Ten Things You Need to Know About Rising Tide X

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  1. The X stands for ten. Yes, it’s been ten years.
  2. Rising Tide X takes place on the 29th of August, 2015, the ten-year anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. Rising Tide started on the first anniversary and the conference has convened every year since.
  3. Many Katrina anniversary events are commemorative or memorial in nature. They look back. Rising Tide looks forward. It’s a conference on the future of New Orleans.
  4. Rising Tide is a grassroots organization. If it was any grassrootsier, we’d have to mow it. An all-volunteer group of people who have somehow managed to work together without any formal structure for a decade now.
  5. Rising Tide X will be the final Rising Tide. I don’t think that’s official, but then nothing is ever official with this group. (See previous item.)
  6. Rising Tide X will be the biggest and best ever. Going out with a bang, y’all. There will be four or five tracks of programming. Check the schedule.
  7. DeRay McKesson is the keynote speaker. He is one of the people at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, and I can’t think of anyone more timely or relevant.
  8. For the first time ever, admission is free. We don’t wanna make any money, folks, we just love to get people thinking, and talking, and taking action.
  9. But you should still register. That helps us get a a handle on how many people are coming.
  10. And you can still support the event financially. Your donation will help defray the expense of mounting this whole deal.

Rising Tide 9

Rising Tide 9

It’s time once again for Rising Tide. This will be the ninth iteration of this “conference on the future of New Orleans” which was launched by a bunch of local bloggers and concerned citizens on the first anniversary of Katrina.

I think what I like most about this event is its grassroots nature. Even though it is hosted at Xavier University of Louisiana (thanks to the sponsorship of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching) the event itself is entirely organized by volunteers. All the work that goes into it is done for sheer passion. The consistent quality of the event itself is a testimony to the power of that approach.

Of course, that means there is no big advertising budget. The only way most people learn of the conference is through that modern equivalent to word-of-mouth: social media.

So please take a moment and register for the conference, and then use Facebook or Twitter or email to help spread the word.

What’s that? You remain unconvinced? It’s gonna take more persuasion to get you to part with ten bucks? Fine, check the conference schedule. Look at that keynote on school reform by Andre Perry. Surely you’re curious as to why the former CEO of the Capital One-UNO Charter Network is saying that charter schools “aren’t the proper tools to deal with the root problems of New Orleans education.”

If that’s not enough to get you in the door, check out any of the other panels. I’d like especially to draw your attention to the final one, “Religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” which I am helping to organize in cooperation with Jimmy Huck.

Religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Last but not least, there’s the added enticement of a delicious lunch. Please register now.

Rising Tide 7

For the last several months I’ve been embedded, ensnared, and otherwise entrapped in the planning process for Rising Tide 7. I haven’t actually done any work, but I’ve observed other people doing lots of work, and I’m happy to take credit for their efforts.

Rising Tide 7

The poster for Rising Tide 7 riffs on the demise of New Orleans’ daily paper. You can bet there will be a very interesting panel on this topic, and many others, including the subject I’ve been writing about over the past week: The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana.

I may even be moderating a panel on parenting, Mardi Gras Moms and Who Dat Dads, unless we can sucker someone else into doing it for me.

Register now and save a few bucks. The ticket price will go up soon.

Poster credit: Line drawing by Melissa Moore, graphic work by Lance Vargas.

After the Tide

Rising Tide Sign

I’m actively looking for ways to integrate various aspects of my seemingly disparate interests. Having Rising Tide here on the campus of the university where I work was a major integrative accomplishment for me personally. I don’t mean that it was particularly onerous, because it wasn’t; but it was extremely gratifying. Of course I tend to think it’s also a major benefit to both the University and the conference itself. The participants get a great venue and the University gets a quality educational event. I love to see these things coming together.

That’s my windy way of saying that Rising Tide 6 was a screaming success, thanks to the work of countless volunteers over the last several months.

I was too busy to pay close attention to the actual programmatic content — but through the miracle of video technology and the yeomanlike efforts of Jason Berry, I’ll be able to catch up after the fact. And so can you.

Here’s the panel I helped put together for Rising Tide on “Social Media, Social Justice.”

Sadly Cherri Foytlin was stranded in Charlotte by Hurricane Irene so she does not appear, but thanks to Mary Joyce for filling in on short notice. Kimberly Joy Chandler moderates; other panelists are Jordan Flaherty, James Huck and Stephen Ostertag.

