Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Big Easy is now the Hugely Difficult

Arrived in New Orleans two days ago and it looks like I will stay a few more. I spent Yesterday walking around the city, with much of my time in the 9th Ward, more specifically in the Lower 9th Ward, where the worst of the damage caused by Katrina and the resulting broken levee's can be witnessed. Walking over the St. Claude Avenue Bridge into the 9th Ward is to bear witness to a scene of almost total devastation. If you watch the first few minutes of this You Tube video you can get a sense of the destruction shortly after Katrina hit. Shockingly, the area still looks very much the same, more that two years later. Surprisingly, after spending many hours walking through this post apocalyptic landscape and talking to a number of folks engaged in rebuilding their destroyed homes, I left feeling inspired and very hopeful for the future. Some of these residents have been here for six generations and their deep roots to this place clearly do NOT allow them to be uprooted in spite of all the obstacles placed in their way by the government, insurance companies and unscrupulous people of every kind. Much of the rebuilding that has taken place has happened through neighborhood associations, non-profits like Common Ground, church groups such as Mennonite Disaster Service and simply caring individuals who have come to help. New Orleans is a perfect place to see the future of America. Most Americans now acknowledge that, as a nation, we are in trouble, and post Katrina New Orleans demonstrates much of what ails America, with racism and classism getting top billing. The notion that the American Empire is in it's twilight is not mentioned by our so called leaders. However it is clear that the abundance of natural resources which helped America to boom after WWII have been mostly used up and our productive capacity has been significantly outsourced with the American population becoming more a nation of consumers than producers, with a resulting indebtedness. Many Americans are simply fighting to make ends meet. A sad fact that tells this story is that Walmart has now become the largest employer in the United States. The "White Flight" from the inner cities that occurred after World War II and which dramatically accelerated in 1957 when President Eisenhower enforced the Supreme Courts 1954 school desegregation order left the inner cities with a mostly poor black population with corresponding lousy schools and ample opportunity for a myriad array of social problems is clearly represented here New Orleans.The process of Gentrification that is now driving the prices of real estate to astronomical heights in places such as San Francisco is also happening here in New Orleans. One of the homeowners in the lower 9th Ward that I talked to Yesterday, said that she and her neighbors had been talking about seceding. I asked her if she meant New Orleans? and she replied "No, just our block!". I was intrigued by her answer and think she may be on to something.

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