Equality Is Awesome

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue

On the 28th of March, 2004, I started this blog with a post about sweetgum buds. Later that day, I attended a meeting of the Greater New Orleans Green Party, where the group endorsed a statement I’d written on the subject of marriage equality.

Everybody should have the right to get married. The sex of the partners should have no more bearing on their right to marriage than their race or religion.

You can read the whole thing; it’s no work of genius but I’m quite proud of it.

At that time, I thought marriage equality was a great issue for people of conscience to “organize around.” That is, I thought the issue could serve to get people with diverse and divergent concerns working together, starting to see the connections between many different social causes — perhaps garnering support for Green candidates in the process.

Because, after all, marriage is a positive thing. Wedding celebrations can be beautiful and joyous. Who wouldn’t get excited about that?

A couple months later, I posted the following.

Gay people are getting married in Massachusetts today, and this straight, married man couldn’t be happier. I love weddings. In fact, the stories in the news today brought a tear to my eye. I can’t help but feel overwhelmingly positive about this development. Maybe I’m just starved for good news. But this feels like a historic day. Fifty years from now, I bet we’ll all be looking back and remembering.

But when November 2004 rolled around, I was alarmed and disappointed to see the issue being used to ends which were exactly the opposite of what I’d dreamed. Instead of a rallying point for liberty and unity, voters turned out in droves to deny equal rights to their fellow citizens — giving electoral support to conservative candidates.

Demoralized and dejected, I second-guessed myself at that point. I figured I was just profoundly out-of-touch with the American people. Fortunately, many truly committed activists didn’t give up so easily. They kept working away, on many fronts. Public opinion has shifted dramatically in that time. I guess I need to triple-guess myself. There have been other victories and setbacks along the way, but it’s hard to imagine anything bigger than last week’s ruling.

In retrospect, it seems clear that it will be the 26th of June, and not 17th of May, that will be remembered as we look back at this time. Not only do we have Obergefell v. Hodges to commemorate, but the 26th of June is also the date of the decisions on two other historic related cases: United States v. Windsor (2013) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

And let’s not forget Loving Day on the 12th of June, in honor of the historic ruling on Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal in 1967.

Happily, it seems that June is increasing its currency as the month of matrimony. As I note in Flowers to Flame:

For centuries, June has been far and away the most popular month for weddings. The very name of the month derives from the Roman goddess Juno, queen of the gods but also goddess of marriage. This is the time to celebrate union, and not just the young, passionate, lusty desires of May, but also the more mature, stable, lasting commitment, the intimate, deep commingling of self and other.

I’ve read that the achievement of marriage equality in our country may lead to a renewed appreciation for the institution of marriage, especially amongst left-leaning types who have sadly ceded that ground to conservatives in recent decades.

I hope so. Xy and I will mark 22 years of marriage this year, and I can testify that despite many challenges along the way, it has been on balance a very healthy thing for me, and for Xy too I think. Marriage isn’t automatically awesome, but it can be, and I am glad that more people will be able to participate.

Footnote: Can I indulge in a little quadruple-guessing? I do have some misgivings, of course; it’s my nature to consider the angles. When Xy and I got married, I asked, “Who is the ultimate arbiter of human relations?” (It was in our wedding program!) Is it the state or the community? While I strongly endorse the right of consenting individuals to get married, I’m skeptical about why the state has to get involved. Thus I find myself strangely sympathetic to the arguments of conservative Libertarian Party types. I see that some states here in the Deep South are suddenly eager to get out of the marriage business entirely. That’s interesting, and though I deplore the motive in some ways, I’m curious to see where it will lead.

Photo credit: Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue by Mark K., CC BY-NC 2.0

A Pagan Community Statement on the Planetary Ecosystem

Happy Mother Earth Day

Today is International Mother Earth Day. Yes, that’s the official name as designated by the United Nations. And isn’t that a more interesting, more compelling, juicier name? I wonder if it will ever catch on in these United States.

I’ve heard it’s the largest secular holiday in the world, but many of us experience the Earth as sacred, which would seem to make it a quasi-religious holiday. Such mysteries are well above my pay-grade.

Not coincidentally, I am also celebrating today the publication of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” I’ve been involved in the drafting of this document over the last six months, though it was very much a group effort, with dozens of people contributing.

It was, as one might imagine, difficult to synthesize many divergent views on such a broad topic into a single coherent and relatively concise statement, but I’m proud of the final product. As of this moment, there are over 400 signatories from around the world, including a number of well-respected organizations.

Please take a moment to read the statement and consider signing on yourself.

Happy Mother Earth Day!

A Natural Extension

Corlita

I was honored to stand with over a dozen parents, teachers, and former board members, to speak in support of the Morris Jeff United Educators at the board meeting yesterday. Here’s what I said.

I’m speaking today to express my enthusiastic support for the formation, or perhaps I should say the re-formation, of a teachers’ union at Morris Jeff.

As you are all very much aware, Morris Jeff Community School as we currently know it was born, or perhaps I should say reborn, after the flooding of New Orleans, during the recovery process, as a grassroots effort toward the recovery and rebuilding of our city.

It was inspirational to bear witness to this process. Engaged citizens took on an awesome task, self-organizing for a better future, talking to one another, sharing information and taking action. This was a pattern I saw repeated again and again throughout my neighborhood, and in neighborhood after neighborhood across the city. But this effort was special, a sterling example of democracy in action. As a result, we have a fine school, and I’m proud to say that my my daughter is currently on her way to completing her third year here.

