ABC 26 News

I was on the local news last night — top of the ten o’clock hour.

Bart Everson Mid-City Resident

They pegged it to Nagin’s 100+3 day press conference, citing his quip about commercial blight, and then segueing to our rodent-infested grocery.

They shot the interview with me yesterday afternoon. The camera operator (who bravely ventured into the grocery) turns out to be a blog-reader. He was even at Rising Tide. Unfortunately I didn’t get his name. The reporter was Cyndi Nguyen. After talking to me they interviewed Ryan and Zion, Lydia’s sons who live next door to the grocery.

That night they came back, and Cyndi did a live stand-up in front of the grocery. She even brandished a printout from this blog.

Cyndi Live

I was very happy with the way they handled the story. Twelve-year-old Zion giving a tour, showing where the rats come through, really brought it home.

Zion

I don’t have any way to record TV at home, but I took some pictures of the screen. You can watch the video on the WGNO website, but unfortunately you’ll need the RealOne Player (free) and I can’t figure how to actually save the file. I hate that file format. Why would a TV station want to make it difficult for people to share their content? They’ve got their brand plastered on the screen. They would only stand to benefit if it was easier to share.

I’ve also been contacted by some city officials who read my op-ed piece. There are some hopeful developments, but nothing substantive yet.

ABC Tonite, NBC Tomorrow?

I think I’ll be on the local news tonight (ABC 26 at 9 and 10) with some other Mid-City residents, talking about that corner grocery. Yeah, you know the one.

It looks like I will also be on NBC Nightly News (national) but I’m not sure when. The producer, a guy named Steve Majors who moved here in June, told me that they sometimes hold a story for weeks or months. In any event, NBC is the one station that hasn’t resurrected its digital broadcast signal since Katrina, and as a consequence our reception is terrible. So if you see it, let me know.

It Got Worse

A few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, I wrote a short essay titled “I Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse.”

Sadly, it seems it has gotten worse. A lot worse. We’re now embroiled in a war that has nothing to do with those attacks, yet those attacks are used to justify this war.

In the dark days after the planes hit the buildings, two things were immediately clear to me, probable to the point of certainty: 1) that the point of the terrorist attacks could only be to provoke war between Islam and the West, and 2) that we would fall for it.

Man, it really sucks to be right sometimes.

September 11th used to be the Day Everything Changed. In New Orleans it no longer feels that way. We’ve got a new day on the calendar for that, sadly enough.

Meanwhile, in the United States, September 11th seems to have turned into National Hate-Mongering Day. I just turned on the radio and got an earful:

They say we can’t stop another attack? I can stop it. Let me unroll the barbed wire. And the very first people going in there are the ACLU lawyers.

I’m not making this up. This wasn’t a caller — this was the host. He wasn’t joking, either. He literally wants concentration camps here in America, with the ACLU as prisoners, in the name of stopping terrorism.

You and I might dismiss such talk as the ranting of an idiot. But you and I don’t have nationally syndicated talk shows.

To the families of the victims, I want to say, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry we as a nation have perverted the memory of your loss to serve such hateful political ends.

Edited

I write here without editorial filter. Sometimes I wish I had one. So it was a pleasure to write an op-ed piece for the Times-Picayune, which appeared in this morning’s paper. It was nice to have a second set of eyes checking my work. Here’s what I wrote, followed by some notes.
Continue reading “Edited”

Yes, It’s the Yes Men

I got an e-mail yesterday morning announcing a bold reversal of policy by HUD. They were planning to re-open the shuttered public housing projects and allow residents displaced by the flooding to return home! I get so much e-mail I often scan things quickly, but this caught my eye, particularly the part of the press release where HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is quoted as saying, “We were wrong to prevent people from returning home.”

A public official admitting he was wrong? Something smelled fishy.

I forwarded it to some friends and neighbors who quickly noted that the press release linked to hano.us, but the official site of the Housing Authority of New Orleans is hano.org.

