Watching Obama in New Orleans

As of the weekend, I had no plans for watching the inauguration down here in New Orleans. I'm firmly in the camp of Andrew Bacevich who rightly believes that we cannot solve our problems by simply electing a new president.

But Monday night I had dinner with a friend who said that she was going to watch the swearing in ceremony from this incredible church in New Orleans' Holy Cross neighborhood.

It seemed like an opportunity too good--and too historic--to pass up. When I arrived at the Greater Little Zion Church yesterday morning, I was immediately glad that I'd made the trip: there was a big, multi-racial crowd and there was an almost electric feel in the air. [More...]

As you might imagine, the disasters wrought by the Bush administration are very real to New Orleanians.

Indeed, as we watched the swearing-in ceremony and ate King Cake, I sensed that the excitement at the church was not for Obama himself but for the possibility of a much more fair, just country with a president who believes in the public good.

After the swearing-in, some of us went to the headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The crowd was rocking to a DJ spinning the Rebirth Brass Band. Beer and fried chicken were passed around through the crowd. But the place was so packed that we couldn't stay long.

So we went over to the iconic soul food restaurant Dooky Chase for lunch. Since the levees broke, its 86 year old proprietor Leah Chase has struggled to re-open but it's humming with business now.

The service was fantastic--we were greeted like family at the door--and the candied yams were delicious. Writing about lunch at Dooky Chase, the late, great New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris observed that "if we worked anywhere else, we'd be having lunch. Here in New Orleans, we were having a world class meal." That's exactly how I felt at lunch yesterday.

On the way out of the restaurant we passed what used to be the Lafitte housing projects. In late 2007, New Orleans' City Council voted to demolish thousands of public housing units. It was an epic act of stupidity against the backdrop of an epic housing crisis and, ultimately, a horrifying example of disaster capitalism. Then, I checked the financial markets and capitalism itself seemed to be coming undone.

I thought about Obama's acknowledgment that our problems “are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time." New Orleanians intimately understand just how serious America's problems are. And, as Lafcadio Hearn wrote of post-Reconstruction New Orleans, "times are not good here." But later that night, listening to Obama talk about the importance of neighborhoods I realized that there is no place I'd rather be right now--and no place I'd rather witness history--than my neighborhood: New Orleans.

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    Just want to say (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by Munibond on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 08:04:24 AM EST
    that I am enjoying your writings about New Orleans, a city that I know only superficially but about which I care very much.

    New Orleans (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by WS on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 08:50:55 AM EST
    is such a beautiful city.  I really want the city to come back better than ever.  

    On public housing, the current thinking among urban planners is mixed use neighborhoods as a panacea from the history of concentrated poverty and all too often, crime, in public housing projects.  Mixed use would mean a mixture of incomes in neighborhoods from the top earners to middle class to working class and the poor.

    The problem comes in when public housing is demolished, and the new units/structures that replace them don't equal the number of housing demolished.  Also, there's the issue of market rate housing and gentrification crowding out the affordable rates.  

    As an aside, public housing needs to come back in a big way but re-invented for the 21st century.    

    New Orleans (none / 0) (#1)
    by dottygoat on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 03:42:51 AM EST
    New Orleans has had problems for so many years. We moved to New Orleans  back in 85. We were told then that if a hurricane hit the lake lookout because the levees would not be able to hold up and the whole city  and outlying areas would go underwater.
    Did anyone do anything about it? No. All of the governors, mayors and city officals ignored it. They just turned a blind eye and then came Katrina. And the rest is history.
    New Orleans has had the worst murder rate in the USA. What has been done about it? Nothing. Whose fault is that? The governor, mayor, police chief? How about the gangs? Whose fault is that? What about the parents? Don't they hold some responsibilty here? If your son or daughter comes home with something that doesn't belong to them "that's stealing" and "not something that they just got for free"!   But I guess that's the federal governments fault for not giving out bigger welfare checks  so that they can buy any little thing their  hearts desire.  

    Whose fault is that? (none / 0) (#2)
    by lentinel on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 05:06:06 AM EST
    You ask whose fault it is for the murder rate, for Katrina.

    The short answer is, "the government".

    As long as the fact remains that some areas are well protected by police departments, while others are wide open.

    Some areas receive attention when reports of potential disasters appear. Others are neglected.

    Our government, to quote Malcolm X, has failed us. Republican and Democrat.  

    It is not the absence of money to pay for police or repairs of infrastructure. It is the practice of our government to direct money to projects that benefit the few. Projects that benefit people who give money to political parties. Projects that keep the war machine humming. Newer bombs and means of delivering them.

    It is up to the people to demand better.
    Obama is telling us that "we are the change". Whatever that means. Coupled with his other phrases about volunteerism, I am led to believe that he is leaving significant change at the grassroots level to us. The government is not about to change.