In my view, the process of teachers getting self-organized is a natural extension of the very process that gave birth to the school. A teachers’ union embodies the principles of grassroots democracy, organizing from the bottom-up, and I am fully in support of this in broad general concept, as I feel will yield many positive results for our children. I encourage the board to look favorably on recognition of the union and to enter into negotiations as appropriate.

Additional information:

Morris Jeff teacher’s union ask to enter a collective bargaining agreement with school board (Mid-City Messenger)

Happy May Day

Anarchy Flowers

As I researched the Haymarket Affair and the history of May Day in America, it was interesting to learn that Bohemian anarchists played a prominent role in the campaign for an eight-hour day and other labor struggles of the late 19th century. That caught my eye because I recently learned that one of my Bohemian immigrant ancestors had to sign a loyalty oath vouching that he was not an anarchist. (This puts me in mind of a conversation I had with my father some 17 years ago… but I digress.)

Tomorrow is May Day, so I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday.

Also, for the occasion, I have an essay on the topic, examining the connection between politics and spirituality through my own highly idiosyncratic lens, which you can read here:

May Day x 2

Green Convention

Green Party of Louisiana Convention 2014 Flyer

Over the past couple weeks, volunteers (including yours truly) have attempted to call every registered Green in the state of Lousiana, just to let people know that we’re organizing this convention on January 25. Our 2012 presidential candidate Jill Stein will be there.

Don’t let the slick graphics fool you: This is a grassroots, seat-of-the-pants effort. We value each and every person’s participation.

I should perhaps mention what the Green Party is about. A lot of people think it’s an environmental group. It’s not. It’s a political party which holds ecological wisdom as a core value. Social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence are the other pillars of the party. Obviously our efforts are focused on Louisiana, but the Green Party is an international movement.

Frankly the party needs an infusion of fresh blood. If you’re at all interested in these things, you should most certainly come and learn more. Please register at lagreens.org.
Continue reading Green Convention

Institutionalized Insanity

Why Are We Here?

Sitting thru my employer’s mandatory benefits workshop reconfirmed my belief that health insurance is institutionalized insanity. There must be a better way.

I’ve never liked the concept of health insurance. It seems wrong to me at the very core. It feels like a perverse form of gambling. You’re putting down all this money against the possibility that you might get sick. If you stay healthy, you lose, and all that money goes to the house. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get sick, and then the house pays out.

If you win, you lose; if you lose, you win. That just seems like a cruel and unusual system.

The chief virtue of group insurance, as far as I can see, is that it helps share the cost amongst the group. That’s great. However, I fail to see how having such insurance administered by a for-profit corporation adds any value to that equation. The profit would seem to derive from either one of two sources: 1) paying employees less than their labor is worth, or 2) taking in more premiums than are actually needed to cover healthcare costs. Both seem blatantly contrary to common sense, which is why I call it institutionalized insanity. It’s better than no coverage at all, better than having to bear the costs alone, but the model seems to have fundamental flaws.

Our current system has many problems. The insurance model is one of those problems.

And that brings me to Obamacare.

I can see that Obamacare might correct some of the most egregious problems with our system. For example, it aims for universal coverage. I was glad to learn via social media that at least one old friend from Bloomington is doing well by the new law, and that makes me happy. For the record, I should note that Obamacare has had no effect whatsoever on me and my family. Thus my musings here are strictly big-picture philosophical.

My chief concern with Obamacare is that it doesn’t seem to move us any closer to sanity. It seems to only invest us deeper in the madness, by mandating insurance for all.

I hasten to add that my impression is based on my admittedly limited understanding of this very complex bundle of legislation. Like with our tax code, that complexity is part of the problem. We’ve got fixes grafted on fixes producing a monster like Frankenstein’s. Few really understand it all.

Of course, simplifying this complex situation would be truly radical, and I’m not sure we have the stomach for it. Nevertheless, let me sketch out my simple idea: I kind of think we should provide a basic level of healthcare for everyone, sharing the cost amongst taxpayers, and then have insurance for whatever is above and beyond that basic level. Insurance should not be a necessity; it should be something extra.

Does Obamacare move us toward that in any way? I don’t see how. If anything, it seems to move us in the opposite direction. We won’t ever move ahead by taking half-steps backward. We won’t replace health insurance as the basic model for healthcare by mandating it for everyone.

Some apologists for Obamacare acknowledge its limitations but say this was the only viable solution. They quote Otto von Bismarck: “Politics is the art of the possible.” True enough, but here’s another way to phrase that same idea: “Politics is the art of creating possibilities.” When people can’t manage to create desirable possibilities, it’s a political failure.

I hope I am wrong about this. Time will tell.

Epistle to the Ecotopians

I don’t often do this, but here are some words written by someone else. I guess I should add a few words of my own. I read Ecotopia in the late 80s. Written by Ernest Callenbach, it’s an imaginative novel that speculates on what would happen if the west coast of the United States seceded from the union and established a country based on the radical idea of living sustainably. I read it in a class on utopian literature at Indiana University, taught by the amazing Edward Gubar. I loved that class. Incidentally, today I saw that Edward’s ex-wife Susan Gubar is on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is also a writer facing her own mortality, just as Ernest Callenbach has done. Callenbach died a few weeks ago, and this letter was found on his computer. It was obviously written as a final statement. Please, please read it. Also, many thanks to TomDispatch.com for first publishing this epistle.
Continue reading Epistle to the Ecotopians

Blasphemers and Apostates

March 14, 2012: International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates.

