA+ and Katrina Profiteering (for day workin folks; also at Craige Cultural Center)

Tuesday, 4/22

9am – 12pm Self-organized sessions

1pm – 4pm Self-organized sessions

6pm – 9pm Breaking Inferiority & Superiority to Restore Ourselves & Our Communities

Locations of Workshops: McKenna Museum of African American Art (2003 Carondelet St.), Craige Cultural Center (1800 Newton St. on West Bank/Algiers), Loyola University, Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church/Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (5130 Chartres St.)


Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 3:05 am  Comments (1)  
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Through the Neighborhoods, Riled Up in the Cold

On my way home from anti-racism meetings and couching at friends’ houses in the lower garden district, I pass many a sight.  I cross the barren nightly scene of the Central Business District, or CBD to locals, which, due to its proximity to the lively French Quarter, is akin to the ghost on the other side of your bedroom door or quiet monster under the bed.    From there, I usually travel along the perimeter of the FQ up Canal Street and turn right onto Claiborne, at the intersection where most of the public homeless congregate together.

And tonight I was outraged.  Because it stinks of urine over there.  I don’t say this for my sake.  I have no problem smelling urine for a good ten to fifteen seconds as I pass, but people have to live among that scent, which no doubt seeps into their clothes and likely stigmatizes them at work, creating further alienation with the rest of their working peers.

And I’m pissed because the city was responsible for changing out the port-o-potties back in December, January and February when Duncan Plaza folks were booted out and the homeless got front page coverage in both the Times-Picayune and the Gambit Weekly.  Soon it came to light that the toilets were overflowing with waste.  The city continues to lack the will and the heart to change out the port-o-potty and help maintain people’s dignity.  Maybe the responsibility is in other hands, or the city outright removed the facilities, but there ought to be some way for the area to be cleaned up so working folks who live there can feel secure that there is no chance of being discriminated against or harassed due to the ubiquitous scent of urine.

Anyway, traveling down Claiborne, thinking of all this, I come upon Lafitte.  The last public housing development to remain standing, Lafitte is now also being torn down.  It was a slow process. First, contractors and the Housing Authority of New Orleans claimed they were doing asbestos remediation as they removed beautiful orange beige terra cotta tiles from the rooftops, dropped them needlessly forty feet to their shattering death.  The roofs, left uncovered, were no doubt in danger of becoming moldy with any significant rain, a way for HANO/HUD to make demolition inevitable despite the mayor’s delay in signing the Lafitte permits.

However, soon enough, Nagin said he had been given all the information he had requested from HANO/HUD and signed the permits for demolition.  The first building came down last week.  Strangely, a dozen or so buildings on the river side of the development, close to Claiborne Ave. remain open (rather than behind a barb-wire fence) and some even have new doors installed.  This is due to Providence/Catholic Charities plan to demolish the buildings in stages.

Approximately 100 people will live fifty feet from buildings being torn down that look and feel exactly the same as the doorways in which they stand, watching the bricks fall.   Living, breathing, surviving, loving, growing, playing, eating in homes that HUD continues to claim were too damaged in the Federal Flood to renovate.

And onward home, I go full of hurt for people I hardly know and rage for cold political power in offices in other cities (and Nagin in Dallas…) that do not feel such hurt.

There is shame in deceit in plain sight without retreat.

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Film Bonanza — a year of reviews in the making

They may not be pretty, funny or insightful, but perhaps you’ll learn something new.

That’s what I said to myself as I bought a Patron membership to Zeitgeist, the indie/alternative theater in New Orleans, which shows a global selection of hard to find current films.  Especially in Louisiana, the types of films that Zeitgeist projects usually never see the light.

I now get to see any film shown there for free for a year and I’ve already seen three: Manda Bala, Bab’Aziz, and The Violin.  (I may say something about these down the line now that I’m writing again.)

In addition, The New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival is happening NOW, and I’ll make an appearance there later in the week, especially on April 20 for the Jena 6 film screening and panel.

To wondrous mindful engaging passivity!! (it has its place)

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 4:08 am  Comments (1)  

Fenced Out at Duncan Plaza

Last December the state hastily decided that they needed to demolish their building north of Duncan Plaza,  a public park across the street from New Orleans City Hall.   Not surprisingly like so many other claims and projects in New Orleans, literally nothing has changed. Except the grass.  There remains the same eight foot tall barb-wired fence encircling the perimeter of the park that existed in late December when the state declared it would be demolishing the building, but with the fence up, there was little reason to actually go through with anything.

The state’s inaction is entirely due to the fact that the whole point was merely to erect the fence in order to usher out its inhabitants.

Prior to the state’s declaration, a strong and organized homeless encampment existed at Duncan Plaza.   Nearly two hundred people slept the night in the park, many occupying bright red tents visible from the road.  From July 2007, a particular subgroup of motivated people organized themselves into “Homeless Pride,” which had vocal leadership who spoke to the city council and other aid agencies in the fall of 2007.  The political group was gaining steam, and attendance at Duncan Plaza increased as folks felt more secure in a lighted and well populated area where a culture of respect and camaraderie was growing.

