Monday, January 16, 2006

The topic of conversation these days is: "What do you think of the mayor's plan?" His plan is one that was released by the Bring New Orleans Back Committee last week and its most controversial element is a four-month moratorium on building permits in the city while neighborhoods are assessed for viability. It is the responsibility of the residents, themselves, to organize and lobby for funds and resources to be appropriated from federal funds following the four-month period. If residents prove their neighborhoods are "viable" (and no one seems to know what this means,) the city will consider its case as it goes about the next step of planning. The goal, it appears, is to reduce the city's "footprint," which will mean that homeowners and residents in certain parts of the city will have their property bought out by the federal government and then awarded to developers for "commercial or industrial use," or possible transformation into "parks and greenspace."

I don't know what I think about the mayor's plan, but I know I don't share the opinions of many of the business and homeowners who are now up in arms about the possibility of having to sell. To tell you the truth, I am SICK of hearing property owners talk about property rights. It would be one thing if these owners were refusing to sell or to budge in a rural area, but this is a CITY, and in order to sustain a city in the aftermath of severe devastation (and with a projected population just half of its previous size,) compromise is crucial. I am even more sick of listening to the city council members--all of whom object to the BNOB committee's plan, but NONE of whom has a better option to propose.

What I do know is that the racial tension in New Orleans continues to increase. Yesterday, Simon, Jackie, and I attended a second-line (a brass-band parade in which the participants are members of various "Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs" and the public, itself,) and for the first time since the storm, we, the whites, were outnumbered. It felt good. Like old times. But then I heard comments like, "They're trying to take our city," and, "White bitch better get out of my way," and I knew, I just knew, that this plan of the mayor's is going to exacerbate already-hot racial tensions in the city.

The problem is one that Sharon White, a woman from the Lower Ninth Ward who has been interviewed on NPR over the past several months, highlighted in her latest interview. She said that the members of the committee were "doctors and lawyers," and couldn't understand her neighborhood. She didn't say the members were white, but she didn't need to. The members of the committee ARE mostly white. And this is a real problem.

It is not that the committee members don't have the citizens' best interests in mind; the problem is the perception that because they are white, they don't care about the fates of the mostly-black residents whose futures they are considering. I think the committee f-ed up, big time, in not better incorporating the voices and opinions of the displaced and disenfranchised New Orleanians who were most heavily impacted by the storm. And now we will ALL pay for that mistake.

I remember going to my very first second-line, way back when, and knowing that it was really something special. It seemed like all of the racial tensions, the class tensions, didn't matter for a few hours. We all just danced, danced, danced.

Yesterday was no different, except this time, I heard comments that made me swallow and move on, move on. And then, later, it was different because shots broke out and three were injured.

When it happened, we were eating sandwiches near the Zulu club on Orleans, when suddenly, a crowd turned the corner, fear in their faces, sprinting toward us, toward Away, away. Jackie, Simon, and I crouched and pressed ourselves against the wall of the building behind us, trying to live and be out of harm's way.

And all of us, everyone, I think, just hoped and hoped and hoped that things would turn out differently than they had--that it would be the beginning of the parade again, and we would be dancing and celebrating our being together again, the evacuees, returned, wearing shirts that said, "ReNew Orleans," or matching outfits, or waving feathered plumes. We were nostalgic for a time that, maybe, in fact, never really was.

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