And then it dawned on me: This must be the work of the Yes Men. I knew they were in town to show their film at Zeitgeist tomorrow night. This was just the kind of prank that’s become their trademark. So I shut up, sat back, and watched events unfold on the evening news.

The press release was just the tip of the iceberg. They also impersonated a HUD official at a local event with the mayor and governor in attendance. You can read about the prank on CNN or WWL or the Times-Picayune, or check the pictures and video of the event on the fake HANO site.

“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal.”

I’m famous at last, quoted in an article on the Village Voice website by Anya Kamenetz, a former New Orleanian.

“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal,” says New Orleans resident Bart Everson. His house, which took on five feet of water, stands at a crossroads in the city’s recovery — one of the points where people staring at destruction must decide whether to stay or go. At the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife are back in their Mid-City home, in a neighborhood where fewer than 30 percent of the families own the place they live in and which most visitors might see only on their way to Jazzfest.

Absentee landlords have abandoned more than half the nearby buildings in his district. His neighbors across the street, an elderly African American woman with her three grandchildren, are gone, replaced by someone who seems to be a squatter. Newly arrived Hispanic laborers are paying twice the pre-Katrina rents, yet some have no electricity or gas. Some pile their unbagged garbage in the street. The block around the corner is full of FEMA trailers, and across the street is a grocery store untouched since the storm. Inside, rats scurry over a floor slick with rot.

And yet Everson, who works at Xavier University, and his wife, who teaches school, have no plans to leave. They are renovating their flooded first story. They complained to their City Council member about the garbage and the rats, and used Spanish-language flyers to persuade new neighbors to clean up. And most of all, the Eversons are active in their neighborhood organization, which like dozens around the city is working independently to devise a plan for rebuilding. Their group is proposing to form a community redevelopment corporation to buy blighted houses and provide a path to homeownership for those willing to renovate them.

“We want to give people a reason to move to Mid-City,” Everson says, especially people from more wrecked neighborhoods who can’t afford to buy in the areas that stayed dry. “I really think we are the best of the worst, as far as a flooded neighborhood that’s coming back.”

Also quoted: fellow NOLA bloggers Maitri and Karen Gadbois of Northwest Carrollton.

They also put up a slideshow of my photos. They even paid me ($150) for the photos, a totally unexpected windfall and ego-boost. The photo editor said I should shoot for money. How flattering is that?

Positive Transformation

I’m sure most of the world doesn’t realize it, but here on the Gulf Coast we are preparing for a big storm. No, I’m not talking about Tropical Storm Chris — at least I hope not. The one-year anniversary of Katrina is looming large, and we are preparing for a storm of media coverage. We hope that’s the only storm we face this season.

There will be lots of reporters here doing the “one year later” story, and New Orleans will be a focal point. So I’ve been thinking, if they stick a mic in my face, what would I say? What should any of us say? I’ve been speculating on the best stance for New Orleans, the best message to send to the rest of the country. What’s the story we’d like the media to tell?

Given all that I know about today’s media culture, I think the message that would serve us best is something along these lines:

Positive transformation. New Orleanians are working to rebuild their city better than ever, and it’s coming along. We are transforming New Orleans in a good way. We’re keeping the positive aspects of our city and its culture; at the same time we’re working to correct the problems. We’re making progress, but the task is huge, and we need your help.

Whether or not this is actually true is another question entirely. I don’t know what’s true anymore. The questions are too big, and I’m too mixed up in the middle of it all. But I think this is the story that would best serve our interests. I think this is the story that would rally the American people to our cause.

Unfortunately this is all just wishful thinking on my part. The city government has planned a big celebration for the anniversary, complete with fireworks and a “comedy night” at the casino, and other completely inappropriate foolishness. If I was a reporter from out of town, I know the story I’d be inclined to file. I’d contrast the big gala celebration with the devastation in the Lower Ninth Ward and the lack of progress in many flooded neighborhoods. The story would be, “This place is so screwed up.” And that story will hurt us.

So, if anyone reading this in New Orleans gets a moment in the media spotlight, please consider what I’ve said. Please try to put a brave face on it and emphasize the positive, without glossing over the challenges we face. It’s important.