I suppose I am both an apostate and a blasphemer, at least by by some definitions. I’m fortunate to live in a country where religious freedom, though constantly contested, is guaranteed by the constitution.

But things are very different in some other nations.

On the YouTube page for this video, you’ll find a great list of resources for more information.

Please support this cause.

B&w

I’ll take this article with a grain of salt, but I did find the parenthetical explanation of the racial politics of capitalization helpful.

Readers frequently write to ask why I capitalize “Black” but not “white”. Often the question comes with racial resentment attached: there is a feeling that the use of the capital letter reveals some sneaky political agenda. The reason is not some kind of bending-over-backwards PC leftie orthodoxy; it is because I think the terms refer to two different kinds of groups. African Americans are an American ethnic group like Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, German Americans or Jewish Americans. We normally capitalize the name of such ethnic groups: Tibetans, Kurds, Jews, Gypsies. White in America is not one ethnic group; it is a larger, less defined group who do not share the kind of strong common identity that smaller groups do. White is an attribute but it is not an identity. I don’t capitalize black when referring to black Africans or Jamaicans; using the capital letter is a way to specify American Blacks, not blacks at large. It’s eccentric, maybe, but it seems logical.

I’ve long used lowercase for both descriptors. Capitalizing “white” felt wrong; I thought I was being egalitarian by not capitalizing “black” either, even though I saw that many respected writers did so. The usage guides I’ve read over the years offered unsatisfactory meditations that left me scratching my head. But I find this pretty convincing.

“The Oil is Not Gone, and Neither Are We”

Cherri Foytlin

This just in from Cherri Foytlin, who will be on the Social Media, Social Justice panel at Rising Tide 6 (register now):

“thanks to all who attended – please read and share the link”

The day before yesterday, on August 4, 2011, one year after the President of our United States stood on national television and said that 75% of the oil that had spewed into our Gulf was gone, I was booked into the New Orleans Parish Police lock-up with the charge of Criminal Trespassing.

The day before, I had been called by the Louisiana State Police Department to come to a meeting with them to discuss the Non-violent Direct Action Protest that myself and a united group consisting of environmentalists, community organizers, fishermen and clean-up workers, had organized in front of the British Petroleum offices, which are on the 13th and 14th floor of 1250 Poydras in NOLA.

At that meeting, I was told that we were allowed on the sidewalk only. That there would be plain clothed officers among us, and that if we crossed a certain line, which runs from the building to the parking lot, we would be arrested. The detectives, very nicely, drew us a map to explain the exact whereabouts of that line.

When we got to the event, which at the beginning had nearly 100 in attendance, I made the announcement that I was going to cross that line. And that I was doing this in protest of the so many lines that BP has crossed, in my mind, concerning the cleaning up of their mess, the spraying of toxic chemicals in our water, the murder of 11 of our energy providers, the disrespect and economical damage to our fishermen and residents, and the denial of and lack of response to health issues and claims since April 20 of last year.

So, I intentionally crossed that invisible line and took their tar balls back to them – a box full that had been picked up our beaches that day, (with no clean-up workers in sight, I might add). At least 15 other people chose to go with me, to complete this task.

As we approached the front door, we were met immediately by a representative of the company, the building and a security guard. Together they refused us any access to the building, citing that all BP workers had been dismissed for the day – a fact I knew to be untrue, because the state police had told me at our previous meeting that although most would be sent home at 4:30 that day, some would be available until 5:30, (at the time that they had told us this, they were trying to facilitate a meeting between us and BP – to which we had said was only an option it Feinberg and Zimmer was in attendance, and to which BP had refused to consider).

Being unable to enter the building, we dropped the tar balls on the sidewalk (in plastic), and sat down directly in front of the doors, where others came to join us.

And that was where we stayed.

In the mean time, kind people from within our group brought us waters and other refreshments in order to make our stay more comfortable. So, naturally, it was not very long before I personally had to urinate.

A very respectful gentleman from the state police had come forward to negotiate, just as he had the day before at the meeting in the SBI offices. I asked him, jokingly, if he thought they would just let me in to pee. He said no and that “They were freaking out in there.”, but pointed out that there were portable toilets just beyond the fence in a nearby hotel construction site.

After a few minutes, I felt it calm enough at that moment – since all BP representatives, building security and police personnel were discussing the issue inside, (excluding the one member of the state police that, at that time, was sitting with us), I could go use the restroom quickly, and come back.

So, I did. I jumped the fence and used the facilities. Upon my return jump, I realized that the BP reps in the building had seen me go and went running to find me, perhaps thinking I had looked for an alternative route into the building.

And that they had taped me jumping the fence and notified the nearby construction site mangers of my trespassing. We believe that they had hoped that the other owners would have had me arrested for trespassing and kept the BP name out of the incident. You see, arresting and charging people for bringing to light their negligence and lack of response sort of blows that whole “making it right” image.

But, the people next door had no interest in arresting me, or anyone else. We have more allies than they, or even we, know – you see?

I then joined the others in sitting, which we continued for over all around 3 hours until a little after 8:00 pm, which is when – after negotiating tirelessly, and being very respectful with us all day, the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police gave us one more chance to end the protest and go home before arrests were made.