It was no secret that the mayor found the sight to be an eyesore for the city’s tourism image.  Consistently Mayor Ray Nagin has tried to find his own solutions to the increase of homeless in New Orleans, from 6,000 before the Federal Flood to 12,000, rather than asking national experts and the homeless themselves to see what care they needed and what solutions would work in the long term.

It seems unlikely that there was any intention of demolishing the building in late December without the proper demolition permits and contracts in the works.  It most decidedly could have been, and this is speculation, a safe political favor asked by the mayor of the state to funnel homeless folks back under the Claiborne bridge just blocks away and break up the difficult gains of organizing the homeless that Homeless Pride had succeeded in accomplishing over the past six months.

Now, in mid-April, the fence is still standing, the building is still standing and the hot political debate no longer is the homeless issue.   Signs on the ground behind the metal lattice, read “Duncan Plaza closed due to demolition.”  However, in defiance, someone managed to jump the fence and crossed out the words “due” and “demolition,” and added a phrase in thick sharpie to remake the sign, to bend it toward truth as they saw it: “Duncan Plaza closed to keep ignoring the homeless.”

The resistance will live on.  The question is, what form will it take?

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 4:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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William Buckley Died. We all do. Do our ideas die too?

Sitting here watching C-SPAN, in a somewhat throwback to summer 2007 when a roommate and I had a genuine crush on the network that talks about books and shows you how boring the insides of the congressional halls can be (at least the language is a bit dry from the podiums, no doubt sneers and IOU’s flitter about the chambers). It is a bit strange to be watching a panel honoring William Buckley Jr.’s life. He is founder of National Review, a conservative opinion journal, and “Firing Line,” a public television debate show that I recall featured Noam Chomsky during the Vietnam War. Yes, it was memorable and elitist, and despite promises that Buckley would invite him back, Chomsky never did appear again on Firing Line. And not that he cared. In response to Buckley’s death, Chomsky was on video recalling how it hardly much mattered how the show back in 1969 went. Further Chomsky recalled how Buckley, compared to the neoconservatives he rebuked with the result of the Iraq War but held great influence over during their youth or as their parents peers (the Bush family being an example), was of a certain aristocratic and potentially imperialistic intellectual breed that now looks quite moderate and tame.

When I rewatched the Chomsky-Buckley debate and Buckley’s ruckus with Gore Vidal, I did not see a tame Buckley, but someone very committed to nationalism and a full defender of those political boundaries including their monarchical or colonial histories (though he was slow to acknowledge it). He was as well, not surprisingly, intolerant of certain types of dissent spreading across the country–especially the idea that the United States could be wrong as a political and military intervener, constantly referring to the landing on the Normandy beach to save the French, which Chomsky tactfully dismissed as a useful comparison by noting the difference as a foreign occupier versus a civil war, something that obviously resonates strongly today.

Watching this particular panel on C-SPAN, much like an old roommate of mine would watch FOX News Channel and Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, I wanted to get the inside scoop from people I don’t talk with about politics very often. Why did conservatives adore William Buckley? They complimented his prolific writing (author of 50 books and thousands of columns) that provided critical momentum, constant reflection and consistency to conservative political thought in the second half of the twentieth century. And perhaps sourly noted (my friends often intone the “Too Soon!” reference), a conservative scholar addressed that most of Buckley’s books would not hold up over time because he had no real epic work, Up From Liberalism being mentioned as a very good short criticism of liberalism though hardly a positive construction of conservative thought–also, only a select few were even still in print. They said he stuck to principles rather than a certain historical romanticism or sentiment that influences the left. This tactic, however, pushes out the obvious: everybody romanticizes. They romanticized that Buckley stood firm to principles without ever wavering. They described how he was against the increase of the size of the state, bureaucracy, etc. Minutes later, watching the 1969 debate, I saw him back the state’s authority, use of taxes (which would seem to only increase) to intervene in Vietnam’s affairs. With his desertion of backing the Iraq War, Buckley naturally changed in some ways according the context of different situations, as we all do as political and social human beings.I must say, the commentators made sure to add that Buckley was in full support of the war on terror and Islamo-Facism. I can understand much of these tendencies, but often feel politicians of every stripe too often conflate the necessity of terrorism in response to and a consequence of a lack of human needs–allowing people land to grow food, build homes, access to water–with the choice of being a terrorist. For many, it is a false choice–for they and their families will likely not survive unless they form alternate means.

Anyway that is a much larger discussion, which I hope to open up. Please add your voices to the chorus with comments.

ps. it was weird that i agreed with George Will, a conservative columnist, on several things. He seems to be a realistic person and extremely witty though his arguments ring a bit hallow.  The whole night reeked a bit too much of white male elitist culture–the panel’s participants had the in joke of one-upping each other with latin  phrases.

Published in: on April 13, 2008 at 3:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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