Interesting time to start a blog about New Orleans. Next Sunday marks the 5th anniversary of Katrina, and all over the papers and all over the city is talk of resurrection, recovery, rebuilding, the fate of refugees....my church is having a commemorative service and the choir is singing "the storm is passing over, hallelu..."
But surprise, surprise, the storm of criticism has all but passed. A lot of attention has been given to recent photography and film projects dedicated to the 5th Katrinaversary. Harry Shearer (fondly known as Mr. Burns) just made a documentary called "The Big Uneasy" about the Army Corps of Engineers, taking Spike Lee's tangent a little further and trying to educate the public about how unnatural the Katrina disaster really was.
Spike Lee also just released a documentary film to follow "When the Levees Broke," called "If God is Willing and da Creek Don't Rise." He said he intended to leave it on a happy note, with the Saints victory and Mardi Gras, but kept up filming after the BP rig exploded. Here's the full
"These things, Katrina, the breach of the levees, and now this, the greatest oil spill in the history of the world, that’s a lot for any place to take in less than five years. That is a lot. And I know, and they know, they’re very resilient, strong, fierce proud people. But they’re still human beings nonetheless...
Q. In addition to revisiting many of the people from “Levees,” you also talk to people who left New Orleans after Katrina and never returned. How did you find them?
A. When you’re doing a documentary film, a lot of this stuff is detective work. So we knew, unlike the first one, we had to go to Mississippi. We knew we had to go to Houston. A lot of those people have found a better way of life, a higher standard of living. And many of those people want to return, but they lived in public housing which was knocked down. You have people who had to evacuate because of mandatory evacuation, and when they come back, now it’s surrounded by barbed wire and they can’t get back in. And the rents have quadrupled since then. And there’s no jobs and they can’t afford to pay their rent. So they can’t come back."
In a similar Gambit article, Spike Lee asserted that 37% of New Orleans' African-American population is still displaced.
Time for a FilisteeNola connection...
The following is part of the Katrina Bill of Rights, submitted by the African-American Leadership Project of New Orleans on September 22nd, 2005:
1. All displaced persons should maintain the “right of return” to New Orleans as a “Human right,” whether persons are working class, middle class or poor and marginal, or whether they were voluntarily evacuated, mandatorily evacuated, or were forced to do so should have no bearing on this fundamental right..This right shall include the provision of adequate transportation to return to the city by the same means that a person was dispersed. THE CITY SHOULD NOT BE DEPOPULATED OF ITS AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND LOWER INCOME CITIZENS, and must be rebuilt to economically include all those who were displaced.
2. All displaced persons must retain their right of citizenship in the city, especially including the right to vote in the next municipal elections. Citizen rights to the franchise must be protected and widely explained to all dispersed persons. The provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 should be examined and enforced in this regard.
3. All displaced persons should have the right to shape and envision the future of the city. Shaping the future should net be left to elected officials, appointed commissions, developers and/or business interests alone. We the citizens are the primary stakeholders of a re-imagined New Orleans. Thus we MUST be directly involved in imagining the future. Provisions must be included to insure this right.
4. All displaced persons should have the right to participate in the rebuilding of the city as owners, producers, providers, planners, developers, workers, and direct beneficiaries. Participation must especially include African-Americans and the poor, and those previously excluded from the development process.
11. In rebuilding the city, priority must be given to making the city hurricane safe, rather than to the destruction of Black neighborhoods or communities. Priority must also be given to disaster planning and evacuation plans that work for the most transit dependent populations and the most vulnerable residents of the city.
12. In rebuilding the city, priority must be given to the right to preservation of its rich and diverse cultural traditions, and the social experiences of Black people that produce the culture. THE CITY MUST NOT BE CULTURALLY, ECONOMICALLY OR SOCIALLY GENTRIFIED. AND BECOME A SOULLESS COLLECTION OF CONDOS AND tract home NEIGHBORHOODS FOR THE RICH.
Right to Return, displaced persons, preservation of cultural tradition, right of citizenship, depopulation....sounds familiar. I heard a New Orleanian stand up to the megaphone at a protest against the Gaza Flotilla attacks, and here's what he said:
"I knew when I heard that the city was bulldozing public housing and keeping New Orleans' black citizens from coming back, we had more in common with Palestine than I ever knew...we need to stand up for these people, and stand against this injustice."
Indeed, it is an interesting time. August 29th is this Sunday, and Monday night is the premiere of the Harry Shearer film...I need to think of a good question to ask him for Q&A...