At that final refusal, NOLA PD, quietly came forth and arrested the 3 of us, who had remained seated.

Truth is, I knew that I personally was going to get arrested if I stayed sitting there, I knew that. And this was a decision that had not been made lightly on my part.

Over the last year and nearly a half I have studied past movements that have worked on different levels. And thanks to those who have come before us, we have a general formula for affecting change.

According to Dr. King, mainly from his letters while he, himself, was sitting in an Alabama jail, he said that the progression includes the following:

– To find out if an injustice exists – without doubt we, the people of the Gulf, have been dealt with very unjustly with regards to this corporation and our governments handling of this event, as well as others across the Gulf.

– To negotiate – we, the residents, fishermen, clean-up workers, tourism industry workers, oil workers, community organizers, ect, have negotiated on the local, state and federal levels with the HHS, the CDC, the NOAA, the EPA, the GCERT, the CEQ, the DEQ, the Oil Spill Commission, the Administration, and BP itself for nearly 16 months – to little or no avail.

– Dr. King’s next step was to “self-purify” – each person must take this step alone. Personally, I had first interpreted this step as the ending of bad habits, such as social drinking. But on the walk I realized that he was talking about preparing your mind against egotistical illusions, self-doubt and self-pity.

– The last step is action. And in the successful civil rights movement, as well as the Eastern Indian movement for independence, that meant non-violent action and civil disobedience taken against the oppressors in order to advance the cause of, and bring to light the call for, justice and liberty.

Our being arrested, was just the first step of that last phase.

Now, while I was sitting there I had a good friend of mine, who is very sick from the toxins still in his system and our environment, say to me, “Cherri, it is not worth getting arrested.”. He was begging me not to take that final step. He did that, because he love me, and he did not wish to see me suffer, I understand that – and it warms my heart. But my response to him was, “My friend, you are so worth getting arrested for”.

You see that is what we all must understand. You, my friend, are worth it. Our ecosystem is worth it, our kids are worth it, our future is worth it.. We must understand the value of what we have and be determined in protection of that. We must take up responsibility to, and for, each other now, in these times. Because, we are all worth it.

As we sat there, we repeatedly looked across the crowd and saw testament to that notion; such as, the poster my 9-year-old had made of her depiction of Earth with pollution dotting it, and the eyes of the people who were sick from chemical poisoning and yet had still come out to take a stand, calloused hands of a fishermen, community organizers who we have all seen at events from Texas, to Florida, to D.C. – demanding, begging sometimes, to be heard on behalf of the communities and ecosystem that they love. And we saw grandmothers and grandfathers, daddies and mommies, and sisters and brothers, all united in the simple humanitarian right of clean air and water.

One person in particular, Kimberly Wolf, a warrior woman who I have had the honor of getting to know early on in this fight, and who also has terminal cancer, yet got out of her bed and joined us for as long as she could – strengthened our souls. She is the picture of strength and love in all of this – and in seeing her, I have never been so moved by an example of commitment and perseverance.

That is the epitome of what this event, and our arrest, was about. That there is hope, we have allegiance to each other, that the loss of one does not and will not end the journey of the whole for truth, justice and recompense of the human rights violations that are taking place in our homeland.

There are so many to thank for the success of the day. I would especially like to recognize Kyle Nugent and Noah Learned, who I had not met prior and yet went all the way on behalf of our people and coast. The people who helped in organizational duties, too many to name here – but in particular Karen S, Ada, Devin, Josh, Mary-Margaret, Anne, Elizabeth, Robert – there are so many. And including the people who were at the event(s) of last week, and/or are still working on this issue, or others like it.. you are all my heroes.

I would also like to make clear, that the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police Department were very kind in their treatment of us before, during and after our arrest. The first thing I was told after getting in the car was, “Why didn’t you just go home, Miss Cherri? None of us wanted to arrest you.”

They also took the handcuffs off as soon as we arrived at the station, and made sure we were as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

So, there you have it.

I want you all to know, that we will not stop. We will not stop until our fishermen, our workers, our families, our wildlife, our waters, our region – are made whole again. Because when you love something, when you really do, you will never be silenced in protecting and fighting for it.

There will be further opportunities for those caring souls across the nation to stand with us for justice. Be ready.

You see, THAT is the greatest weapon in our tool box, that is what will win this and so many other battles we have been called to participate in, it’s our LOVE that will carry the day.

On August 4 we took our first stand. Courage, my friends, this is just a beginning.

Yours truly,

Cherri Foytlin

P.S. – BP have a response to the event, which is further proof that we made a wave, I cannot find the link at the moment but will update when I can. They said something like, “we are still here too“. It would be nice if a response was made by you to the author.. And to every journalist, and person, who needs to learn more about the truth of what is happening in America’s Gulf Coast.

Here is the link mentioned in the above paragraph.

Photo cropped from original: Adam Thomas and Cherri Foytlin / Linh Do / CC BY 2.0

Social Media, Social Justice

Twitter Revolt Logo (burst)

After the Beyond Jena forum in January of 2009, I had the idea for putting together a one-day conference on the intersection of social media and social justice.

Alas, though I blew some hot air around the office, I never actually did it. A combination of distractions and personal lethargy (on my part) got in the way. I allowed the idea to languish while we looked for grant money to fund it, when in reality we could probably have done the whole thing on a shoestring.

But that’s all water through the spillway now. I’m looking forward to Rising Tide VI, and I may have a chance to program a panel on this topic.