    We need to do what King and Malcolm did. We need to threaten the government. When a report comes out about the levies, or bridges about to fall down, or crime run rampant, the citizens need to take to the streets. They need to block traffic. They need to disrupt the functioning of government.

    And - we need new political parties - if we are supposed to affect change within the system. I'm not sure whether it is even possible to do so at this late date, but how much worse do things have to get for us to take some direct action against those who neglect and oppress us?


    New parties (none / 0) (#3)
    by weltec2 on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:16:07 AM EST
    I'm not sure that new parties is the answer. The disaster capitalism of the neo-cons is a far right tumor eating away at the whole democratic system, not just the left.

    Friedman was a parasite who fed off of natural human desires and fear. Not consciously, of course. I think that like GW Bush and Jeffrey Sachs, Milton Friedman was -- to a degree -- an innocent who actually believed that what he was espousing was benevolent.

    In The Quiet American Graham Greene writes that "innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm." All of these people fit into this category.


    Not sure (none / 0) (#4)
    by lentinel on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:47:38 AM EST
    I'm not sure that new political parties are the answer either.

    But the threat of a viable one could be an important bludgeon.
    A properly financed one can scare the hell out of the dems and repubs as crazy Ross Perot's effort proved. He even forced his way into the debates. Wouldn't it have been something to see someone with the intellect and ideas of a Kucinich or a Nader going against the slogans and bromides of the other two?

    I do think that we need a bludgeon.
    I do think that we will need some kind of direct action.

    King is depicted nowadays as a dreamer. A dreamer whose dream has been realized.

    They want to forget that he turned things upside down. He organized boycotts. He got thousands into the streets. He confronted the local power structure. Eventually, to some extent, he got noticed by the Feds. They also want to forget that he opposed the war in Vietnam and the reasons that he did so. Reasons which are all too current.

    Malcolm X, a great and brilliant American, is not even mentioned nowadays. We could all learn from his speeches about how to behave as Americans.

    But the thrust of what I have to say is that the government is continuing to signal that it will not do anything to help the grassroots unless tremendous pressure is brought to bear.
    It is up to us to decide how best to create that pressure and effectuate change in the behavior of our government.


    Malcom X (none / 0) (#9)
    by weltec2 on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 05:07:48 PM EST
    Without Malcom X there would have been no Bobby Seal, no Huey Newton, and no Black Panther Party. I could go on. The difference between Malcom X and MLK is that MLK was a man of action. He went out into the streets and became a national leader for real change. MLK was a man of action and peace, he wasn't just a speaker calling others to violence. MLK believed in the equality of the races. Malcom X believed in Black superiority.

    I'm afraid (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by lentinel on Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 08:22:46 PM EST
    that you don'( know anything about Malcolm X.

    You could start by reading his autobiography.

    Then you can watch films of him speaking.
    Try Youtube.

    After you have done that, you'll be able to get past all the propaganda and see what a brilliant, honest and brave person he was.


    Well, how about having a Govt (none / 0) (#7)
    by gtesta on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 10:23:39 AM EST
    which actually gives a damn about its people?
    We can start by investing in schools...increasing the school year to 220/240 days a year like Japan and South Korea..and expecting more from our kids.
    We can provide our kids with tuition for college and trade schools, so that you don't have to get yourself $50,000 in debt to be productive.
    We can provide universal health care to all of us so that we aren't beholden to employers for health care and we have more ability to move between jobs freely and increase our bargaining power.
    And we can invest in our nation's infrastructure that has been so sorely lacking for the  past 30 years.
    What can we personally do..., take pride in our nieighborhoods - fix broken windows in houses, paint over graffiti, clean up lawns.
    Whose fault is it.  It's all of ours. Time to get busy...Now!  
    BTW, I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers The Story of Success...highly recommended, outstanding book.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments... (none / 0) (#8)
    by Ethan Brown on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 02:39:51 PM EST
    much appreciated. Re: the murder rate I'm hesitant to affix "fault" to any particular party--law enforcement, bad parents, etc. But I do think that many of the recent murders--particularly the murder of the FQ bartender who I wrote about earlier--can be attributed to the total lack of focus on violent crime by the NOPD. As we learn more about the murder, we find out that these kids robbed someone else before Wendy, were in the FQ solely to rob folks, etc.

    These sorts of kids have been wreaking havoc on the FQ since Katrina and the cops know it and done nothing. Worse, residents have been active in not only reporting crime but also doing very pro-active sorts of stuff like installing surveillance cameras outside their homes. So there's no argument to be made that New Orleanians are not "cooperating" which is a common--and very tired--law enforcement complaint.

    Anyway, thanks again for the comments and there's some more info on the suspects in the FQ murder here: