Thursday, June 12, 2008

HISTORY REMEMBERS: ..."the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it" - -Martin Luther King Jr.



"A living wage depends on whether you are asking for it or giving it."
-film dialogue
The Farmers Daughter



There have been some heavy matters attaching themselves to your planetary sisters heart and mind these last months. It has to do with with how I perceive rebuilding monies being distributed "on the ground," so to speak.



SAINT CHARLES STREET - NEW ORLEANS 2008


As I drive around the city I am constantly aware of where I see rebuilding or "renovating." (That is why I am here in New Orleans...) What kinds of businesses are coming into neighborhoods? Where do I see houses that have been yet to be gutted? How many rows of houses on streets sit hauntingly empty. How many homes can I count on a given street which could be "affordable housing" which are sitting empty? I am painfully aware of the unfairness to the children in the area's where I see children walking and play in streets where the devastation to the houses is all around them like open wounds. Often the smell of mold permeates the air... There are areas where the smell of the mold permeates whole neighborhoods - especially in the hot, marshy, summers. (This past Sunday June 23, 2008 I was photographing Tupelo behind St. Claude and Claiborne and the mold was so bad that my eyes were burning and watering so intensely that I had to cut my session short). That hurts - when I see children walking through neighborhoods that are still devastated and even their playgrounds, many of which haven't been fixed up for them are painful reminders that in this city all children are not treated equally. I get really angry inside and think, "this is really unfair" when I see children walking on these streets to and from school and know and have seen a different reality within this very same city for other children in New Orleans, in neighborhoods where parents have more resources to work with. I ache with anger and my feelings of powerlessness to stop the cycle. How will they're childrens, childrens lives especially after what too many of these children have been through in the aftermath of Katrina and most of all the days spent on roofs, highways, hotels, the Superdome and other buildings - seeing death and devestation all around them, and far too many children (and their parents) not getting the counseling needed to heal the profound suffering they endured and watched their parents, other family members and other children go through. Their were children in trees, children who died in their schools, in their homes... How can their be such indifference. My mind and heart just don't (won't) get it.

It bothers me deeply, how I see areas that already have money - "getting more" - for tourist related "renovations". Often in areas that suffered no water damage (Katrina wind and tree damage - no flooding).

Coming on the 3 year anniversary of our nation's most remembered, large scale destruction {250,000 homes flooded in one fell sweep - that's home's, not individuals} due to the levee failure related flooding - not Katrina hurricane damage - I watch in amazement as neighborhoods spruce up their ante bellum mansions for the tourist riding on the streets cars to gaze upon their beauty and wealth, as nearby neighborhoods continue to struggle for volunteers, funds, or just to get through rebuilding paperwork, financing, working and surviving. I get really angry when I see areas with an abundance of trees, continue to get more trees, whilst whole neighborhoods and communities which could benefit from the shade of trees - have none. *

(*your planetary sister stands corrected. She has found that whilst no infrastructure has opened along St. Claude St. in the lower 9th - they have put in some flowering trees! And a street sign! - watch the slide show from Sunday June 22, 2008 - you decide...)



And in the city of New Orleans much is about race. Spoken or not spoken - "actions speak louder than words..." I haven't been down to Chalmette and Arabi lately which are predominantly a greater Caucasian population/culture so I cannot speak to these areas. What I can speak to is the predominately Black neighborhoods which I see as I drive around the streets - almost daily - as to what feels to be a sort of "collective punishment". In some areas the neglect of the communities is astounding to the other side of the spectrum of the forced introduction of large groups of white students into predominately and historically Black neighborhoods - not a natural migrational pattern which occurs organically - but what I perceive to be a mindful (covert/overt) changing of racial demographics and aspects of the rich cultural tapestry of communities when the properties become desirable - for instance the high ground in the Black Pearl. {I speak of a historically Black New Orleanian community with roots such as the Buffalo Soldiers being formed as a regiment from this area} AND Black community members and business men and women from all over the United States are also not investing in the predominately Black neighborhoods either.

In conversations I have been told that some Black community members (often who have suffered lost lives through violence) who believe the incoming White population is going to be good for their neighborhoods - they will -for the buildings not the peoples. Things will be good for the WHITE people who move in and if you have enough money, no matter your race, you can buy into the American dream of safety and private security - generally, that is one of the balancing aspects of capitalism - often this system even with its ingrained racism in the infrastructure, is only interested in your $$$, not your race or ethnicity. See, I have had conversations with both White and Black planetary brothers and sisters that still believe and reflect an inherent racism which states "Black peoples bring down property values." Shocking that 'property' value is valued more than human value.
In my expereinces what I have seen of my culture when money and property (values especially) are involved, will not be so good for the Black (and some Latino's). For some reason, the peoples of my race, seem to culturally accept Latino-Hispanics, Asian, and Indian planetary brothers and sisters OVER African American planetary brothers and sisters. Why we even have 2 separate languages to accommodate Latino's who do not speak English, but this is not true for other populations and any other language. Hey! We are a nation of people from many nations and cultures ... go figure). My birth family members immigrated here from Italy and France {@ the early 1900's - my ancestors had to learn the language and become a part of the culture, even as it - rejected them for their ethnicity - especially the Italians - called dirty and WOPS}. I feel this gives me a right - as one of a group who came to this nation as "outsiders", to speak to the inequality in how we treat different races. WE ARE ONE PLANETARY FAMILY folks. What "is going on???