And more importantly, if you’re in New Orleans and not engaged in the positive transformation of our city, please get involved, in whatever way you can. We need your help to make this dream a reality.

Film Studio Under Fire — Not!

I’m disappointed by the spin of this article in City Business —laf the headline in particular. “Film studio under fire”? C’mon. No one is criticizing the LIFT project. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to is pretty excited about it. What we are questioning is process by which the public land was sold.

No Glory

It really chapped my ass to read the story on the front page of today’s paper, about the big movie production studio which is planned to be built next to the Lafitte housing project.

I’m not opposed to the project — I see it as a hugely positive boon to the neighborhood. The inclusion of a vocational school is great.

What irritates me is that I learned about this three months ago. Continue reading “No Glory”

Paper

After months of calling and begging, we’re finally getting home delivery of the Times-Picayune again — more or less. They started us up ten days ago. Of those ten days, the newspaper has actually been delivered seven times. Still, it beats hunting down a stocked box every morning.

Inside Out

There’s an article about us in today’s Inside Out, the Times-Picayune’s Saturday home & garden magazine. Ironically enough, I still can’t get the paper delivered to our home.

REBUILDING IN MID-CITY IS STOP AND GO
Saturday, April 08, 2006
By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

NOTE: Meet Bart Everson and Christy Paxson, who live on North Salcedo Street just off Canal Street. Though they moved back into the upstairs of their house in November, it was another month before they had power, and several more before work began on repairing the flood damage downstairs. We will drop in on them from time to time to check on their progress.
Continue reading “Inside Out”

“Students may be the optimistic people in New Orleans”

The Washington Post published an article titled Amid Katrina’s Ruins, Black Colleges Survive:

Xavier University, the nation’s only historically black Catholic university, expected half its 4,100 students would return this semester; instead 3,110 are back on its restored campus, surrounded by uninhabitable houses and boarded-up shopping centers.

Until I read this article, I hadn’t thought about the fact that 3/4 of our students are back, but only about 1/3 of the city’s residents have returned.

“A Familiar Third World Story”

An oddly-titled article, “Katrina sweeps us pride” by Tushar Charan, has been published in the Asian Tribune. The “pride,” I gather, is in regard to how countries in Asia have responded to recent disasters. I was fascinated to see how the Katrina debacle is viewed from foreign shores.

Choice quotes:

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has amply exposed the vulnerability of the United States and showed to the world that the US is more at home attending to problems like deficiency of democracy in distant lands than the travails of disaster victims within its own walls.

And:

People in the condemned Third World need not derive any ‘satisfaction’ from the tragedy in the US. In fact, every country should draw lessons from what Katrina has done to the Americans and why. It appears that it was the system that failed in the US and the poor persons had to pay the price for it. Oh, but that sounds like a familiar third world story.

Death of an American City

The New York Times published this editorial today:

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn’t happen. President Bush said it wouldn’t happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, “There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans.” But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don’t believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president’s liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words “pending in Congress” are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year’s estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

“We’ll not just rebuild, we’ll build higher and better,” President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.

Of course, New Orleans’s local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.

So…

If you have been reading this blog for a while, and if you haven’t been to New Orleans since Katrina, you may find this op-ed piece surprising.

Mostly I write about the small steps forward that we’re making in our personal lives. But believe me, the concerns expressed in this editorial are all we talk about in New Orleans these days.

That, and what restaurants have re-opened.

Virgin Birth

I’m astonished to read a Newsweek poll that says 79% of Americans believe in the miracle of the virgin birth. That means you get five Americans together, and four will believe Jesus was born of a virgin. That just seems incredible.

And to think I just ordered my solstice cards.

According to the same poll, 55% of Americans say every word of the Bible is literally true. Christ almighty! I am not a Newsweek fundamentalist; I’m skeptical of these numbers. But perhaps that’s only wishful thinking on my part. America is full of people who believe stuff I think is just plain crazy.