Friday, June 30, 2006

the rabbit hole runs deep

well i haven't written in quite a while. for a while i felt like i couldn't write about my experience in new orleans without just experiencing it for a while. i took a lot of photos, but even being a photographer there made me feel like i was just a spectator, that i was really living and experiencing the intensity of that city, although it was affecting me tremendously. so i got more involved with stuff going on there, tried to do what i could but it was really overwhelming. with everything i tried to organize around, we just kept getting defeated. the land-grabbing, the racism, the police brutality, the homelessness, the blatant classism. things that are happening everywhere, but new orleans is different these days because everything that's wrong in the world is happening in new orleans, just with extreme intensity.

i left town on April 30th. i plan to go back, but i just don't know when. since then i've been hearing a lot. public housing residents still can't come back home. they even tried direct action and broke into the housing developments to start cleaning them out. the national guard was called back, so i guess new orleans has returned to it's complete police state status. last week, every public school teacher in new orleans was fired. you gotta be a rich kid to go to school.

there's more. there's a lot more. maybe someday i'll write a whole book about my perspective on things there. or i'll just write it here, piece by piece. right now new orleans is hot and humid and violent and a lot of people i know have started going crazy because they've been dealing with it for so long, now they're letting it out.

new orleans is the most fascinating place i've ever been. its rich history, culture, and streets full of weirdos all make it beautiful. it's my kinda place. at least for the time being. maybe i'm just really jaded by activism these days, but my heart's broken knowing that the city is being completely taken over by the rich white elite who don't care about the people that make new orleans what it is. the city council declared that damaged houses have to be gutted by August 31st 2006. when asked how that's going to happen, they said to just rely on non-profits. the non-profits don't have the capacity to do that. they also laid out a plan in which, depending on what neighborhood you live in, you have to raise your house by a certain number of feet. but who has the money to do that? rich french quarter elitists are complaining about all the people in the street who apparently are "ruining the french quarter." but with no housing, where else are they supposed to go? i'm sick of people who won't give anything up to help those who are completely fucked over. i'm sick of people who think their wealth is more important than others' basic needs. i'm sick of tourists who come down for mardi gras and feel good about themselves for spendng money in the french quarter and say that's helping to 'rebuild' new orleans, but they never even step outside the french quarter. i'm sick of rich college students who came back in january and never left their bourgeois uptown bubble to see what's really going on, acting like everything is ok. i'm sick of activists who go down and are insensitive to trauma, who act like martyrs in a community that was never their own.

that being said, i'll continute to do what i can, knowing that maybe it's better for me to build my own community rather than intervene in one that's not mine, keeping in mind that maybe it's better to do things from a distance sometimes. i may have dropped out of college, but i've learned more in the last 6 months than i have at any other point in my life.
my heart goes out to all the new orleanians living in the diaspora, to all the people living in the streets who still can't find housing, to the people who are suddenly homeless because FEMA decided to cut off the funding that was housing them in hotels, to all the people locked up in Orleans Parish Prison, to all the people who are trying really hard to continue their lives in a city that's more dead than alive.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

disclaimer

and i know that my last few posts have been just photos, but i promise i'll write more soon. the writing has become overwhelming.

st. roch cemetery

this is one of my favorite place to go in new orleans. cemeteries in new orleanas are really beautiful. because the water level is so high, all the graves are aboveground. on my birthday, this is where i came at midnight to watch the lunar eclipse.

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slidell

so back in february, i spontaneously decided to go to Slidell, Louisiana for a couple days with two of my friends. Slidell is a fairly rural town about an hour away from New Orleans, which also got very badly hit by the storm. United Peace Relief has a center there, and a lot of volunteers use the space to sleep, eat, and get work crews together. it's a beautiful place, so i thought i'd put some photos here:

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zulu parade, fat tuesday

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mardi gras

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

articles to read

here's an article that i think is really important to read if you want to understand new orleans from a racial, feminist perspective (written by my friend shana who grew up in the Iberville Housing Development):

http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2006/01/6740.php

and here's an article written by a fellow volunteer named Greg:
http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2006/02/6996.php

Saturday, January 21, 2006

mardi gras evictions

on january 7th, about 100 hurricane survivors were evicted from a hotel that FEMA was paying for them to stay in. they had very little warning, and they received a note from hotel manager Emily Wright that they have to leave because the city is "now entering in the city's season of special events." in other words, since Mardi Gras is coming up, hurricane survivors are being forced into homelessness again to make way for tourists who want to come here and get really drunk in the French Quarter while the rest of the city is still devastated. while talking to our legal team, Ms. Wright said that it's "only a matter of opinion" that survivors who have nowhere to go should have priority over tourists, and she also took full responsibility and said she would maintain her right to put them out on the street. that day, we mobilized people to go to the hotel, and we picketed all morning and afternoon, shouting chants like "housing for survivors, not for tourists," "the people have a right to return", and "FEMA FEMA you can't hide, there are rooms right inside," among others. at noon, the residents' locks were changed, and some of them weren't even able to go inside and get their personal belongings. we picketed with the residents until the end of the day, when the lawyers were able to file an injunction against the hotel, and then got a temporary restraining order against the hotel so that the residents could stay. as of now, the residents are allowed to stay until February 7th, and after that date, all residents who still can't find housing have to be able to stay there longer. the courts also ordered that once the residents are eventually kicked out, FEMA is required to either find them immediate housing or provide them with money for rent.


