Dirty South Bureau

January 23, 2010

The pathology of elections, episode II – the empire strikes back

Filed under: New Orleans Politics,New Orleans Schools,public housing,The Feds — christian @ 4:09 pm

It’s that time again.

Election season. Which in New Orleans seems to be about every three months or so. This election season finds me particularly pessimistic about any possibility of any change for the better. Perhaps it is the quagmires at the national level around health care “reform” and carbon regulation. From those of us who said during the presidential election that Obama would not bring the change we need, well, I for one didn’t want to be right on this one, but Obama is looking more like a black Jimmy Carter by the day.

But the real news is the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow corporations unlimited access to finance campaigns. This one has to go down with Plessy v. Ferguson as one of the most monstrous decisions ever made by those miserable old black-robed bastards. Whatever Democracy you thought we had, kiss it goodbye.

But how much Democracy did we have to lose, anyway? We voted every few months or years for elected officials with limited powers, and then most of us spent eight hours (or more) a day in a dictatorship. Did you vote for your boss? Your landlord? Your mortgage company? The oil companies that cut canals through South Louisiana, destroying our coast? We took one small part of public life and held elections for people to run it, and then left the rest to that “invisible hand” of the market that’s been slapping more and more people out of their homes and into unemployment lines of late.

Here in New Orleans, that Democracy has meant even less. Before the storm 40% of adults couldn’t read or write well enough to fill out a job application. I don’t know what the number is now, but there is a large portion of this city whose education level precludes meaningful participation. As if, between the political machines of the city, the tendency for race/class based castes to reproduce and the factors that I already mentioned, there was much to participate in.

This is part of our pathology of elections in America. We have been bamboozled into thinking that politics only happen on election day and only happen through elected offices. Politics happen every day. They happen when we go to work, they shape our intimate relations, they are there when we pay rent and when we pay bills. And these relations are typically not Democratic.

I’m still going to vote, to exercise what little power I have and to make what little statement I can. At least I can say I voted before corporations ran that, too. But for city offices, this is a grim election. My professional work prevents me from saying much of what I would like to about various candidates, which is not pretty. Isn’t that the way it works? The more you know, the less you are at liberty to talk, as you may have to do business with these people some day.

Notes on particular races:

Mayor: We all know Mitch is our next Mayor. At least he’ll be better than Nagin, and this office doesn’t give him authority to screw us in the same ways that his sister does. I’m voting for James Perry, who is a hell of a guy. He won’t win, but any percentage that he gets makes a more meaningful statement to me than victory or loss by other candidates.

City Council: I find myself, over and over, not voting for people, but against them. Particularly in District B. Seven years ago I participated in an abortive effort to recall Renee Gill-Pratt. Look who we got instead. District C: Can we get another option? Please?

I would say that my frame for many of these races is the lesser of two evils, which, considering the level of evil involved, is weighty. My favourite people on the council had a group of former public housing residents, and me and my fellow protesters pepper-sprayed and tazered (I only got the spray, thanks guys!) two years ago, when we tried to keep them from authorizing the senseless destruction of thousands of units of livable housing during a region-wide housing crisis. All are guilty of participating in gross human rights violations against New Orleanians displaced by post-Katrina flooding.

On a side note, at least district A has some interest in energy policy issues. Fielkow seems to take these matters seriously as well. He’s my favourite person who’s ever had me pepper sprayed. Real decent guy in person, under better circumstances.

But as I stated before, I’m not pinning my hopes on any of these people. When this city, this state and this country made real change for the better, it took a long, slow process of education and organizing. Short cuts don’t work for the long run. If we want to see the change we need, this is what it will take – not electing someone from an oppressed group to be the figurehead for machines of oppression.

And that’s all for today. See y’all in a bit, hopefully before I have to find corporate sponsorship for this blog. Remember – what you read, and if you have access to read it, is also politics.

January 4, 2009

Marshall Truehill, Jr., RIP

Filed under: Class,New Orleans Politics,public housing,Race — christian @ 8:40 pm

Yesterday I had the honor to join the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their last respects to the late Reverend Marshall Truehill, Jr., who passed away so suddenly last Christmas eve. The ceremony was more joyous than somber, as appears to be the custom of the black Protestant church.

I did not get the honor of knowing Marshall Truehill personally and I am sad that I did not have the chance. He passed so suddenly, and to see his body lain out like that, a man still young and strong, gave a strange feeling of vulnerability.

Instead I know his work. Reverend Truehill was a consistent fighter for the rights of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, especially public housing residents. He was an eloquent and powerful speaker, a man whose very presence radiated dignity and purpose. I recall many a time hearing his words before City Council, words that spoke truth to power, without pretence. The media has called Reverend Truehill “a voice of reason”, and this is true. However in today’s world Marshall Truehill was also a radical, and kept the company of radicals in many of the stands that he took.