All the videos should be online by week’s end. By the way, over a thousand people tuned in to the webcast live. 1,249 to be exact. As Jason says, that’s “pretty damn good for the first outing and the little advertising we had for it.”

The event was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

There was a lot of great stuff on stage, but my favorite moment occurred in the hallway, when the police working the detail got into a friendly theological debate with one of our vendors, Grammy-winning soapmaker, William Terry.

Rising Tide

Don’t forget, Rising Tide 6 is tomorrow. If you can’t make it to New Orleans you can watch the live webcast.

Here’s a mix to mark the occasion.

Also it looks like I might be on Canadian TV tonight.

“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

Rising Tide VI

The center where I work is co-sponsoring Rising Tide this year. Here’s your official invitation from the conference organizers.

Rising Tide NOLA, Inc., will present its 6th Annual New Media Conference centered on the recovery and future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on Saturday, August 27th, 2011, 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. at Xavier University, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s time to register!

The one-day conference will feature speakers, panel discussions and break-out sessions on the status and future of the culture, politics, criminal justice system and environment of New Orleans. We’ll also be discussing Social Media as it relates to the city and the Gulf Coast. Past speakers include Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, Harry Shearer, and authors Dave Ziren, John Barry, Christopher Cooper and Robert Block.

To learn about the conference’s history and keep up with details of this year’s event as they’re announced, please visit our website at RisingTideNola.com. You can also go directly to our EventBrite Registration page where you can sign up for the conference until July 1st for $25 ($18 for students). The registration fee includes the program, breakfast beverages with pastries, and lunch. There is also, as always, a Friday night social. All details will be announced as they’re finalized.

If you haven’t already, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for programming updates as they become available. You can also visit the Rising Tide Blog and leave us a message. We welcome your input through any of these channels, so please feel free to contact us. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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

Profiles in Bloggage, Part 5

Sunday night, I made my presentation, “The Role of Blogs in the Rebuilding of New Orleans,” to a special interest group of the AERA. Even though the presentation is over, I’m still playing catch-up here on the blog.

Rising Tide 5

And so I come to my fifth and final installment of stories that have emerged in, around, through or about the local blogosphere since the flooding of New Orleans in 2005.

Rising Tide is an annual conference organized by bloggers. It convenes on the last Saturday in August, the anniversary of Katrina. I was there at the first one, and I was so impressed by the event that I’ve been back every year since.

As I tried to reconstruct what I know of this event’s history, I briefly fantasized that Rising Tide had grown out of the first Geek Dinner, hosted by Alan Gutierrez in July of 2006. This was probably the largest gathering of local bloggers to date, which prompted Schroeder to remark:

The New Orleans blog movement has become an incredible network of information dissemination, storytelling, and mutual support, and I would argue that the New Orleans movement has emerged as a stronger expression of community than in almost any other forum of “extra-personal” (i.e., non-interpersonal) communication anywhere else in the world.

True, that’s a bold statement to make, but I still think the New Orleans blog community is a nascent, fragile community — for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless, what one finds here is remarkably enriching, providing a profound sense of shared values and commitment to a common cause.

Moreover, the dinner also elicited a post on Your Right Hand Thief with the title, “There is a Rising Tide forming.” It does not mention the conference explicitly but that title is evocative. This post also sees a comment from Gentilly Girl which could serve as a mission statement:

I also believe that get-togethers like this will serve what we are doing as “reporters” of reality here in New Orleans.

Remember… we have a job to do, and that is to tell the story of New Orleans and our lives post-Deluge. We also need to party sometimes.

But in reality, Oyster was kicking around the idea of the conference — he called it a “convention” at the time — well before the Geek Dinner. He put out a call to action (“Katrina bloggers, activate!”) on July 5, 2006.

Think of it: bloggers from all over could get together, and talk about the Katrina aftermath, and blog, and argue, and party, and share information, and podcast, and effect political change, and meet each other in person, and have a “work day” in a flooded neighborhood, and actually do something, and have panels and guest speakers and t-shirts and stickers, and we could get some press and everyone would leave feeling really good about their experience in New Orleans, and would blog about it, and want to do it again…

Oyster credits Scout Prime of First Draft for floating the idea some weeks earlier, but I can’t find that, and don’t even know if it was online. Clearly Oyster didn’t act alone, as he soon reports a planning meeting with other local bloggers. But I think everyone acknowledges Oyster as the main instigator who got the wheels in motion. For that reason alone, I have long thought of Oyster as the dean of NOLA bloggers.

