7.03.2006

The rain is incredibly thick in New Orleans. It comes down as if it were a wet blanket over the streets and smothers the people like little sparks into the buildings or under covered porches and awnings. Too much rain right now is a bad thing here. According to city engineers there are an unknown but large number of ruptured water mains across the city. When Katrina uprooted trees and pummeled the cityscape it did widespread damage to the system. Now water is bubbling up under the city – which is always a problem given the height of the water table and that much of the city sits below sea level – and the heavy summer rains is only adding to the problem.

All of this is ironic because as I sit in this little coffee shop in the Marigny trying to escape the thunderstorm there's a duet playing over the joint's speakers: it's Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing "isn't it a lovely day to be caught in the rain?" I can imagine it must have been lovely once, but now it doesn't strike me that way at all. New Orleans is caught in the rain in a very bad way.

The smell of sewage is all over. The city is just now getting a handle on the disposal of the thousands upon thousands of abandoned “Katrina cars” destroyed last year. In spite of the $33 million contract let to DRC Recovery Services to tow, store, and crush them one can still find them all over the city. There are still piles of trash, especially in the 7th and 9th Wards.

The whole place is an enormous contradiction. One cannot walk a block without seeing signs of rebuilding, cleaning, and preparing for the future. And yet the whole city looks to be dying. Bob, the owner of one of the only other caf├ęs in the Faubourg Marigny told me yesterday that the widespread consensus is that is another hurricane of potent force strikes the city this year then the city truly will die. It cannot sustain any more. “There has been terrible damage to the people’s psyche,” he explains. The mood of the city has never been this demoralized. If anything else happens then it's unlikely that the people will return. Bob remarked that he's never felt so connected to any place in his life (he grew up in the French Quarter before it was the tourist trap it now is). But even with his fanatical love for New Orleans, even knowing that many of his friends and neighbors share that love, he can't imagine the people coming back and rebuilding if another major storm runs the city through this season.

And yet even with all this hanging over their heads there are people here rebuilding, and more are coming back everyday! It’s a confusing scene. There’s no gas, electricity, or sewerage extending to most of the city. Only along the natural levee, from the Uptown to the Bywater along the riverbend does life in New Orleans seem normal to any degree.

All of this is to say nothing of the thousands of New Orleanians who have been effectively banned from coming home and rebuilding. Many of these people are the inhabitants of the city's public housing. They constitute a major portion of that carless, mostly working-poor population that was most severely displaced following Katrina and the city/state/FEMA's bungling efforts to evacuate and shelter citizens. Some are back, quite a few are clamoring to reopen their homes, but large numbers are still living in uncertainty beyond city limits, wherever they found themselves after the floods forced them out.

Tomorrow, July 4th will be a major day for the right to return movement. The residents of the St. Bernard public housing project along with several key activist organizations are planning a rally to reopen public housing across the city. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has stated that they intend to demolish thousands of units of public housing in the city, including the St. Bernard projects. They plan to use HOPE VI funds to redevelop the sites, or to possible create “greenspace.” The residents and activists have other plans.

Below is a description of the event posted on the web by an activists who works with the Survivor’s Village. Survivor’s Village is a tent city established outside of St. Bernard by residents to protest the city, and HUD’s plans to demolish their homes.

“Survivor's Village on July 4th: Day of Protest, Rally and Unity
On July 4th public housing residents and community supporters from all over the country will gather at the Surivor's Village for a Day of Unity, Protest and Rally.

The Survivor's Village is located on the 3800 block of St. Bernard Ave., across from the St. Bernard Housing Development.

The Day begins at 10am with the rally scheduled for 3pm. Water will be available, but please bring food or drink (non-alcoholic) to share with the group.

July 4th as Independence Day is also Freedom from Oppression Day as public housing residents continue their battle with the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) to reopen public housing.

Yesterday, a new battle front was opened in this fight when residents of public housing filed a law suit against HUD, alleging civil rights violations in HUD's refusal to repair and reopen the public housing developements damaged by Katrina.

Residents and supporters are determined to continue this grass roots movement for the Right of Return and the right to affordable housing for working class people everywhere.”

See - http://www.survivorsvillage.com/ for more information.

I'll let Ella and Louis have the last word, cause I don't want to sound too pessimistic.

"The weather is fright'ning
The thunder and lightning
Seem to be having their way
But as far as I'm concerned, it's a lovely day
The turn in the weather
Will keep us together
So I can honestly say
That as far as I'm concerned, it's a lovely day
And everything's O.K.

Isn't this a lovely day
To be caught in the rain?
You were going on your way
Now you've got to remain

Just as you were going, leaving me all at sea
The clouds broke, they broke and oh!
What a break for me

I can see the sun up high
Tho' we're caught in the storm
I can see where you and I
Could be cozy and warm

Let the rain pitter patter
But it really doesn't matter
If the skies are gray
Long as I can be with you it's a lovely day"

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know your effort here is really appreciated...and I hope to keep up ..hang in there..
Dick F

Tanya P. said...

Hope the July 4th rallies went well. For me, it just felt great to NOT be in the states for all the fireworks displays. gawdy. I always had that feeling like the city wasn´t ready for another storm. take care, little d!