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more can be found at http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2006/01/6744.php

hey throw me somethin mr. rich man

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Friday, January 06, 2006

one of the big issues going on right now is the land-grabbing of the lower 9th ward by both the city and private contractors. the lower 9th is where the levee breached, devastating the poor black communities of New Orleans. the city recently decided to start bulldozing homes in this area without making any effort to contact the residents, violating the process of eminent domain, in which property owners are supposed to have a say in the decision-making process. shortly after christmas, the city tried to start the bulldozing, but the residents of the 9th Ward filed a lawsuit and wone a temporary restraining order to prevent the bulldozing until Jan 6th, when a hearing will be held.

yesterday morning a press conference was held at City Hall in preparation for the hearing. lawyers, community organizers, and residents of the lower 9th spoke about the complete neglect of the 9th ward, the injustices of the decision-making process of eminent domain and land-grabbing, and the hurricane survivors' basic right to return. Ishmael Muhammad, an attorney who's been working with the People's Hurricane Relief Fund, spoke about residents' rights to have a say in what happens to their homes, saying to the city council, "you have no right to bulldoze their houses when you are already bulldozing their voices." A resident of the lower ninth reiterated the fact that not only is this an issue of the city neglecting people living in poverty, but that it is an obvious issue of race. explaining how unfair it is that major streets in new orleans that divide neighborhoods have become color lines, she ended her speech by shouting "Canal St. is NOT the mason dixon line!" someone else addressed the issue of how a lot of people who are not members of the community have been saying that the lower 9th ward was so full of crime that it should not be rebuilt for the same community that lived there before the hurricane. this has been a contentious issue as more and more people want to move back, and many outsiders are ignorant and insensitive about the real issues that are involved in the right to return. she made a good point by saying "we don't WANT the crime, we don't WANT the poverty, we don't WANT to have to fight for a better education system, but we want our COMMUNITY back!"

as the last speaker was about to go on, Ishmael Muhammad received a phone call from a lower ninth resident who said that she was standing outside her home, watching all of her personal belongings get bulldozed. i'm guessing there were between 60 and 80 people at the press conference, and we all drove over to her house right away to stop the bulldozing. when we got there, the bulldozers seemed to be mixing the resident's belongings and pieces of her house with other debris, and were about to take it away to the dumpsters. several lawyers were present, as well as many law students, community organizers, activists, volunteers, other residents, and many press teams. we all surrounded the construction workers as the lawyers told them that what they were doing was illegal, that there was an injunction against the city's bulldozing plans, and that there would be a hearing the next day about it. for a while they refused, but eventually we got them to turn off the bulldozers. the cops arrived, as well as homeland security and the army corps of engineers. the army corps of engineers, which is responsible for building the levee in the lower 9th improperly, told us to leave, but we insisted that what was going on was completely illegal. the press kept asking them questions, but they kept saying "no comment" and then drove off. one thing that people in favor of the bulldozing don't seem to understand or care about is that there is a difference between debris and property that is someone's identifiable belongings. while pretty much everything in that area is at least damaged by toxic flood water, a lot of it is still identifiable property belonging to people who want to come back but aren't yet able to. also, it's interesting that almost all of the houses in new orleans that are red-tagged (houses marked to be bulldozed) are in the lower ninth, and some of these houses are still standing, while many houses which are totally demolished are not tagged. there is a house in relatively good condition which Common Ground volunteers have gutted out, with the permission of the owner, and are now occupying. this house is almost all cleaned out, is now being used as a distribution center, and soon the owner will be able to live there. unfortunately, this house is red-tagged and could be demolished any day now. anyway, after the bulldozers left, several teams of volunteers, legal workers, and photographers scouted the area to see if there was any other bulldozing going on. later in the day, we got word that all bulldozing and construction in the lower ninth was called off for the rest of the day. this morning there was a hearing for the court case against the city's bulldozing plans. more on that later when i have the details...

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Monday, December 12, 2005

more Algiers photos

these photos were NOT taken by me; i copied them from the Common Ground website. www.commongroundrelief.org.

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in the distribution center at Malik's house

Saturday, December 10, 2005

around new orleans

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boarded up casino

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