The conference may be organized by bloggers, but it’s billed as an event for anyone who cares about New Orleans. In my experience, that’s accurate. Who are bloggers, anyway? For the most part, they are people with a passion for a topic who use writing to express themselves. In this case, the topic is New Orleans. The “bloggy” aspect of Rising Tide is not hugely relevant to the content of the conference as such. It’s quite simply a venue for learning about the past and future of this city, and to discuss and debate all the complex issues that entails.

However, there is one tradition that’s emerged that’s very much blogocentric. (Did I just coin a new word?) That’s the Ashley Morris award, which is given each year to someone who exemplifies Ashley’s passion. So far, I believe all the recipients have been bloggers: Ashley himself, Karen Gadbois, and Ashe Dambala, all of whom I have already profiled, and also Matt McBride and Clifton Harris, both of whom both deserving of a profile in this series if I hadn’t already hit my self-imposed limit.

Each year, around Katrina anniversary time, there are a slew of events along the Gulf Coast designed to commemorate those who lost their lives, and all the other things that happened here. Most of these events are symbolic and ritualistic, which is good and necessary. But as far as I know Rising Tide is the only attempt to look at the complex issues at stake in a critical fashion.

That’s why I had hoped to host Rising Tide here at the University where I work last year, on the fifth anniversary of Katrina. It didn’t work out, and that was just as well, because a certain highly-placed political figure (some guy named Barack Obama) decided to make an appearance here on that day, which would have certainly thrown a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans. But I made the case again this year, and the stars seem to have aligned properly. I just got confirmation from the organizers even as I was working on this post. Funny how that works — but I will let them make the announcement.

Rising Tide 5 / Maitri / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cliff

I’m an unapologetic narcissist, as most of my writing here will attest. I write mostly about myself and my experiences. Yet for a long while I’ve thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about other people, perhaps as a regular exercise. When I say “good idea,” I mean good for me; I don’t delude myself that I’d be doing my subjects any big favor. I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow through with it, but I’m going to try.

I thought I’d start with someone easy, namely, Cliff.

Cliff

I say Cliff’s “easy” not as some kind of commentary on his moral stature, but because he’s a blogger. That makes it extremely easy for me to write this. All I really have to do is point to his blog: Cliff’s Crib. Go on, check it out, and you will learn far more about Cliff than I could ever tell you. You’ll also learn a good deal more about the current state of New Orleans than you’ll learn here. He writes in a highly personable, engaging and entertaining style, but most importantly he write from the heart, and that comes through in every line.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Cliff won the Ashley Morris Award at Rising Tide 5. He mentioned getting comments from a guy who gave him encouragement and offered to get together and smoke a cigar with him. I gathered that was Ashley himself. I’m not sure if they ever did hang out together, but I can testify that on reading some of Cliff’s posts I’ve wanted to go have a brandy with him. There’s something about his online voice that inspires that sort of response.

I think of Cliff as a friend even though we don’t really know each other except through this medium of writing. That’s odd, but I have my share of people who regard me as a friend because I come into their living rooms via that TV show. Only rarely have we rubbed elbows in real life. I guess I’m really more of a fan. I’ve invited Cliff to participate in two panels here at the University, and he contributed greatly to both. I’m not sure when I first became aware of his blog, but that first panel was in October of 2007, so it must have been some time before then.

I see I’ve manged to turn this into being “all about me” after all. Old habits die hard. So let me just finish by repeating my exhortation to check out Cliff’s Crib.

Nominated

I was recently thrilled, honored, flattered and otherwise gratified to learn that I’ve been nominated for an Ashley Morris Award. I’m not worthy to actually win — besides which, the competition is far too stiff. But merely to be considered makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Rising Tide V Poster by Greg Peters

The award is of course presented at the Rising Tide conference, of which I am a big fan. The upcoming Rising Tide V will mark the fifth anniversary of Katrina. I’ve been at each one since the first, and it’s gotten bigger and better each year. I’m sure this one will be the greatest yet. It may in fact be the pinnacle. It remains to be seen whether the spirit behind Rising Tide and other such post-Katrina endeavors will sustain past the five-year mark. Hopefully it will continue onward and upward in perpetuity, but only time will tell.

