Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Orleans Political (R)Evolution

I had recent occasion to meet with a number of New Orleans political dignitaries, office holders, office seekers and former office holders. It was a rare opportunity to gain insight into the dialogue of those who actually hold measures of real political power. I raised a number of issues with them, and to their credit, they were able to address many of my concerns with well thought out, well informed opinions. No solutions, mind you. But opinions and, more importantly, insight into the nature of the beast we live in sufference of.

New Orleans is fucked. It has always been fucked. From the earliest colonial settlers, murdering and raping indians to the Creole land owners with their wives and concubines. From Africans brought here in bondage to African-Americans kicked out of here by Hurricane Katrina and from Ray Nagin's Chocolate City to 27% African-American turnout in the last election, this place is fucked.

No one knows what to do about it either.

Conventional wisdom is always turned on its ear in New Orleans. The city is totally integrated, with multi-ethnic neighborhoods the norm. Yet, the images of suffering, poor (mostly) black people in front of the Ernest Morial Convention Center are certainly burned into the collective memory of everyone with access to television or the internet.

The port of New Orleans and the port of south Louisiana in the New Orleans suburb of LaPlace, combined form the largest port system on earth, in bulk tonnage. Yet, the City of New Orleans and the south-eastern corner of Louisiana benefits very little from this commerce, insofar as real wealth is concerned. Why? Comparatively few New Orleanians participate in the commerce of the port except in service capacities.

Violent crime is rampant in New Orleans. Governmental corruption and incompetence is a wild-fire, burning through political capital and imaginary federal dollars faster than a white rock in a brand new crack pipe. The DA's office has gotten its pants sued off after the last guy got caught with his pants down, firing 40 assistant District Attorneys because they were white.

Education in New Orleans is just as good (and bad) as it ever was. Politicians mouth off slogans about the lack of education being the root of all of New Orleans' ills, but a satisfactory abundance of the wrong types of education do no good to anyone.

These politicians I spoke with all understood that New Orleans' problems were systemic in nature. The problem with systemic problems is that systems in place are very loathe to change. Even following disaster and catastrophy, the old systems quickly reassemble and reassert themselves---Nagin was re-elcted, so was "Dollar" Bill Jefferson.

This resistance to change inherent to New Orleans' political culture is why New Orleans still experiences "old-west frontier-style" violence in its streets. People say that they have had enough, but people have always said that. Thou shalt not kill? Yeah-yeah, I've seen the billboard at the Claiborne on-ramp to I-10.

New Orleans will soon be called upon to make a choice. Behind door number 1 we have Neo-con wet dreams of Underreichfuhrers commanding permanent detachments of the National Guard to the streets of Central City and the Lower Ninth Ward. Behind door number 2 we have sustained Mad Max-style societal breakdown which will eventually break down into Neo-con wet dreams of Underreichsfuhrers commanding permanent detachments of the National Guard to the streets of New Orleans from the Jefferson Parish line to the St. Bernard Parish line in Arabi. Behind door number three is (R)Evolution.


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