I went to the Rally at City Hall Thursday, which I thought was an extraordinary affair. Three different marches, from 3 different parts of the City converged on City Hall. The crowd was white and black and Asian, young and old, business leaders and bikers.
There were about 5,000 people there, and the People spoke. There were about 10 speakers. An underlying theme was "enough is enough", which was repeated often. I was incredibly impressed with these common folk who came to speak. They really understood the core problems facing the City. They spoke of how the problem was not a Katrina problem, it was a problem that had started many years earlier. There were ministers, siblings of the murdered, business people, neighbors, community people, all speaking of the Anger and Frustration of trying to rebuild with a government
that "just doesn't get it."
They spoke of how music was taken out of the schools in 1985, how athletics have been taken out of the schools. The crowd was chanting "Music in the Schools, Music in the Schools" for awhile. Blacks and Whites spoke about how this was not a racial issue, this was a human issue that affects everyone, one preacher talking about how the city survived the water running through the streets, but it could not survive blood in the streets.
They spoke about how we needed independent accountability of our government and law enforcement officials. How the police needed to be paid more money. About how parents needed to take control of their kids, about how parents needed to stop worrying about other people telling their kids the proper way to act, about how we all needed to look in the mirror, about how young black youths needed to step up to the plate (this was said by a young black youth), they talked about the need for better schools, and hope for the children.
I was most moved by a speaker from the Hot 8 brass band, who had one of their members murdered around New Years. He talked about how he was scared to death of the police, as he looked directly at the Mayor, and a number of Police Officials. He talked about needing lights on in the streets and of being pulled over by cops while carrying his instrument around town, and of being arrested for having the wrong name. But, he also addressed the black youths directly saying "I am speaking as a black youth, you black youths have to stop messing around. I am tired of hearing 'Nigger this, and Nigger that.' Let me tell you I AINT NO NIGGER, AND I DON'T KNOW NO NIGGERS." This got one of the loudest rounds of applause of the day.
The crowd held signs from "Recall Nagin" to pictures of the Dead, to personal expressions of grief and tragedy endured. In standard New
Orleans style, marchers were led by traditional drumming, being met with drums when converging together, and the drums giving crescendo riffs at high points of speeches, a low frequency reminder of the important words being spoken.
One Minister gave the powerful words "New Orleans might be known as the city that care forgot but This won't be the city that forgot to care."
One of the Hot 8 members also talked about how we need to get Christianity back in the schools, this was met with tepidity and a low rumble of boos. He pulled out a dollar bill and started talking about it saying "In God We Trust" and how that somehow meant that we needed God in the schools. But, I thought the crowd was very respectful, with the tacit understanding that everyone was here with good intentions. In another forum, he may have well been loudly booed off the stage by this crowd.
Mayor Nagin was right behind the stage for all of this, listening to the anger of the residents, while catcalls occasionally bombarded him from the crowd.
Overall, I think the residents were on to the right issues. The Government needs to be held accountable in a transparent manner, with independent auditing. Bad schools lead to bad results for all the residents. Law enforcement needs to be adequately funded, and also open to oversight and audit. The leaders need to lead, to have a plan, and to advocate the State and Federal government for appropriate help. There were loud calls for the government to be honest with the citizens.
I was also impressed about how race was essentially a non-issue, that everyone realized they were in this together, and they were honest about the major source of the violence being the drugs in the city, and young black youth involved in the drug trade or victims of its effects.
The Mayor held a news conference later in the day to say that he heard loud and clear and that he gets it. Here is hoping that he does.
(This is very stream of consciousness, written with my laptop on the bar at Tipitina's while an all-star cast of New Orleans favorite's celebrate the 29th anniversary)
So, here I am speaking to Anne Deady from the University of Maryland Law School, we are enjoying the ambiance at Tipitina's for their 29th anniversary party gathering, they are inscribing names into the sidewalk outside, the Neville's are singing, people are chanting and dancing.
And of course, the Hi-Life's are $2.
She is here volunteering with the public Defender's office here in NOLA.
All week, she has been doing client interviews, one person has been in for 22 months without a trial. There were 250 people from around the country volunteering during their winter break from law school. Thank you Ann, and the others for trying to help this legal and law enforcement system which is on the verge of collapse.
Soul Rebels just came on, there is nothing like a late night brass band in New Orleans, Who Dat, Who Dat, Who Dat says they're going to beat those Saints???!!!! Of Course, they are breaking into the Saints Marching In.
Luckily I was able to get a ticket to the Big game tomorrow for $240 bucks, it is my first foray into the Dome, and I am excited. This city needs and wants the Saints to do well, and the Saints have been reciprocating and really connecting with the people. The group I'm going with is frying up some chicken, bringing some kegs and tailgating from about noon on just outside of City Hall.
Looks like Anderson Cooper has been reading my blog, and decided to head to Vaughan's last night for Kermit Ruffins. It was a rocking show by all accounts, and I'm sorry I missed it but I was grouting a bathroom and the grout was setting up and getting away from me, so I ended up until 1 a.m. doing the Karate Kid, "sand on, sand off" with a sponge, two buckets of water, and a lot of elbow grease.
Sorry, while I'm writing this the Rebels just broke into a non verbal brass version of the Violent Femmes…"…Love to strut your stuff" sings the crowd.
While I was writing this at the bar, many, many people came up to me and read over my shoulder and offered their thoughts and comments. From the law student above, to an English teacher at Delgado community college who didn't like the improper English of the Hot 8 speakers, to a woman who saw the "N" word and wanted me to stop writing and have a drink, to a middle aged woman who insisted I give her my card because she wanted to be my friend. I met a couple from Newburyport who were here for his 40 year birthday celebration. They had been coming for years, and turns out he has a couple motorcycles so of course the conversation drifted that way.
A group of 6 or so 40 something cousins insisted I dance with them when they found out I was from Boston, as one of them grew up in the Southie projects. Best of all, there were many more Red Sox hats than Yankees hats being displayed in the throbbing mob.
Long and short of it, is that I want people to know that New Orleans is still very much open for business, people are coming here and having a great time, and feeling completely safe. The City needs you, will welcome you, and will absolutely make sure you have a great time.
Come on down, help out, be a part of the solution.