Most if not all of the people organizing Rising Tide are bloggers, but I wouldn’t describe it as a “blogger conference” per se. To think of it as such would miss the point. After all, anyone and everyone’s got a blog these days. What brings these people together, and what makes this special, is their passion for the city of New Orleans. That’s why the Ashley Morris award is given to someone who “embodies Ashley’s fierce passionate defense of New Orleans, its people and its culture.” Moreover, these are smart and engaged people, and that shows through in the quality of the programming.

Rising Tide is far from a dry, academic affair, but it does have a high level of intellectual vigor. I’d really hoped we could host this event here at the University, and I’d nearly managed to get it approved, but a scheduling conflict proved irresolvable. No matter. The Howlin’ Wolf will be a fine venue. If you are interested in the future of New Orleans, I hope to see you there.

Register now.

Four Years Post-Katrina

That we even call this the post-Katrina era in New Orleans is somewhat misleading. Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans, but it missed the Crescent City. What we experienced was the worst civil engineering disaster in the history of our country. Floodwalls failed without being overtopped. The Army Corps of Engineers has said our flood control infrastructure was a system “in name only” and acknowledged a serious design flaw that led to the failures that flooded the city. The Army Corps should know, since they are the ones who designed and built and maintained the non-system in the first place. So: not a natural disaster but a man-made one.

This is a point that is pretty well understood around here, and by many around the country who have been paying close attention. But the majority of Americans probably still think of the flooding of New Orleans as a natural disaster.

Does it really matter, either way? Isn’t it still a tragedy either way? That’s kind of how I feel about it. But some folks with more political savvy than I seem to think it does matter.

I saw Harry Shearer speak at Rising Tide IV. He made the case quite eloquently that we have already lost the media battle on this point. In our national discourse, the flooding of New Orleans was a natural disaster, not a failure of engineering infrastructure.

When people from other places in the country ask why they should care what happened, Harry answers: “Because you paid to destroy us.” It’s your tax dollars at work. And now that the Army Corps is supposed to build a better flood control system — scratch that, an actual system — wouldn’t you like to see it done right? Again, it’s your money.

For an example of how it might be done better, check out the Dutch Dialogues. When the Dutch came to New Orleans, a city surrounded by water, their first question was, “Where is the water and why is it hidden?” The dialogues between Dutch and Louisiana engineers and hydrologists have generated some remarkable ideas about how New Orleans can live more safely with water.

But these ideas are a far cry from what the Army Corps is actually doing. A lot of people think the fundamental governance model of the Army Corps is flawed, and that without reform we won’t get better results. That’s a tall order, but I suppose people like Harry Shearer have it right when they say it’s important people understand what actually happened here four years ago.

P.S. For some fascinating insight into how Washington relates to our troubles “down here,” read Harry’s blog on “Playing the Inside Game,” an interesting story which he related at Rising Tide a couple days before publishing on HuffPo.

My Education Question

I wanted to ask a question of the Education Panel at Rising Tide III, but time ran out and the question went unasked. So I thought I’d pose it here.

We hear a lot of talk about a great experiment going on in our fractured New Orleans school systems. We’ve got all these charter schools, many taking different and supposedly novel approaches to education. Yet still, with all this panoply of choices, this rich buffet of options, this veritable smorgåsbord — still it seems that many of the new charters emphasize only greater regimentation, greater control, longer school days, longer school years, more rigid curriculum, and so forth. The experiments are all about order, or so it seems to me. But there’s another strain of educational experimentation that doesn’t seem to be present on the local scene, the approach that emphasizes freedom, liberty, democratic process, putting children in charge of their own education. (For example, the Sudbury model.) This is the sort of educational experience I envision wanting for my own daughter. I don’t see any examples of this locally, neither public nor private, despite the supposedly rich array of choices now available to parents in New Orleans. Do you agree with this observation, and if so can you explain why this is the case?

Rising Tide III

Click here to register!

I was going to say “be there or be square,” but since this thing is organized by bloggers the opposite probably applies. (You know, because blogging is inherently geeky.) I plan to be there, at least part of the day, as parental responsibilities allow.

Tidal Reflections

Rising Tide 2 was a rousing success. I was invigorated and inspired. As Dangerblond says:

It got a little bit bigger and, according to the attendees, better this year, but the conference retained the feeling of a conversation among intelligent friends.

