Seeing the Changes and Icons in New Orleans

By Guest Columnist Sep 30, 2006

on tuesday afternoon it was decided that tuesday night was the best time to go to new orleans for my third organizational development trip for the new orleans network. the anniversary is past. going a bit too fast meant i packed the wrong things and went to the wrong airport, but i’ve been learning how to respond calmly to stressful situations. i stayed cool, got to the right airport (painfully closer to my house), and hopped on the three leg red-eye to new orleans. i couldn’t wait to get there. i couldn’t wait to see the state of the new orleans network, which was born after katrina to respond to the need (which existed before any hurricanes came) for a better way for folks to communicate their work and needs to each other. and it’s good news too…the directory is up, the calendar is used by tons of people in the community, and in the midst of chaos they seem to have mastered the most evolved community organizing online tool i’ve seen. i have said, often and recently, that my theory of change is this: contually develop leadership such that impacted communities lead the way. new orleans network, new orleans period as a place, is the great proof positive. i love this city, these people. shana and abram, my hosts and dear friends, are perhaps the most Good people i know. they always do the Right thing, not for show and not for attention, but just cause it’s Right. when given the choice between easy and Right they choose Right. it’s a good match, they have naughty mouths, they have the best hearts. it’s humbling to be around. it reminds me i could be a better person yet. and all that has happened down here – the frustration of having worked for a year and seen things move forward and backward and sideways, residual misogyny, racism and a general lack of funding and creativity – it builds up. but i am a visitor, everyone i meet is one of the most amazing people i’ve met, people who aren’t victims in anyway i can see, though everything about their situation is unfair. i met a lawyer today named rania thompson. she’s working with FEMA funded individuals who are now receiving letters from FEMA asking for money back – 10K, 20K or more. Turns out they didn’t ‘qualify’ for the insufficient funds they received, which they weren’t told was a loan, and now they are supposed to repay it. it’s disgusting, it’s unfair. who will help? i met a woman named greta who is doing food access work, and helps support students at the center, who are sitting on hours of documentary footage of new orleanians directly after that first hurricane. they should charge people to use it, but in spite of evereything, people down here are too generous with what they have. they need 100k to survive. but who will help? last night there was a situation. the rumors were – an ak-47, a hostage…the energy was taut and strange and we couldn’t go to sleep. there were cops on every corner and neighbors poking their heads around the corner. we thought about what the hostage-taker was experiencing, his choices are death or prison. this morning it turned out it was just an armed crazy guy and a girl who went to the bathroom at the wrong time. it ended peacefully. right. we were coming home from jordan flaherty’s second birthday party. all the names i’ve heard, this is who to speak to in new orleans about direct action, organizing, media justice, etc, they were all there and the vibe was tipsy, light, naughty, funny. a gorgeous place new orleans, they know how to party proper. the dark side of new orleans is always, still, a bit more than anyone should have to handle. the best humor i hear, the best hearts i experience, the most tender honesty. there are all these iconic figures who are floating about feeling guilty and like they haven’t done enough. there are all these people who need resources now more than ever. i was going to ask everyone i came across this month to give money to ruckus, and then i came down to new orleans. it defies logic that any one’s here. in late night confessions, people admit that sometimes they wish the choice was made easier, that something definitive would let people give up. but new orleans is the human struggle – we haven’t mastered a way to exist with nature and we’re going to feel it. still, the most amazing work and solidarity and honest organizing and thinking is happening here. to forget new orleans is to run from, quite possibly, the best we have to offer.