New Orleans is at the forefront…

…of another trend, but this is one that we pretend doesn’t exist: as the recipient of the effects of climate change. Yesterday the city of New Orleans had another of those weather events that never used to happen. Dangerous winds, flash flooding and sideways rain swamping the city within a few hours, destroying the preparations for a festival about to open its doors in the Mid City area of town. This is how my pal, legendary hatmaker Tracy Thomson of Kabuki Hats described what happened there:

It happened about an hour before the Fest was scheduled to begin; we had just started setting out inventory when the winds picked up. We both were in the tent trying to hold it down, during a frightening half hour when we heard screams and wails and crashes. At one point our side walls unzipped with the force of the wind; I peeped out and it looked like our tent was the only one left standing. After what seemed an eternity I was looking right at andy as he was holding down the tent when the wind lifted him right off the ground and he and tent went flying. Nothing left but a mangled mess was left, the same all around us.

Monitoring Twitter and FB throughout, I felt the fear and stress from those stuck at that venue as well as from dozens of other spots as people sat in their cars with water rising and smartphone battery draining, saw trees topple around them or looked out a restaurant window, unsure if it was safe to head home. I had water rising in my courtyard and even noticed it creeping over the front curb close to the doors of the businesses here in the highest point of the city. That level of rain had only happened a few times before in my almost 40-years of monitoring the Quarter.

The weather lady of New Orleans, Margaret Orr was on the air for the entire storm, doing her best to analyze the evolving situation (her awe and excitement over the number of lightning strikes during a storm is one of her charming quirks) while calming folks down. As usual, she was exactly right when she talked about the reason this is happening: extreme heat in the region, more moisture in the air and less land between us and the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, most New Orleanians didn’t hear that. They only want to talk about one thing- how the “pumps clearly weren’t working.” That narrative is of course based on the recent history of finding out during the LAST flash flood in 2017, SWB had many pumps offline or without personnel and that much of the power supply was offline too. We only found that out after first they lied and said just about everything had been working. So I get it; we got snookered, but even in 2017 what was missing in most people’s analysis is that the city would STILL have flooded based on the amount of rain; it would just have drained hours earlier.

So this time the truth was once again wrapped in a little hysteria, with a big helping of what author-activist Rebecca Solnit calls naïve cynicism brilliantly described in this passage:

If simplification means reducing things to their essentials, oversimplification tosses aside the essential as well. It is a relentless pursuit of certainty and clarity in a world that generally offers neither, a desire to shove nuances and complexities into clear-cut binaries. Naïve cynicism concerns me because it flattens out the past and the future, and because it reduces the motivation to participate in public life, public discourse, and even intelligent conversation that distinguishes shades of gray, ambiguities and ambivalences, uncertainties, unknowns, and opportunities. Instead, we conduct our conversations like wars, and the heavy artillery of grim confidence is the weapon many reach for.

Magazine Pacific Standard highlighted a recent study on how potential coastal flooding is being ignored especially by those who will lose the most:

But humans, apparently, are not all that rational. Despite clear evidence of rising global temperatures, over a third of Americans don’t believe that climate change is happening, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Only 45 percent think that it will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

Most significantly, if you live by the coast, you’re likely to be less—not more—worried about sea-level rise and flooding than those who live inland, according to Bakkensen and Lint’s research.

Here is what we know.

The pumps of our city are designed to quickly pump an inch of rain the first hour of a storm and then continue at the rate of a half inch. Using the verified rainfall reports during the storm, we had already had 3-5 inches of rain in different parts of the city in a span of 2-3 hours. Please do the math.

We have had an incredible amount of new construction in every neighborhood, mostly taking more green space away or adding weight and size to what had been mostly smaller, more appropriate housing stock pre-Katrina. Everything after 2005 is bigger.

Some of the new council reported on social media during the storm they were checking in to the pumping stations which were operating. The mayor monitored the situation first-hand in person with her directors including those from the SWB, tweeting and posting updates on pumps and issues throughout.

As soon as the rain slowed, the streets cleared quickly.

So a very different situation than 2017. Yet immediately the naive cynicism began: The mayor wasn’t paying attention, the water had “never” been that high previously, every elected official was probably out of town, no rain had been forecasted and so on.

The truth: The rain forecast was only for 20% but pop up storms were said to be very possible especially in afternoon according to the newscasts I watched the night before. Unfortunately, the worst came during the Friday afternoon/night commute and so more people were out on the streets and cut off from their neighborhoods by rising water in all directions; construction sites were not properly secured so people drove into holes where the fencing had blown away or the materials for that construction blocked folks from getting their cars to high ground; based on secondhand reports, the festival staff mentioned previously seemed to not be monitoring the radar closely enough or to have a plan for emergency weather once it began.