What I did not know before his funeral is that Reverend Truehill was also born in the B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Projects, and spent decades before the storm working on the behalf of the residents of public housing as a man of faith.

The Judases were there at his funeral as well; four members of our esteemed City Council and Mayor Ray Nagin. While it is honorable that they attended, I personally found it distasteful that certain members of the City Council used the occasion to grandstand. I did not expect either temperance or good taste from such persons, however it was an inappropriate venue for elected officials, whose actions are so contrary to the vision of the man, to use his funeral in this way.

Because of all the speakers, I found what Reverend Truehill’s sister said to be the strongest, that Truehill “did not just read the bible, he lived the bible.” In a city and a nation with so many churches, I have seen some but not enough of religious communities fighting for social justice, particularly for the human right to return for those evacuated from this city after Katrina. I wonder how so many can go to church on Sunday and walk by the homeless on Monday. Truehill was not one of them.

It is men like Reverend Truehill who have caused me to re-evaluate my opinions of the tradition of the clergy. It comes down to this: Jesus was a radical. He opposed the Roman state, and was killed for it. His reward in heaven did not stop him from changing things on earth: from driving the money lenders from the temple (they have returned in great numbers), from healing the sick, from championing the poor and dispossessed.

Jesus did not say: love some of your brothers and sisters, and others you can discard because they are unworthy: because they are poor, because they are black, because they are poorly educated, because their neighborhoods are dangerous and they have children out of wedlock. He said to love all of humanity.

If I have had little interest in the church, it is because I have seen a great many religious people who want to talk endlessly about Jesus, but they are not willing to follow his example or even his teachings.

Reverend Truehill was not one of them. A great man has passed. God rest his soul.

April 21, 2008

Ya Heard Me?

Filed under: Class,Media,New Orleans Politics,Other,public housing,Race,We Are Not OK — christian @ 4:51 pm

It’s sad to think that while I was busy working and sleeping during the vast majority of films at the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival, I easily could have missed Saturday night’s premier of Ya Heard Me?, a groundbreaking documentary on Bounce.

This movie blew my mind. It starts pretty much as one would expect— gratuitous booty dancing shots, interviews with various artists and producers. But during the course of the film, it slowly peels away the layers not only to reveal Bounce as a highly original and powerful artistic expression of a people, but also to delve into the sexual politics of Bounce— from artist Mia X’s straight-up feminist lyrics to the entire “Sissy” scene, with artists like Katey Red making Bounce that is an expression of homosexual, trans culture.

The exploration of dance in the movie also moves beyond simple booty shaking to show a highly sophisticated form of dance that looks remarkably similar to traditional African dances, expressed in a contemporary, urban context. One has to wonder if the filmmakers intentionally led the viewers from stereotyped scenes deeper in slowly, to emphasize the contradictions between mainstream (often white) perceptions of Bounce and the real thing.

But perhaps the most powerful thread to run through the movie is Bounce as music that came out of New Orleans’ public housing developments. Many of the scenes are shot in and around projects such the Magnolia (CJ Peete), Calliope (BW Cooper) and Melpomene developments (large sections of Calliope and all of Magnolia are now piles of rubble). The term “project music” is repeatedly used by musicians and producers to describe Bounce, and it is a powerful irony to see the celebration of this culture at the moment it is most threatened, which the film also explores, tracking the displacement of artists such as Cheeky Blakk.

Big shout out to Jordan Flaherty, an organizer of the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival, for making this possible. Jordan struck a powerful chord in his introduction to the film, hinting at the importance of recognizing the range of cultural achievements of this city, particularly when they are left out by the self-appointed arbiters of New Orleans music culture such as (he did not mention them by name) WWOZ.

Incidentally, I’ve heard rumors that OZ has finally grudgingly acknowledged the cultural importance of New Orleans Hip-Hop and begun letting certain DJ’s play Hip-Hop and Bounce. I have yet to hear any of that on the station. Last thing I knew OZ had a strict no Hip-Hop policy. To quote DJ Davis “When they said community music, I didn’t realize they meant the community of white Yankees who listen to black music from forty years ago instead of the community of thirty-year old black people who actually live here and make music.”

So for the time being, Bounce, instead of having non-profit and foundation backing like Jazz and other “acceptable” forms of music, is sold out of trunks at gas stations.

Little changes. It’s important to remember that Jazz was originally as unacceptable to mainstream white culture as Hip-hop is, that white musicians were drawn to it (like Hip-hop), that in many ways it was co-opted, and that now that it is no longer considered a threat to mainstream white culture it is acceptable. I have to wonder if Hip-hop (and Bounce) will follow a similar trajectory.

Yaheardmefilm.com

Nolahumanrights.org