September 11, 2005

"My god, I can't wait for Mardi Gras. I am so homesick. Hearing about these holdouts gives me so much hope."

I just wanted to break out one of the comments from yesterday's post about the holdouts in New Orleans. The post is written by one of our regular commenters, Elizabeth. She's an English and Women's Studies instructor from New Orleans, who left before the storm:
Ann, a message posted late Saturday night by one of the holdouts who has been helping organize rescuers and information, said she was "sitting in Johnny White's drinking a COLD Abita Amber [a favorite local brew any Wisconsite would enjoy], thanks to Eddie Compass!!" Compass is our Chief of Police, so that tells me there is some negotiating going on.

...[T]he corrupt cops are the exceptions. The NOPD ranks have worked this storm, and the days after, away from the families, in sometimes terrifying and frequently sorrowful circumstances, and they keep showing up, day after day. I've heard this from people on the ground, nurses still in the city, and others who owe their lives to the cops.

Those of us who left are going through cycles of what we can think about and talk about. We're starting to talk about how the rebuilding will happen. For many, there's a feeling of distrust; we don't want the type of help the government gave in the storm--let's not debate that here, the point is to understand that New Orleanians are very suspect of outside planners. We want to guard our historic homes, and not have developers with U.S. contracts come in and slap up pre-fab, cookie cutter houses. We want to plan how we can make use of this awful event to sweep away some of the poverty and corruption, to fix our schools from the ground up, not piecemeal. And we want our people, our contractors and bricklayers and ironworkers and trash haulers, to do this work, not just contractors with big connections. We have to be part of this; we're getting very tired of waiting to be let in to our homes.

So, my answer to Ann is yes, resoundingly, the government needs to work with the Red Shirts, with the holdouts, and with all of us who are ready to return. My god, I can't wait for Mardi Gras. I am so homesick. Hearing about these holdouts gives me so much hope.


Paul said...

If they rebuild with strictly insurance monies, then they have a chance to rebuild as Elizabeth wishes and with which I totally agree.
But, if they accept tax supported dollars there will be a whole new way of rebuilding imposed by the corruption and greed that money brings, not that insurance money doesn't bring the same risks, along with bureaucrats and agencies and regulations. A very interesting time is coming to New Orleans, I think. A hard fight to keep their city.

Sloanasaurus said...

True about the corruption. But, if they also build with public money, the federal government has the responsibility to reduce the risk on the new construction being flooded again... i.e., not building below sea level.

Paul said...

Absolutely right, they hold the public trust and our money. I don't think the political will can accomplish such a change.
Turning 180 though, I hope Elizabeth find her town restored and better. But money follows disaster and greed follows money. The only chance is that the city is minority and likely to win more contracts, keeping the work local.
I think the disaster is only beginning.

marshall dunn said...

I hope that last sentence doesn't prove to be as true as it rings.

Roger Sweeny said...

"We want to plan how we can make use of this awful event to sweep away some of the poverty and corruption..."

Am I the only one who found this metaphor insufferably silly? Poverty isn't some mass that can be "swept away." It is a complicated combination of people and circumstances. Reducing poverty in the long term requires making people more productive. Which means training, practise, etc.--and the provision of tools and machinery. Both require money, time, and organization.

Of course, there are two ways to "sweep away" poverty quickly. Give people lots of money--which tends to backfire as time goes on. Or sweep away the poor people. The flooding seems to have done some of the latter.

Elizabeth said...


Sorry to inflict suffering on you. I hope it's tolerable, in proportion to all the actual suffering going on right now.

I can assure you I didn't mean sweeping poor people out the city by my choice of words. There are many factors that keep people poor in New Orleans; two that might be deconstructed by this flood are the public schools, and the intense segregation of classes. The schools are so bad that incremental repair and reform are not working; the segregation of the extremely poor became evident in the days following the storm. The city government's inactivity and inattention to both will be hard to maintain after the attention that has been turned to that segment of our population.

It's obvious that change in New Orleans will occur only through hard work and long-term commitment. But my hopes are that the laissez-faire attitude so many of us have had toward our city and state government will no longer be possible to maintain.

Elizabeth said...


I've been traveling to meet with some of my evacuated friends and didn't see this until late Sunday night. What a surprise!

Elizabeth said...

Sloan, it won't be just the feds who are concerned about raising the building level, and changing the means of protecting the city from flooding. The folks who live there have a few concerns about that. I'm not saying, thanks for the money, now leave us alone to rebuild. My worry is that much of the city is scattered around the country; what role can we play? How long must we stay away? What decisions are being made without our participation?

Paul is right that times are interesting, in the way of that old curse. You're right about the need to be scrupulous with the contract process, but one thing I want to emphasize is that the city is full of artisans and builders who have descended directly from the people who actually built the historic homes that will need repairing and restoring, and whose families and businesses have been continually involved in the building and maintaining of the city over hundreds of years.

It's important also to consider how this can be used as an opportunity to train and employ members of our poverty class who want the chance to learn a trade. This could have long-term positive effects on our economy and crime rate.

As for the risks, we have a very effective U.S. Attorney in our region (Jim Letten) who's been successful recently at prosecuting corruption in local governments and the judiciary. I'm hoping he's got the infrastructure in place already to keep some of the risks down as federal and insurance money pours into the city.