There is a great book called The Karma of Brown Folk by Vijay Prasad. It's about the experiences Asians/Indians/Pakistani's in America, and how "brown folks" are often used against the "black folks" and how brown skinned peoples are more readily accepted in this nation than our Black skinned planetary brothers and sisters. This book opened a window of consciousness in me when I realized how often used politically other races have been "used" to keep Black nation planetary brothers and sisters out of the proverbial loop.

I feel deeply the anger in my heart as to what I perceive to be the ongoing racist policies of "separate and unequal" distribution of funds; how businesses serve or do not serve (invest certain populations and communities; how there seems to me to be a insidious consciousness that I perceive being played out in certain Black communities that reflects to my heart through my eyes a "group punishment" mentality. It's odd but when I perceive it or photograph what I think it looks like, it comes to my mind that it is much like what we have seen the Israeli's practice as part of psych-ops on the Palestinian peoples.

It seems like whole communities of yes, mostly Americans of African heritage, which seem as if they are being somehow punished - I don't know what happened in these neighborhoods and communities before Katrina - but collective punishment (BLOCK BUSTIN for instance) is not the solution.



THE HEARTS, MINDS, AND SPIRITS, OF YOUTHS CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

Too many schools remain closed, activities for the youths - next to nothing, the night school not reopened on St. Claude. Much needed drug stores, hardware stores, and grocery stores not being opened in the Lower 9th. Whilst 3 important inner city supermarkets where New Orleanian locals can access fresh veggies and fruits remain - CLOSED. One previous supermarket has been turned into a NIKE shoe store (by the Rock-n-Bowl on Carrolton and Airline). Yeah, not what the community needed - the grocery store - but perfect for those driving down Airline into the city and the Superdome and back out... and of course the NIKE store is a treat for the locals - but the community needed a grocery store.

Instead, a NIKE outlet store is placed over a much needed local grocery store at Airline and Carrolton. Yeah, I know capitali$m - without the ethics and the moral standards that take into account the welfare and wellbeing of WE THE PEOPLE after one of our nations greatest national/natural/government disasters. If one travels further east down Claiborne in mid-city the much needed Winne Dixie sits - CLOSED. Further east by Alomaster and Franklin the Winne Dixie continues to sit - CLOSED. There are no other grocery chains that WANT TO MAKE MONEY? A new Family Dollar just opened at Claiborne by Washington Streets - and guess what? It's slamin busy. If a supermarket was opened on Claiborne - yes, I would be a customer - it's easy on and off. Yet, oddly enough, Winne Dixie is able to operate a supermarket "uptown" (primarily an area that visually speaks of more white folks, students, and $$) and within blocks of another supermarket - yes, there are 2 grocery stores within a few block radius - a Winne Dixie and a Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods). {PHOTO"S: Above: Winne Dixie Supermarket (CLOSED) at Alomaster by St. Claude, New Orleans. Left - the fence is gone at this mid-city Claiborne Ave grocery store and the store remains (CLOSED}.

Okay this is where this unburdening of my heart and mind becomes my angry chant. Where I feel my powerlessness and anger, and yes shame, at the outrageous acts of racism and classism which I witness and which pierces my heart anew each time. Especially when it comes to schooling/education down in New Orleans.

And in particular the TRADE SCHOOLS - which once taught the local plumbers, electricians, tile men, concrete, carpenters, nurses, auto repair, health aids, etc. - the trades which are helping many of those who attended these schools to rebuild their own homes, the homes of immediate family members, and friends, as well as clients. Since the levee failure related flooding - the 2 trade schools that I know of, the Booker T. Washington (by the Superdome) and the Louisa Street Technical School (Desire) have been CLOSED. How is it that these schools were not immediately re-opened after the greatest national disaster in our history
- schools which would have trained thousands of men, women, - youths the skills necessary to help rebuild and maintain their city in the future.

How is it that these TRADE SCHOOLS were not reopened immediately so that the local youths could not only get training by day - but the opportunities after school and on weekends - to apprentice, or to work with family members using the skills they are learning during the day in their own homes??? In this 3 year period of rebuilding the city of New Orleans, and these men and women would have been getting important on the job training of how to take care of the shotguns - the houses their ancestors built and have maintained for years. I watch the board at St. Anna's grow with the list of names of those murdered in this city just since January 1st. We are in the second column halfway down... So many are youths. Too many, too many.

I try to drive into many diverse neighborhoods in New Orleans and I will tell you this - there is little for the youths of AFRICAN decent - male and female, to do after school. AND there are far too many children, youths, and adults who I witness daily living in incredible poverty, often living way too close to way too much violence, crime, or tribulation, whilst being deprived of opportunities to work with their hands or creatively or being an equal chance of making it with good schooling opportunities. Heck, I have been told it is so bad that some of the schools don't even have the books the children need - forget about "computer labs!"

I think there have been far too many decisions from policy makers and most of all those at brand New Orlean$ tourism headquarters since the levee failure related flooding, that are shockingly, blatantly, racist, and classist, and I feel how ashamed and angry I am as a human being, who witnesses these things and I feel my powerlessness, as I watch and photograph. And pray.


"We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting. There is a literal depression in the Negro community. When you have mass unemployment in the Negro community , it's called a social problem; when you have mass unemployment in the white community, it's called a depression. The fact is, there is a major depression in the Negro community. The unemployment rate is extrememely high, and among Negro youth, it goes up as high as forty percent in some cities."


A TESTAMENT OF HOPE
The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
(edited by James. M. Washington)




New Orleans Tourism Board. St. Charles Street (of course).


This is an organic work in process until the vibration is just right, expect and organic process of change, re-evaluation and the results of conversations and events I am expereincing as I am composing this posting. Thanks for your readership. Blessings.


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