Love Letters: New Orleans

My post from Huffington Post. I did fix some stuff on this posting that needed it.

 

By Love Letters

THE BLOG

11/20/2013

Dar Wolnik is a blogger, activist and Girl Friday to her city of New Orleans. She lives downtown and is mostly seen on one of her three bikes or scooter, but also travels widely to work with community food systems across the U.S. as a consultant.
Dear New Orleans,

My confession starts this letter. As you know my lovely Crescent City, I found you only as a teenager. My first home and childlike love — the city of Cleveland in my heart — but not as you do.I often try to find similarities between the two cities, to understand why I love them both. Besides water, I cannot find any other shared qualities.
When I came to live here with my New Orleans mother thankfully, gratefully returning home after 20 years away, my own welcome was deep and magical. Old women on stoops and shopkeepers alike beckoned me over, asked for my teenaged story and warmly welcomed me home. It’s true. That happened again and again. How did you know that I needed you?

And for the first time in my young life, I connected to a place, to a set of smells, sounds, and sights that seemed overwhelmingly pleasing and joyful. I know now that city life appeals to me, but that it must be a place that is not too much of a bustling one, only busy with business or building new or bigger.

Your constantly decaying greenery, unique architecture and many hues and ages of people using public space freely gave me the specifications for a scale that remains how I compare all other cities.Aging is a delicate problem for all females and I know that you struggle with how to remain appealing and relevant. Those who love you attempt to shield you from some of the worst criticisms leveled at you because of your age. Well, to be completely truthful, some of that criticism comes because of your troubling past, which is linked to some of the most difficult days in our country’s history and your present status as a city of recovery, yet again. We shield you and protect you, even as we try to strengthen you.

Your cultural attributes are world renowned but to limit you to only the delights of the dance hall girl is to miss your deep work ethic and political savvy. That work ethic can be seen in your shipping port for one. A port that remains one of the busiest in the world and vitally important to the health of the people in this country. You can be found morning and night, toiling valiantly at the unsexy work in bringing and sending the food and goods needed to be traded in a hemisphere of our size. Dance-hall girl only indeed.

The river. The great Mississippi River, our American Nile. That river is of course, why we are here with you; the explorers Bienville and Iberville came to find the mouth of it to give France control of the commerce that would surely flow in this New World. Oh, it’s a beautiful thing and its work to keep flooding from those upriver and shipping flowing all along its course is remarkable. You have every right to be proud of it.

But sometimes, I think that you miss that what makes those attributes old-fashioned in the minds of Americans.  They seem anachronistic in a country with east-west tendencies and speeding highways and planes. The dance-hall girl is fun and so they search only for that, found through your jazz and brass bands and cuisine. That freewheeling attitude has and will bring you many short-term loves, but it is not enough of a reason for them to love you in bad times too. And bad times are part of the deal. From the yellow fever days, through slave commerce and the 20th-century fight over the integration of schools and up to and including the levee breaks of 2005 and the BP oil spill of 2010. Those are the times when we know who really loves you by those willing to pick you up and carry you for a little while you heal.

It would be wrong to say that you welcomed us at first- sickness and swamps were your opening salvo but lucky for us, enough Old World ne’er-do-wells, second sons, and brave little nuns stayed. I know that you grew to love the type of people sent to you and that also makes you special; your love of your people and acceptance of their quirks. That love is reciprocated in how many people believe that hurricanes will never make direct landfall on the city or in how we willingly leave places with much more efficient infrastructure behind to be with you. That willingness was mighty evident in the hundreds of thousands of your people that quickly returned in 2005/2006. The deep love that we have for you was so apparent in those days; I’m sure that you felt it, even as you lay in tatters and pieces, shocked and ignored by others. People living in cars and ten to a room rebuilt this place, finding joy in your slow recovery.

We respect your ideas about multiculturalism and how they were built by the wide diversity of people that you accepted here, even as we angrily fight with you over your wrong ideas too that bar many from realizing full citizenship. It’s true that we feel your warmth but also your brutality too.  We do our best to use joy and togetherness to reduce that side of you, hoping for the day it is no longer part of your personality.