Much as I’d like to think the title of this post says it all, perhaps I should unpack it a little. Social Media, Social Justice. More and more people around the world use blogs and social network services. Their power to connect people and publish diverse voices raises questions about the possibility of using new media as organizing tools for social change. For example, blogs played a crucial role in organizing protests in Jena, Louisiana, in 2007. I’m interested in examining the intersection and interaction of social media with the struggle for a more just and humane society. Do tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, et cetera, facilitate such work, and if so how? What are some concrete examples? We’ve all heard about the revolution in Egypt, but what’s going on locally? I’m also interested in critical perspectives. Does social media actually impede the struggle for justice? Are we just “amusing ourselves to death” (to borrow a phrase from Neil Postman)? Does new media present a new opportunities, or do we face the same issues as ever?

I have some ideas about who to ask to sit on the panel, but I’m curious to know if any of my readers have any suggestions. Ideally I’m looking for people who are equally versed in both halves of the equation. In other words, tech-savvy activists and socially conscious geeks, as well as scholars who have studied this issue. We’re looking for local folks with a New Orleans connection, so we can keep it real and relevant to the focus of the conference. Also we don’t have funds to support travel. Exceptions could be made for an exceptional speaker. Above all participants should be able to speak to the issue with passion and intelligence.

Thoughts?

Twitter Revolt Logo (burst) / to the People All Power / BY-NC 2.0

World Events

She Turned My World Upside Down

News from around the world certainly has been interesting of late. Unfortunately it shows no sign of letting up. I call that unfortunate because “interesting” usually means “bad” so far as news is concerned. Even when bad news doesn’t affect me directly, it’s troubling and problematic for me in two different ways.

Of course it makes me sad to read of people suffering anywhere, but it’s more than that. Like many people, I often don’t know what to do or how to react. For example, I started following the story about the conflict in Ivory Coast months ago. This was before the revolutions and unrest started sweeping through other parts of Africa and the Middle East. I guess it caught my attention because I’m a fan of the reggae singer Alpha Blondy, who’s from that country. The conflict, revolving around a contested election, dragged on and turned bloody and eventually a lot of people were killed. I think the final death toll was tallied in the thousands. I’m not sure of the factual details. I could look them up, but why bother? In fact, I wonder more and more what is the point of being an informed citizen of the world?

Americans are notoriously uninformed about world events, and I find that aspect of our national character rather depressing; but on the other hand I personally am surrounded by plenty of intelligent people who are quite well informed, and I still have to wonder: Where does it get us? So we know about stuff going on all over the globe. Do we use that information in any kind of meaningful way? For many of us, our participation in civic life begins and ends in the voting booth, with a choice between two highly unsatisfactory candidates. Being aware of a bloody crisis in Ivory Coast doesn’t really factor into that decision at all. I often say voting is the least of our civic duties. Being an informed voter takes time and energy, as does keeping abreast of world events. I’d much rather see people actively engaged in their local community. It’s great if people can do all these things, but in my experience a lot of people are running around busy, busy, busy, overwhelmed by the stresses and demands of modern life. I’m certainly no fan of ignorance, but I’m just saying if you need to tamp down your vociferous news consumption to make time for active engagement, you certainly have my approval.

I was talking about this to MaPó a couple days ago and she turned me on to Kiva Microfunds. I’ve heard about microfinance, and Kiva’s been around for years, but I’ve never investigated this before. So I invested $25 in a loan to a shopkeeper in Uganda. It would have been more “poetic,” or something, to invest in Ivory Coast, but Kiva doesn’t currently have any partners in Ivory Coast. Faith needed that last $25 to complete her loan of $650, so it seemed like a good first-time investment for me. It’s not much but at least it’s some sort of way to be involved globally.

(I hope it’s self-evident that I’m not offering the above as an example of “active engagement” in the “local community.” It’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite. My friend Heather Duke shared a quote from Mother Teresa via Facebook: “Start by helping the person closest to you.” I’m down with Mama T on that one. My local involvements are well-known to anyone who knows me, and those efforts represent an investment of far more than $25, though I primarily give of my time and energy, rather than my money. Localism has to come first, in my view. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m advocating we all invest in Kiva while ignoring our neighbors because I that would be a terrible idea.)

The other reason I find world events problematic is more personal and trivial: I constantly feel I should be writing about them here, even though I don’t have anything interesting to say. This is a journal of what’s going on in my life. When I read about a conflict elsewhere in the world, it’s not a part of my direct experience. But it can become an emotional force that impinges upon my consciousness such that I feel I have to account for it. If I leave it out I’m missing a major chunk of my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. Yet I really have nothing of substance to add beyond what’s reported in the media. For me to pontificate on the ramifications of the conflict in Ivory Coast would be the height of foolishness. So I’m left in a quandary, damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Medical Madness

Medical Madness

Even though I’ve been feeling much better after my initial bout with bronchitis, I’ve continued to have minor relapses. I exert myself and then feel funny in the lungs and fatigued.

So I made an appointment to see my doctor Tuesday morning.

And it was such a strange doctor visit.