None of that was going to be solved by having more pumps.

The bigger issue is what one of the most endangered coasts in the Americas is beginning to deal with regularly.

The rise of sea level is the fastest it has been in the last 2 millennia. We are closer than ever to the Gulf as land slips away and the chemical and oil companies continue to cut away our land to add more pipes to take out more resources. We have lost more than 2,000 square miles since the 1930s. This spring, we have already often had temperatures around 10 degrees higher than normal with very little rain, and this after a colder than average winter. In other words, more extremes. (NOAA released their monthly climate report, making April the 400th consecutive month of above-average temperatures globally.) The summer heat brings those storms that are not part of distinct fronts, but flare up on “subtle outflow boundaries from previous thunderstorms, sea-breeze fronts, higher terrain or in a more random pattern.”  Which means they don’t move very fast either.

The irony is that engineering that everyone expects to save us is how we got into this mess. As geographer/author Rich Campanella has carefully explained to us again and again, “When runoff is removed and artificial levees prevent the river from overtopping, the groundwater lowers, the soils dry out, and the organic matter decays. All this creates air pockets in the soil body, into which those sand, silt, and clay particles settle, consolidate—and drop below sea level.” So yes, the city used to be 100% above sea level; now, it is 50%.

That scarier, less manageable truth also needs to be incorporated into the vital city government need for fixing our current water management system. So sure, absolutely keep an eye on SWB and City Hall but also:

Support the Greater New Orleans Water Plan and the restoration of wetlands. Join the city’s Adopt a Catch Basin program. Reduce runoff on your property by reducing the concrete, cut back on the release of carbon dioxide – especially in summer- with fewer trips in vehicles and less charcoal grilling, try for an economic use of air-conditioning, plant trees, reduce, reuse, recycle (and as someone recently said to me, remember those 3 are meant to be a priority of actions not a choice of one over the other!), add insulation, use CFL light bulbs, turn your hot water tank down, get an audit of other energy uses around your home and workplace and fight the sale of our remaining land to corporations interested in only their profits over our needs and the rightful sovereignty of native people.

Understand the reality at home and around our globe. Be wise and fair AND firm with your city leaders and your world and maybe we can stop the worst of this and get away from being at the front of the pack of those cities that may be soon lost due to climate change.






 Lessons from the School of Radical Change: Notes of a Slow Learner


The link at the end of this post will send you to one of the best pieces I have read on the maturation of an activist. For me, this essay by New Orleans activist-writer John Clark is up there with Michael Harrington’s autobiography and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s memoir of her participation in the 1960s-1970s social movements, which includes her time spent around New Orleans. I’ll also add Diana di Prima’s second memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman and Sonia Johnson’s story of her excommunication from the Mormon Church for her feminist activism in From Housewife to Heretic.

John Clark is a legend among those of us organizing around direct action, liberation, and social ecology – and not just here in Louisiana. As a matter of fact, it was his name that made my acquaintance with the great Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft in San Francisco in 2006. I had gone out there with a few Louisiana fishing families to gain them some new long term buyers of their products while our state was still in shock and its people mostly still evacuated. While out there, I contacted a few names in movement work working on place and equity, including Peter and Judy’s Planet Drum Foundation. Berg’s name was already known to me for his guerilla theater (a term he coined in l963) work in the 60s through his amazing Diggers and before that, with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, but I knew nothing of his Planet Drum efforts until I read about it in one of Gary Snyder’s books. Once I investigated their site, it seemed a great fit for recalibrating my own post-disaster framework and so I sought them out. They immediately answered my email and invited me for lunch in the Mission District, taking me on a tour of community places, and then to lunch where they gave me gifts of wooden utensils and an envelope of Peter’s poems.

The pair asked after Clark, who I had only met once or twice, but of course, knew from events around town and through our shared workplace, Loyola University. That Clark connection led me into a deep conversation with Peter and Judy over a few hours where they listened to me describe the conditions we were facing in New Orleans. Peter finally said to me, “Well, it seems to me you just need to keep agitating, keep eyes on it, keep being there. Shout about it, cry about it but be there.”

The truth was,  I was thinking about possibly bolting from New Orleans for a short time to recover my own equilibrium and peace. Their conversation and the reminder of Clark et al being back home doing revelatory work rekindled my desire to stay in New Orleans, in my little FEMA trailer on the bayou.

Additionally, John’s writings have helped me define my own world ethic and opened the door to knowledge a little wider, connecting me to writers that I would not have found on my own. As an autodidact, I rely on the informal and relational to find my education and so I was surprised as anyone to find a university professor as one of my wells of knowledge.