…and I wholeheartedly agree. There was a party Friday night at Buffa’s, where videos were shown including ROX #95. As I looked around the place, I was reminded of a night at Second Story in Bloomington, a decade ago. On that night, I counted the people I knew on a first-name basis and came up with 60. I didn’t count at Buffa’s but I got the same feeling of community. Ultimately, I think that’s what Rising Tide is about, at least for me: fostering a sense of community amongst people who’ve connected through the New Orleans blogosphere.

As for the conference itself, the best presentation was clearly Tim Ruppert speaking about our flood control systems from an engineer’s perspective. Thank you, Tim, for educating us so well.

Dave Zirin also made a big impact speaking about the intersection (or collision) of sports and politics. Dave really understands how the crisis in New Orleans is a precursor for America. I bought his book and encourage you to do the same.

A personal highlight for me was getting a chance to confer with Becky and Sarah and Karen about setting up a wiki for Squandered Heritage. Nope, not on the programme at all, but at the best conferences the interaction on the sidelines rivals the presentations on the stage.

Both at this year’s conference and last year’s, I was honored to be on the final panel. I thought I acquitted myself better this year. In any event, in both years the final panel was devoted to activism and seemed in my mind to promise more than it delivered. This is no slight to the moderators either year, who did an admirable job, but it does make me wonder how could it be better.

The last two questions fielded by our panel were provocative. One was the überblog idea, which I knew was coming because Maitri outlined it in advance. I have some thoughts on this but I didn’t say anything Saturday because I wanted to hear what others had to say. Fodder for a later discussion, perhaps.

The final question was when Maitri asked if we, as a group, are getting what we want out of government now. (Or something along those lines.) I was surprised — shocked even — when Karen answered “yes.” I guess she’s feeling good because she’s finally gotten some progress on the issue of erroneous demolitions. I wanted to pipe up and disagree, but we ran out of time. So here’s what I would have said:

No, we’re not getting what we want. We’re fighting for scraps. What we need is nothing short of a revolution. The important question we should be asking is, what do we want that revolution to look like.

Big, big kudos to the organizers of Rising Tide 2. Y’all did a great job.

Update: Dave Zirin has written a truly beautiful account of the conference for the Houston Chronicle.

In most cities, bloggers practice a peculiar virtual cannibalism, tearing each other apart for sport. But at Rising Tide, among people young and old, black and white, I saw my first glimpse of what can be termed blogger solidarity. It stemmed, as one told me, from “the necessity of coming together after Katrina.”

The bloggers represent the best of something beginning to bubble that you won’t see on the nightly news, as the two-year anniversary of Katrina arrives today. Amid the horror, amid the neighborhoods that the federal government seems content to see die, there are actual people sticking it out. And they do it with gusto.

Here’s to blogger solidarity!

Confer, Convene

I will be speaking at Rising Tide II conference this Saturday. I’m on a panel called “Making Civic Sexy,” which is a great title I wish I’d come up with myself. I’ve suggested that the panelists wear lingerie, but I don’t think that’s actually going to happen.

Of course there will be a cluster of events around the second anniversary of Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast. For example, the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund is sponsoring an International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina & Rita. And there are many others.

Further on down the road, the Green Party of Louisiana is having its first convention since Katrina on September 8. And in November, the New Media Consortium is having its 2007 regional conference at Tulane in November. I might be speaking at one or both of these events — not sure yet — but I’ll definitely be in attendance.

Psychic Vortex

This ramp-up to the anniversary of Katrina’s landfall is brutal. It’s not bothering me so much personally, but the city as a whole is on edge. There’s some mighty negative energy going around. At least that’s how I’m explaining the recent spiral of bad stuff in my life. In the last month, Xy had a miscarriage, my bike got stolen, our friends across the street got evicted — which resulted in Xy having a big altercation with their landlady — which resulted in us getting a nasty letter from a lawyer. Not to mention the big fire in our neighborhood.

(Incidentally, I’m password-protecting some content that appeared here related to that legal dispute until I can learn more about what the law says. It galls me, but hopefully it’s only temporary. If you need to see it I can give you the password. Or maybe you can guess it!)

Yes, life has sucked lately. I’ll be glad when we get past this time. Meanwhile I’m trying not to get caught up in the negativity by focusing on positive things, like this cute kitten:

Big, Little

And, of course, the Rising Tide conference. See you there!