Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
The Founding Fathers defined the boundaries of liberty and freedom. New Orleans lives them. The birthplace of jazz. The true birthplace of Rock-and-Roll. Home to most American cultural traditions of music, the Crescent City is a testament to the American Dream. People of no means made it to the big time in the Big Easy, from Armstrong to Emeril.
Out of the most dire poverty, blatant racial discrimination, and violent crime rose the modern American music, jazz, blues, rock, that have been some of this nation’s greatest export products, revered the world over. Whether you speak English or Japanese, you live in Toronto or Timbuktu, you know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Sadly, over the last six years, it has also been ground zero of the cultural war being waged by the same people who stoke the Birther movement. Katrina struck the city, and the levees which preserve the cradle of that heritage gave way.
The firmament of humanity out of which that creativity bubbled like a spring were shipped off like third-world refugees to Houston and Baton Rouge and Denver and elsewhere.
The recent devastating tornadoes destroy swaths of Alabama. No one will be moved out. You also know that within a year or so, there will be little evidence that there was so much damage done.
New Orleans is in its sixth year since Katrina. While the touristy parts of the city look good as new, large residential areas remain decaying wastelands, littered with abandoned homes uninhabitable after water damage and years of mold and mildew have taken their toll.
The Bush Administration, representing the dark post-Medieval forces of white European faux moral superiority, tried to put a stake into the beating heart of one of our great cultural Meccas. It was political. It was racial. It was holier-than-thou a-moral morality.
The Morality Play
New Orleans, long considered by the Religious Right as a den of sin, vice, and corruption, got what it had coming to it.
There were no FEMA buses home. There were no homes. Even Federal housing projects, untouched, built on high ground, sat boarded up. Their residents could not return home, because the feds refused to open them again.
The City of New Orleans, concerned about its shattered police department and its ability to control crime and restore its lifeblood tourist business, didn’t argue much.
George W. Bush paid lip service to the restoration of New Orleans. They didn’t want lower income people back in the city. They don’t vote Republican often. The red tape mounted.
The free market, and political inaction and infighting between the city, state, and the fes left the city in tatters.
People bought the required homeowners’ insurance when they bought their homes, but New Orleans banks and mortgage lenders never required flood insurance in places like the 9th Ward, which are on a flood plain and below the water line.
Neither did the state. Many people could not afford it. If the banks had required it, though, the lack of flood insurance might have kept people from getting into homes that were out of their control to fix in an emergency. Poor people were hustled out of decades of insurance money on worthless homes which they had to walk away from, simply because they did not burn or blow away. The city now takes and resells the abandoned lots to developers who will reshape the community.
Many say that they kept the poor out to keep the crime from coming back to NOLA.
If the feds felt that the crime was too high, perhaps they should have stepped in to help rebuild the New Orleans police department, rather than deport low income residents. To exile people whose poverty keeps them trapped in another city to weed out the bad apples is not the American way.
They should have provided the funding and training and assistance to clean house of the corrupt cops who became legends of the storm. NOLA PD during the storm was no more corrupt or mismanaged than the L.A.P.D. of the 1940s, or Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s. In both of those cases, federal pressure brought about change in their police departments. You establish law-and-order by having an effective force and good community policing, not by shipping the population off to another city.
The Culture War
The abandonment of New Orleans has been seen through many lenses, mostly those revolving around race and politics. The other reason to kill New Orleans though, is cultural.
The one thing that the Chinese Communists and American Republicans seem to have in common is a fear of the arts. The arts represent independent thinking. The arts are non-conformist. The arts are anathema to people who want to control a population that does not think too much. Creative people, news people. They ask too many questions.
In spite of the crushing blows that have been dealt the city, New Orleans is free. New Orleans is independent. New Orleans is black and French Catholic in a protestant-dominated white nation and proud of it!
The Big Easy has spawned generations of brilliant thinkers, authors, musicians, filmmakers, actors, chefs and more. Louis Armstrong. Tennessee Williams. William Faulkner. Dr. Michael DeBakey. Ellen DeGeneres.Bryant Gumbel. Wynton Marsalis. Harry Connick, Jr. Emeril Lagasse.
The towns in Alabama must rebuild, and the government must help them get there. Before the first home in Birmingham is cleaned up, though, every last home that has been waiting five years for the government’s help in New Orleans should be restored, and the government should bring those who were “temporarily” relocated to Houston, Atlanta, and elsewhere, back home.
New Orleans needs its greatest resource, its people, back. Otherwise the Crescent City, a keystone of American culture, will wane, and it will send a very chilling reminder of what a back burner creative thinking and expression are taking with the Obama Administration and the DC elite.
My shiny two.