This piece is a reflection of his time agitating, shouting, crying and being there around the American Alligator region of Turtle Island.


A visual of the American Alligator region


Perhaps the most decisive turning point in the transformation of my perspective on radical change occurred in 2005, when I experienced the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, the devastation of much of New Orleans in the flooding, and the corporate capitalist and structurally racist re-engineering of the city in the post-Katrina period. I learned the most important lessons from participation in Post-Katrina grassroots recovery communities.  I learned to appreciate more deeply the meaning of crisis and collapse. I learned about the role of trauma in personal and group transformation. I learned that another good criterion for assessing groups is the extent to which at crucial moments they put aside everything that is merely habitual and inessential and respond whole-heartedly to the greatest and most vital needs.


… I decided a few years ago that it was necessary to leave the university where I taught for decades, and to start working more directly, full-time, for the process of social and ecological regeneration. I started a project called La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology, situated on what has now grown to 87 acres at Bayou La Terre, in addition to having programs in New Orleans, to help pursue this work. I have learned from the early stages of the project that it is urgently necessary to find a small community of similarly motivated people who can work together, in order to make this undertaking a success.

I have become preoccupied with the question of how, given the actual conditions in the world, we can break with, and then overcome, the capitalist, statist, patriarchal system of domination, and prevent global collapse, while at the same time creating a free, just, and caring society.  I have learned that it is necessary to focus carefully on the question: “What is the decisive step?” or perhaps more accurately, “What is the decisive process?” A few years ago, in a book called The Impossible Community, a work that was very much a product of the Post-Katrina experience, I argued for the need to address at once all the primary spheres of social determination. These include the social institutional structure, the social ideology, the social imaginary, and the social ethos. I concluded that to achieve this goal the most urgent necessity is the creation of small communities of liberation and solidarity, of awakening and care.


PM Press – Lessons from the School of Radical Change: Notes of a Slow Learner

Props to a seed carrier

….In the heart of the feminine nature of Seed Carriers lives the instinctual calling to be intentionally aware of the essence and influence of every thought and emotion, of each spoken word and action taken. Our personal and collective future – all that comes to be – grows out of our here and now choice-making.

So what do you want to be seeding…
…in your life?
…on the earth?
…for the generations to come?

Copyright © 2011 JoAnne Dodgson

A friend left us this week. True to her life, the news was quietly passed from friend to friend with everyone wishing they had seen her just once more and could smile at her, thereby passing joy back to her. We were flabbergasted that she was the one who was taken, as she was a healer with a very strong life force.  But as she said recently in her gentle way:

We’re all going to get something.

I don’t have to be the impervious, always healthy Tai Chi teacher.

I am simply a human being.

That illness should not define her – even her passing –  so I won’t focus on it except to say she handled it with courage and grace and love and used it to share her very personal but teachable moment to us all.

Marilyn Yank. That is her name. I always liked her name. It suited her: a bit formal yet graceful with a strong old-world finish.


Photo by Cheryl Gerber for Gambit

I met Marilyn when she moved to New Orleans with her partner, Anna Maria Signorelli. Anna Maria was a New Orleanian and they moved here partly because all New Orleanians are unhappy when away from here and partly because Marilyn had taken over the care of her ailing father  and the Signorelli family was here to depend on. And the weather was warm and sunny and moist most of the time and the two of them were deeply dedicated to farming the land. Maybe there were other reasons too that I am unaware of that mattered. They had come from Austin where Anna Maria had taken the helm of the Sustainable Food Center after its dynamic founder had moved to bigger work. Marilyn was working on the La Cochina Alegre project there; a team was born. I remember Marilyn told me they lived in a tent together while learning sustainable farming in Santa Cruz and once they made it through that, she knew they were partners for life.

Once back here, Anna Maria was immediately in her element.  I assume that she was like that when they were in Austin too cuz she is a powerhouse especially (as Marilyn always observed) when she has a team around her. Marilyn took it slow, marveling as only she could about the intricacies of life here and her partner’s large Sicilian family’s wonderful togetherness. We met because a mutual friend, the thoughtful Max Elliot for those of you in urban agriculture here, in Austin or in Shreveport, helped them put together a small group of activists to talk about building a network for food and farming in New Orleans.

We had a few meetings in Marilyn and Anna Maria’s meditation center, AMMA, so named partly for their combined names and the word for nurse or spiritual mother. We sat cross-legged in a circle and talked about our visions and beliefs and then after a few meetings, a few of us got a little antsy and asked if we could meet in a more active space. I remember Marilyn being fascinated and bemused by the request. Her activism was rooted in her quietness and centeredness. Her idea of activism was also illustrated by a story she told me of the people in an Asian country who had firmly and publicly set the goal that they would become a society totally absent of violence – in 1000 years. So every tiny and personal step they made towards that goal now  was meaningful, and to expect total success in one’s lifetime laughable.