  1. I was informed that my doctor would now be charging $10 for phone calls. In fact, I was given a letter about it, and I had to sign to confirm receipt. The nurse-receptionist blamed “Obamacare” but the letter blamed Congress. So if I get some lab work done, I can either make a standard appointment to discuss the results, or I can pay ten bucks for a phone consult. My insurance will pay nothing for phone calls, but my co-pay for an office visit is $30.
  2. Once I got into the examination room, I was told the doctor now wants patients who can type to enter their own symptoms directly into the system. In the past a nurse or intern would talk to me and take notes. I can indeed type (in fact I’m typing right now) so soon I found myself typing my symptoms into a computer. I actually don’t mind this because I’m fairly articulate and I can know exactly what’s being entered. Still, it seemed weird.
  3. The doctor’s first impulse was to test me for HIV. Since I’m having trouble shaking an infection, perhaps there’s a problem with my immune system. I guess that makes sense. I’ve never been tested for HIV, so I guess it’s a good idea on general principle. I just thought it was odd that this would be at the top of the list. He also tested me for asthma but that came back negative. I’ll get the HIV results next week.

For what it’s worth, I’m on an antibiotic now and feeling better than ever.

As long as I’m talking about medical issues, I should mention the other symptom that prompted me to see the doctor. I seem to have quantity of fluid in my maxillary sinus cavity. I can feel it draining from side to side when I lie down. Yet my nasal passages are mostly clear — I’m not blowing snot. I finally blew some last week, and it was an alarming color I’ve never seen before, a very dark brown. Might be some old blood in there, as I was having bloody noses a month ago. I’ve been doing sinus rinses daily but they don’t seem to wash anything out. I don’t think the antibiotic will get the mucus out of my sinuses. What to do? What’s going on here anyway?

Medical Madness / Juan Calos Herrera / BY-NC-SA 2.0

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 4.5

Yesterday evening, I made my presentation, “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans,” to a special interest group of the AERA. I related five prominent stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. Even though the presentation is over, I’m still playing catch-up here on the blog.

Jena, Louisiana: Rev. Jesse Jackson

I wanted to cheat a little bit and sneak in an extra story, so I’m calling this one 4.5.

The story of the Jena Six is complex and has been recounted extensively so I won’t attempt to revisit the details here. Rather, I just wanted to make mention, briefly, of the protests in Jena, Louisiana, which took place approximately six months after the March for Survival in New Orleans.

Granted, it’s a stretch to call this a story of the post-Katrina New Orleans blogosphere. Jena is over 200 miles from New Orleans. Northern Louisiana did not feel the impact of the hurricanes in the same way as the communities nearer the coast. Nevertheless, this was the largest civil rights protest in decades, much larger than the March for Survival, and there is a blog connection.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the demonstrations in Jena were “a civil rights protest literally conjured out of the ether of cyberspace, of a type that has never happened before in America — a collective national mass action grown from a grassroots word-of-mouth movement spread via Internet blogs, e-mails, message boards and talk radio.”

Therefore I think the protest in Jena deserves at least passing mention in any history of New Orleans’ post-Katrina blogosphere. For more discussion on this topic, please check out the audio archives at BeyondJena.com.

Jena, Louisiana: Rev. Jesse Jackson / everett taasevigen / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 4

In a few days, I’ll be making a presentation to a special interest group of the AERA titled “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans.” My plan is to relate certain prominent stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. I thought I would share my notes here as I complete them. So this is the fourth of the five stories. I welcome any feedback.

SOS

My first three installments in this series might have given the impression that I was doing personality profiles. That’s not my intention. I mean to look at the top stories emerging from the post-Katrina NOLA blogosphere, not personalities per se (though in Ashley’s case, the personality is the story). Hopefully this installment will make that clear.

On third-to-last day of 2006, Dinerral Shavers was murdered in a senseless act of street violence. On the fourth day of 2007, Helen Hill was murdered in a bizarre home invasion. Dinerral and Helen weren’t the only people killed during that week. I believe there were at least ten others. But Dinneral and Helen were prominent exponents of New Orleans culture. Dinerral was a musician, a drummer in the Hot 8 Brass Band, a music teacher at Rabouin High School, the founder of that school’s first marching band. Helen was an artist, an award-winning filmmaker, and a friend of mine. Both were well known and much-loved in the local community. Also, it should be noted that Dinerral was black and Helen was white. Dinerral was a native New Orleanian, a product of the public schools, while Helen was an out-of-towner and a Harvard graduate — a fact I never knew until I read her obituary, but all of this factors in to what came next.

The loss of either of these individuals would have raised a public outcry. Their back-to-back murders sparked an inferno of discontent. Violence in the city had virtually disappeared after the flood waters receded, but as people returned, so did the bloodshed. The body count began to rise, and so did public concern. Five young men were murdered in a single incident in the summer of 2006. But it was Dinneral and Helen’s murders that galvanized the city as a whole. Their sociability and their divergent backgrounds meant a huge segment of the local population was in mourning. Within days a public march and rally was organized. Thousands of people from disparate neighborhoods converged on City Hall as the world watched. This may have been the largest public demonstration in the history of New Orleans, or so I’ve speculated. I do know that I’ve attended many protests over the last decade in New Orleans and this was far and away the biggest one I’ve ever seen.

So what does this have to do with blogs? The March for Survival, as it was called, would have happened without blogs, but blogs did play a role. Bloggers were writing about the issue of violent crime before, during and after the march. I wrote about Dinerral’s murder and of course Helen’s. Through connections made in the blogosphere, Karen Gadbois and I were among the dozen speakers at the rally. I posted the text of my speech on my blog minutes before joining our march from Mid-City. My boss read it and sent me a brief critique; I got his message on my Blackberry as we marched down Canal Street with Anderson Cooper and incorporated his revision at the very last minute.