So, I think of you not as my first love, full of overwrought and inaccurate ideas but as my mature love, aware of flaws and inconsistencies, but still appreciative.

 

 

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/love-letters/love-letters-new-orleans_b_4219236.html

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Never Sleep Again

by Cherri Foytlin

 

As you lie awake,
astonished by the lie,
the plunder,
the exploitation,
the contempt,
the regression,
prepare too
to dream of the resistance,
the rebellion,
the apostasy,
the dissent,
the rising,
all over the world
and know that
your heart is not alone
and
you will never sleep again.

New Orleans Artists Take on Real Estate’s Loaded Terms

Next City is the best site to learn about truly innovative grassroots work happening in cities. I depend on it almost daily to bring me to new stories and its analysis too. This story, for example, is about something happening in my own city that I knew nothing about…

 

All these different auctions that are means of trying to inscribe monetary value to a property that has somehow failed,” says Imani Jacqueline Brown, a Blights Out co-founder who grew up in New Orleans. “First as shelter because no one is living in it, it’s not helping anyone. And has failed secondarily in its function as a financial instrument. The New Orleans that I know and that I grew up in values property and values neighborhoods not as an investment, not as an asset class for speculation, not as a starter home that you’ll then abandon and move onto something bigger and better and more prefab, but you value it for its ability as a social asset and cultural asset, as a cultural and community anchor…

….Blights Out found a third house, adjacent to Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar. Before the whole group could look at the property together, the city demolished it. Four years after starting their search, the collective is now trying to purchase the vacant lot where it once stood, plus another across the street. If the deal goes through, they’ll use the lots to create semipermanent outdoor structures for gathering spaces, perhaps eventually building a house from scratch. It’s not ideal, but they don’t see another option. “The window to get what we wanted is closing,” says Eversley….

 

How do you keep art from being complicit in gentrification? You make it completely uncommodifiable. You make it completely unpalatable to development. You make it so development won’t even want to associate with it, let alone co-opt it.

There’s no win. It’s a small win,” she concedes. “But ultimately the city is going to be gentrified. We’re just trying to stem the bleeding at this point.

New Orleans Artists Take on Real Estate’s Loaded Terms – Next City

Dyan French Cole, ‘simply Mama D,’ dies at 72: ‘She was the rock of New Orleans’ 

The few times I saw her she always gave me a big smile and reached out to touch me when we met. I do not know why she did so, but it may have been that she could feel my respect for her organizing skill and longevity. I certainly hope that was why.

 

We did not lose our ability to fish. Don’t bring the fish to our door, just bring us some fishing poles and some bait. We didn’t lose our minds. I don’t know why we didn’t, but we could have. We lost all of the necessities we need to support our survival. Just give us that. Just give us that, and I promise you, in six months … come back, we’re going to make you some gumbo.

 

Katy Reckdahl’s wonderful piece about her

“There is no anti-racist certification class”

On his blog, “Scott Woods Makes Lists,” poet Woods posted:

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

“the smallest possible gesture”

This is what a friend wrote today, as Lee is removed from his place on our city streets, the last of the 4 main monuments defiling our public streets that were placed to strengthen the white supremacy movement in the decades after the Civil War. (There are, however, 3 more Confederate statues of much less prominence that still need removal. Still, as my pal says beautifully here: we are beginning to approach the truth.)

…Black children can expect and, by every measure, will receive, substantially worse treatment than their white peers within the educational system, the healthcare system, the policing and justice systems, the housing and financial markets, in terms of their prospective employment and earnings. Hell, they will have a harder time on Tinder and Grinder.
Parents of black children already get to explain why this is and try their best to prepare their children to navigate these evidence-based realities.
One less white supremacist being honored in the street is actually the smallest possible gesture available that we can bestow on these children.

One less statue doesn’t change these realities. But it begins to approach the truth. There has never been truth and reconciliation in this country, so we keep recycling white supremacy into different iterations, instead of dismantling it (Jim Crow! Mass Incarceration!).

We can’t begin to face white supremacy without truth telling. And most Americans (of all backgrounds) are not taught the fullness of the truth about the founding of this country or how it prospered. Most aren’t taught what slavery entailed, or how it persists in different forms today. Taking down Lee is simply acknowledging these truths.