It is truly humbling to serve as a vessel for community outrage.
The speech I gave Thursday — that wasn’t me. That was y’all. I was just channeling.
I had a double duty that weighed heavily on me. I spoke on behalf of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, and also as a friend of Helen Hill‘s. I felt bound to honor Helen’s memory, but also to represent my neighbors in Mid-City and my friends across the city.
Therefore, a paradox. Helen was not wrathful person. She was sweet and gentle. But you don’t march on City Hall to be sweet and gentle.
The organizers of the march had a list of very reasonable ideas to present, ideas which I support, but which seemed almost too reasonable.
Who would bring the rage?
In my mind, there’s only one reason to march on City Hall, and that’s to scare the bejeezus out the political class. It’s a public shaming ritual.
I didn’t know who all was speaking or what they would say until it actually happened. I certainly didn’t know that Nagin, Riley and the entire City Council would be standing at arm’s length from the podium. That didn’t make it any easier for mild-mannered me, but I didn’t really care either.
Still, I had deep misgivings about my prepared speech. Would it be too angry? Would it come off as a crazy rant? Would it strike a discordant note with the other speakers?
There’s no joy in any of this, but there is a certain grim satisfaction in knowing that it all came together right. I found myself a key instrument in a symphony of voices. It was a symphony of pain, alas. But there was harmony.
That’s truly humbling.
I noticed that, across the board, black speakers addressed personal responsibility and white speakers addressed government responsibility. Make of it what you will, I found it interesting.
The words of my speech came not from me but from the community, from my neighbors and in particular from the local blogosphere. It was a product of community intelligence. Therefore it’s no surprise that local bloggers have been giving me good reviews. As I said, there’s no joy in this, but since I was so uncertain, there is comfort in the affirmation. Thank you all for the support. It means a lot.
But what really surprised me was when Juanita, the cleaning lady at work, stopped me in the lobby Friday morning. She saw me on the news and told me what I said was “all good.” Ditto for a group of laborers working to restore a house across Bienville.
If I had to do it again, or if I had been able to speak at greater length, I would have talked more about the failures of the D.A.’s office and about the need to address the root causes of crime. I would have emphasized that we don’t want an expansion of police powers or abuse of civil liberties. But it doesn’t really matter. No one will remember the body of this speech as time marches on. What they’ll remember is the soundbite that went around the world: “Shame on you.” (Picked up by all the TV channels but very few print articles.) What they’ll remember, hopefully, is that thousands marched on City Hall in the middle of a workday.
We said this march was not an end but a beginning. It’s up to each of us to make that true, individually and together. There’s a time to rage and a time to engage. And we’re going to have to get evangelical about it, because those who are engaged are engaged to the hilt.
Today new details on Helen’s killing make the front page of the Times-Picayune, renewing my sense of horror and sorrow. New details are also emerging on Cheryl Nitzky, details like her name, which wasn’t known when they found her body. She was 23, from Florida, and she was beaten to death and hidden under a rug in the Lower Nine just before the new year. That story’s buried on B-8. I really don’t know what to say about this.
And tonight, the Saints play the Eagles. It is surpassing strange indeed when I’m quoted in a sports article. From today’s Washington Post:
“People are feeling helpless and there is a feeling of despair and anger,” said Bart Everson, a multimedia artist and friend of Helen Hill, a filmmaker whose murder last week shocked the city and helped spark Thursday’s march. “It’s anger that drives people to march to City Hall and say ‘I’m tired of it.’ ”
One of the great fears people seem to have is that the rest of the country thinks New Orleans has recovered from the storm. This is fed partly by the Saints’ season and by the fact that the pictures everybody sees show that glass has been put back in the windows of the downtown buildings, a cosmetic repair. They worry there also is a national assumption that 15 months after Katrina left, the city should be back to normal. After all, how much time does it take?
He also quotes Michael Homan. It’s a good article. It actually brought tears to my eyes. And it’s on the sports page.
I can’t link to Les Carpenter’s story without also linking to Ashley’s meditation on real leadership, which sums up better than I could what we’ll be feeling while watching the game tonight. Like Alan said, “the only organization serving our mental health is the NFL.” Lord knows we need it.