My speech at the rally was a defining moment in my life. Four years later, I have to say there are one or two more revisions I wish I’d made, but for the most part I stand by my words. The repercussions continue to unfold. As a result of that speech, I got to attend a week-long leadership seminar at Harvard — and these days I’m the president of a grassroots organization which aims to build a transformative project in the heart of New Orleans. It is impossible to show direct cause and effect but I believe all these things are linked.

But this isn’t about me, or any one person. What makes this story salient is that it was a come-together moment for the city. A necessary moment. It was the time when we looked at each other, we who had lost so much, and said we can’t allow this. We can’t allow New Orleans to continue with this astronomical murder rate. As Rev. Raphael said, in a speech so much more eloquent than mine, we came together “to declare that a city that could not be drowned in the waters of a storm, will not be drowned in the blood of its citizens.”

Of course, no matter how well-attended and well-intentioned, a march and rally don’t bring an end to violence. It would be naïve to expect that. We are still struggling with the highest murder rate in the land. Nevertheless, the march was something that had to be done, and it was an important statement of civic priority. On that day, with the world watching, we showed that the City That Care Forgot is not the city that forgot to care. The hard work of actually improving the situation on the ground continues to be pursued by organizations like Silence Is Violence and others. And bloggers continue to write about this issue.

Once again, HBO’s Treme provides further validation of this story’s status. The March for Survival will be portrayed in the second season.

No Surprise

It really comes as no surprise to read the following in today’s paper:

The Rev. Grant Storms, the Christian fundamentalist known for his bullhorn protests of the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, was arrested on a charge of masturbating at a Metairie park Friday afternoon.

Storms, 53, of 2304 Green Acres Road in Metairie, was taken into custody at Lafreniere Park after two women reported seeing him masturbating in the driver’s seat of his van, which was parked near the carousel and playground, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office report said.

The first woman told deputies she was taking her children to the playground and parked next to the van at about noon. As she was walking around her own vehicle, she noticed the van windows were down and the occupant was “looking at the playground area that contained children playing, with his zipper down…,” the report said. The woman noted that he was masturbating and quickly ushered her children out of her car.

She told a second woman, who walked to the van and also spotted the man masturbating, the report said. The second witness told deputies that the driver saw her and tried to conceal the zipper area of his pants with his hand.

Further details from On Top Magazine:

In 2003, [Storms] organized a march in opposition of the [Southern Decadence] event, which he called “nasty” and “depraved.” Storms and his followers picket the festival with signs that read “Adam & Eve NOT Adam & Steve” and loud protests amplified with bullhorns.

Sergeant Larry Dyess, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s office, told WWL Radio that Storms originally told deputies that he was simply urinating in a bottle but later confessed to investigators that he was masturbating inside his van.

Dyess added that Storms, who was arrested on a obscenity charge, was released from jail on Sunday.

NOLA Defender notes:

It would be way more ironic if this didn’t always seem to happen.

But at least he has the balls to apologize:

The conservative pastor known for his condemnation of the Southern Decadence Festival was tearful and apologetic Tuesday in discussing his recent arrest.

The Rev. Grant Storms called himself a “hypocrite” because of his Friday arrest on accusations of masturbating in a public park. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies charged him with obscenity after two women claimed they saw him touching himself while watching children on the playground at Lafreniere Park.

Storms said in a news conference Tuesday that he was not watching the children, but he did have his hand in his pants. He apologized to those he has hurt, and he said he was sorry for targeting Decadence, an annual gay festival in the French Quarter.

Storms said he is seeking help for a problem with pornography, which he called a recent issue. He also said he is not living at home — he held the news conference from a motel — and he asked for the media to respect his privacy.

I say all this comes as no surprise. Whenever a (ahem) moral crusader like Storms goes so far over the top and out of his way to put other people down, one suspects maybe he’s hiding from something inside himself. One suspects he’s projecting his demons on others.

As a rule, I don’t post up news stories unless I have something personal to add: I recall one year, perhaps 2004, Xy and I read about the Storms’ protests in advance of Southern Decadence. We were so ticked that we planned to create our own organization, “Our Friends Are Gay.” We were going to make signs and counter-demonstrate. Xy thought the (allegedly) humorous acronym would be embraced by the Decadence crowd, but I was worried the haters would miss the point, that we’d only add fuel to the fire. So we didn’t do it.

I still think the idea of making common cause is generally a good idea; but then I also thought gay marriage was a great issue for civil rights organizing, and we all saw how that played out at the polls in recent election cycles. Nevertheless, just like Muslims in Egypt stood up to terrorism against the Christian minority, just like white folks were a part of the Freedom Rides, I think straight people have a responsibility to stand up to the bullying tactics of people like Storms.

But I guess he won’t be crusading against Southern Decadence again.

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 2

In April, I’ll be making a presentation to a special interest group of the AERA titled “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans.” My plan is to tell five separate stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. I thought I would share my notes here as I complete them. So this is the second of the five stories. I welcome any feedback.

zombieWEB1.0

The American Zombie blog began on July 5, 2006, with a strident assertion.

I believe that as a patriot and one who loves this country, the best way I can honor it is to exercise the 1st [amendment] as much as possible. And perhaps to recognize that what we really have to fear, is those who would spread fear and manipulate it to their own end. The truth will set us free…I would like to find it.

To that end…I start this blog to help myself wake-up.