I also remember  when Marilyn asked me to coffee at the fair trade coffeehouse after those first few meetings and said to me with what I came to know was her very direct but gentle way of asking a question: ” I have been wondering about you since we met. Do you mind?”

I did not mind and we bonded. Turns out she was originally from Detroit. I thought I recognized the steel backbone of a fellow rust belter under her beloved Southeastern desert style.  It didn’t really matter where she was from, as her presence came from her embrace and sharing of the small shared whatever right in front of her – moment, garden, food item, gesture, idea  and  linking it to the gigantic: her quiet assessment and acceptance of humanity’s and the natural world’s pace.

Her Little Sparrow urban farm was a turning point in the city, both in its description of the vision she had for it right there on the board on front and its urban market box program, the first of its kind around town.  There was an open invitation for people to carefully pluck food from its constant profusion of well-tended food and beauty although she encouraged some wildness to flourish on its edges too. The tropical climate got the best of her at times as a farmer and she was justly impressed by her dear friend Macon’s skill in growing food in this brutal climate, constantly championing  his patience and knowledge as a grower to anyone who would listen. Many growers directly owe their experience to her willingness to share hers as she would always credit her teachers like Macon’s willingness to share theirs.

With a group of around a dozen others (the aforementioned Max as the nucleus), she and Anna Maria built a lasting network of food and farming leaders, myself and Macon included. The work to grow this network of activists took years and could take pages here to recount my personal observations of her and Anna Maria’s resolve to see it happen. Sooner or later, just about everyone else involved in the founding either gave up or moved on to other work, except for Marilyn. She stayed in it as long as she was needed and as long as she thought she had something to offer.  In some form, that entire group owes most of its interconnectedness to Marilyn directly. Most of those founders are still honored colleagues of mine and some are also close friends, but all of us certainly remain fellow travelers who gladly remember those days  when we meet up again. I’d like to thank her again for her dedication to the group and the idea.

Even after I moved away from assisting directly with the work of the New Orleans Food and Farming Network that our little group had realized, she and I reconnected regularly and when we did, her stories were always of a lesson learned or a description of the path of a karmic connection that had been experienced since I had seen her last. Some were very personal and painful. I found that I easily shared more of my deepest thoughts and fears than I did with most others, maybe because of her reciprocity or because of her abilities to see without judgement, or at least to recognize the judgement and to self-correct. Or maybe because she expected kernels of truth and revelation as the unspoken agreement of friendship.

One of the best times I had with her and Anna Maria was recent: during the Louisiana floods of 2016, I wrote them because I knew they had moved to that farming area affected away from the city. She immediately wrote me back, telling me their house and property were indeed in the path of the rising water, so they were in the city until they heard. Would I have dinner with them? I did and we laughed and shared updates and drank glasses of wine and laughed some more. As we parted, the text came from their neighbors that the water had stopped rising only a few inches from the top step of their raised home so they were going to be okay. After sharing their relief, I thought about how they had been totally present and joyful all evening, never seeming to worry about their looming crisis.

As soon as I heard the news this week, I had a strong impulse to find a dandelion clock and blow its blossoms to the wind. It struck me as I explored that thought that the dandelion is a flower, but a tough little one at that.  It has healing properties and is carried by the wind to the most unlikely places. Marilyn, you went far and wide and added much nourishment; carry on. I certainly will, using as much empathy and humor as I can muster in honor of Marilyn.


Another Gulf Is Needed More Than Ever

From Activist Cherri Foytlin:

Feeling a little low. If I’m to be honest with myself, it’s probably exhaustion mostly. But, I’m also worried about my insurance, and FEMA, and my community. And everyone is feeling the stress of being displaced in our own dwelling. We still have three rooms left to pull the carpet out. Water is STILL leaking from the walls. The rest of the floors may need to come up too. Furniture and a mattress had to be thrown away… Don’t get me wrong. I am proud that my six amazing kids, and an unofficial seventh – Logan, have been helping, each in their own capacity. And our neighbor Christine came over to help, and my nephew lil’ Dylan too. And I’m sure you know Karen has been incredible! I’m super glad that there has been no rain since this morning… It’s just that, I’ve worked really hard to provide for my kids, ya know? We all work SO hard. And ya, we’ll survive it, and for sure many others are a lot worse off… but, damn… ‪#‎thestruggleisreal‬

Postscript: Do not send me money. If you would like to make a donation on me behalf to ‪#‎AnotherGulf‬ week of action, I’d appreciate that. All previously planned events are a go, and I think we need it now more than ever.…