From that day on, the blogger known as Ashe Dambala has been waking up a whole bunch of people in the Greater New Orleans area. He didn’t waste any time getting down to business either. In his third post, just three weeks after the blog was launched, he dropped his first big bombshell, accusing Greg Meffert, former Chief Technology Officer for the City of New Orleans of influence peddling and other shenanigans.

I missed out on this first round of intrigue, because my wife and I were caught up in our own personal trauma. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve always found the American Zombie tough to follow. It’s a dark blog, scary and worrisome, full of dark allusions, full of esoteric knowledge and insider information, attributed to anonymous sources. I think a certain level of familiarity with the subject matter (which I don’t have) is a prerequisite to actually understanding the intimations and accusations on offer. Most of it is simply over my head. But it’s clear that plenty of savvy people understand exactly what’s being posted, and they are often alarmed by it. Sometimes they even want to sue.

For three years Dambala was a figure shrouded in mystery, known only by his net moniker. In case you don’t know, let me quote Wikipedia: “In Vodou… Damballah is the Sky God and considered the creator of all life…. In New Orleans and Haiti he is often depicted as a serpent and is closely associated with snakes.” See how it all fits together? New Orleans, Vodou, Zombies — one might expect the subject matter of this blog to be magic or religious experience. Au contraire. The Zombie’s stock-in-trade has been and remains dirty politics, or more specifically, public corruption.

In some ways Dambala provides a stark contrast to my previous subject, Karen Gadbois. He is (or was) anonymous and obscure; Karen was always transparent. Yet at their heart I believe Ashe Dambala and Karen Gadbois share certain core values. They both exemplify the idea of the citizen journalist. Both have drawn attention to corruption. Both have both invigorated the local journalistic milieu. And that’s why they’ve both been recognized with the highest award of the NOLA blogosphere, the Ashley Morris Award.

I hope to write more about Ashley, and Rising Tide, later. At this juncture, it’s just worth recounting the circumstances surrounding Dambala’s recognition at Rising Tide IV. Many were curious to see his true identity revealed, but they were disappointed, or perhaps amused, when Jacques Morial accepted the award on Dambala’s behalf. There were some who were more irritated than amused, in particular a couple of attorneys who’d attended the event specifically to confront Dambala. They said they wanted to bring suit for libel regarding some information he posted on the American Zombie. They had several “large and beefy individuals” in tow, a move which was generally perceived as an intimidation tactic by those in attendance.

And so it came to pass that Dambala gave it up in the pages of the Times-Picayune, to short-circuit the accusation that he was hiding behind his anonymity. His real name? Jason Berry. I did a double take, as did many readers, I’m sure. I knew that name. Berry co-directed the important and ambitious documentary film, Left Behind, which Xy and I saw in 2006.

But back to that TP article from August, 2009. Molly Reid sums up Dambala’s importance nicely:

In New Orleans, perhaps fittingly, the battle between blogger and subject comes in the arena of alleged City Hall corruption, which Berry says he hopes to help expose. His blog American Zombie has focused on City Hall contracts, especially the technology contracts, such as those for the city’s crime camera program, along with the Mayor Ray Nagin free trips to such exotic locales as Hawaii. He has repeatedly scrutinized former city technology chief Greg Meffert — now under investigation by the feds — and the array of companies he is connected with.

A couple months later, Greg Meffert (and Linda Meffert and Mark St Pierre) were indicted on 63 counts by the U.S. Attorney’s office. A year after that, Meffert pleaded guilty to a fraud and bribery conspiracy charge. The Times-Picayune credited itself for breaking the Meffert story in an article from September of 2006 about a certain yacht. But that came out a couple months after the Zombie’s first Meffert story — which also mentioned the yacht. Not to split hairs, but It seems to me that’s where Meffert “first came under scrutiny.”

Update #1: According to Dambala himself, “the TP was actually reporting on the yacht before me, I was the one who broke the credit card, trips, interoperability system and I was writing about the crime cameras a month before it reached da paper.”

As for the attorneys who were threatening to sue Dambala? I don’t know what happened to them.

Update #2: According to Dambala, “On the lawsuit, I met with the city attorney and his wife who were threatening the suit at my lawyer’s office. They decided to drop the suit and I agreed to publish whatever letter they wanted on my site….” For more details see the comments section.

I have to thank local blogger Liprap, aka Leigh Checkman, for pointing me to some key resources to help me construct this account, such as it is. For example there’s this panel, sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Jason Berry shares the dais with Kevin Allman (Gambit) and Campbell Robertson (New York Times); ironically enough the blogger is the only guy who went to journalism school. The video is worth watching if you’re interested in journalism generally and in New Orleans in particular. In it we learn that the American Zombie functions as a sort of “reporter’s notebook,” a way of sharing both original documents and (sometimes) unverified gossip for comment and scrutiny.

We also get this choice quote from Berry/Dambala:

There are writers that write for the paper and then there are journalists which I think are investigative journalists. And I think that those guys are a little off, and I’m one of them. Because they become completely obsessed with getting to the truth, and you have to be that way.

As well as this gem:

I’m pretty much a professional a-hole, in my blog.

See? He’s a professional.

Liprap thinks “he’s definitely become more sophisticated with his writing and storytelling as time has gone on, especially with regards to the recent City Hall real estate records series he’s been publishing in serialized form on Humid Beings.” I have to agree. If you haven’t read this, it starts here.