I always knew this, but it's big of him to admit it, anyway.
I got this document in an e-mail from our hero Farrah Hoffmire, who has made repeated trips to document the continuing tragedy of New Orleans.
Unfortunately, the Times-Picayune today repeated uncritically many of the untruths propagated by HUD and HANO. Here is a list of Myths and Facts to help people understand the reality.
Well, that's something newspapers have been doing for, well, forever: balancing their coverage by passing along the government "side" of a story. At least there are people in New Orleans with the means and dedication to correct that record.
I've republished the list of "Myths and Facts" about public housing in New Orleans after the jump...
For those of you who haven't seen this yet, this is the mashup Farrah Hoffmire made of a performance of Katrina Ballads at the 2007 Piccolo Spoleto Festival and the original CNN footage that inspired the passage. I think it's brilliant. Farrah and Mitchell run this on a loop in a viewing booth at the events they stage on OPP's Hurricane Katrina Media Tour (which, by the way, is going on tour with Ani DiFranco in November).
Over the past few weeks I've been helping out some friends of ours with a website they've been remaking, and I've waited to write about their project until the site went live. But this is not about their site (which is a perfectly nice site, designed by the fine folks at Fuzzco): This is about creative people who are redrawing the lines between art and journalism and activism and commerce.
Her name is Farrah Hoffmire. His name is Mitchell Davis. They both grew up in Summerville, both graduated from C of C. She started off to be a mental health counselor but became an artist. He started off as a musician but became one of the founders of BookSurge.com, one of those magnificent little software-commerce marriages that's just so smart it practically squeaks when you rub up against it. When BookSurge sold to Amazon a couple years ago, Farrah and Mitchell moved to Seattle to help integrate their company into the mega-bookseller's operations. And while they were out there, Farrah decided to learn to make films. That was the spring and early summer of 2005.
In late August of that year, Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and swamped New Orleans. A few weeks later, Farrah packed up her camcorder and headed to the Delta, where she began recording her own personal history of the aftermath of the storm.
I used to be one of you. Now, I feel betrayed and abandoned. The revelation about secret prisons is the last straw. How someone can break the rules, lie about it and then get kudos for coming clean is just ... depressing. The actions of this administration are beyond the pale. Since when does being conservative require swallowing such bullshit?
Decrying Bush's policies is not the equivalent of advocating socialism. It isn't, no matter how much the Noise Machine tries to make it seem that way. It's not us and them, this or that, either or.
You can support a belief in the Divine without believing that God likes America best. You can believe Jesus Christ is the one true God without categorizing all believers of another faith as enemies of the state.
You can whole-heartedly endorse capitalism and a free market economy without supporting multi-national monopolies that dupe consumers, exploit employees, cheat investors, and buy no-bid contracts from lawmakers.
You can support a foreign policy that protects American security and combats terrorism without agreeing we ought to nuke all the towel-heads. You can admit that the war in Iraq is a fiasco, without saying that America should cut and run or dissing our troops.
You can call bullshit on the job federal officials did before, during and after Katrina, without agreeing that individuals, cities and states have no obligation to take care of themselves. You can believe the government has a role in helping the less fortunate, without endorsing a state-sponsored redistribution of wealth.
Who knew that my support of health care, environmental stewardship, a global perspective on leadership, better wages for America's workers and a more equitable tax system would one day make me a Commie-loving, blame-America-first liberal? Strange. They're pretty much the views I had when I voted for Reagan and Daddy Bush.
Now I would vote for a goat if it ran against a Republican.
My first posts on Xark! prmpted questions as to whether donating to the Red Cross was a worthy activity, and for all my frustrations with them (both relating and unrelated at this point), I would still say, yes, they are a worthy charity to which to donate. Their follies mostly involve volunteers, not clients. Opinion in the South is mostly possitive toward the Red Cross, which in many areas was the only organization clients have ever seen show up, even this many weeks after the hurricanes. Indeed, I think some of our problems stem from the fact that almost all of us are volunteers - if a few more people were drawing RC salaries we'd have better prepared and informed leadership.
If only that were the only problems at some of the other organizations.
Let's start with you favorite group and mine, FEMA, the tax-funded governmental agency that can't seem to find a tax-payer to help to save its life. (Fix Everything My Ass!) My first experience with them was in Baytown, outside of Houston, TX, where I was transferred after Montgommery was really, really, really sure it didn't need me. We shared a building with them, although I barely ever saw a FEMA employee - or anyone they were supposed to be helping. To call them possessive would be understating things. FEMA determined that the main door to the building was "theirs" and that Red Cross volunteers had to use the rear entrance - despite the fact that the theoretically FEMA area beyond those main doors were generally utterly empty. Fed up with us Red Cross interlopers, FEMA stuck further signs in the elevators which read, word for word:
"Under any circumstances is Red Cross NOT to enter or exit the main (FEMA) entrance."
The FEMA entrance mostly being identified by this and other signs saying that the main entrance is FEMA's, but not being identified by anything like, oh, logos or, heaven forbid, FEMA employees being present.
Then there is the Salvation Army, who apparently has a reputation for not playing well with the Red Cross. A representative showed up at Magnolia Park, where my particular kitchen was located, asking to see "Joan" because "Joan" said the Salvation Army could set up at the Park. There is no Joan at Magnolia, so the representative insisting on seeing the building manager, a man named Lou who burst out laughing at the idea of the Salvation Army setting up there.
"Are you kidding? She won't even let me park my car here, and I work here!" he exclaimed, pointing to Connie, the Red Cross supervisor for the location who the representative had first talked to and who had led her to Lou.
The SArmy was talking about setting up something like 30 trailers, which wouldn't even fit at Magnolia if it were empty, which of course it wasn't. It was full of Red Cross equipment and personnel. We weren't hiding.
So then the SArmy started inquiring about setting up in the fairgrounds across the street from us, where the energy company was slowly pulling out of. Now, seriously, what is the point of setting up a SArmy kitchen across the street from a RC kitchen in a neighborhood that is needing us less and less every day? At that point we were cooking 3000 meals a day. When I arrived, we were doing 5000. previous to that, the location had been doing 8000. We were more than capable of filling the need of that location, and I also know that there were areas that the RC had not yet been able to reach, because of limited resources. Wouldn't those places have made more sense for the SArmy to move into?
In another incident, our mental health guy, Karl, accompanied a food run down to a site run by the Savation Army but supplied by a number of organizations (a not uncommon arrangement in Texas). He identified himself and his job and inquired whether anyone would mind if he talked to some of the clients located there in a professional capacity.
"Yes, we would mind," was the answer.
And finally, there are the ads that the SArmy is currently running. "Salvation Army: Doing the Most Good." As opposed to other groups, which are doing less good? Grow up. This isn't a damn contest as to who can save the most people, and we sure as hell shouldn't be competing for clients. There's still more than enough to around, unfortunately.
The Pagan community most often singles out the Midwest and the South as inhospitable areas for Pagans. Living in the Midwest my entire life, I've yet to understand why that area is so frequently targetted. After spending three weeks in the South, part of it deep within the Bible Belt, my count of harassment or persecution remains, well, non-existant. This is not to say problems never happen. They do. I'm just continuing to say that it doesn't happen as often as some would like you to think, and that I continue to strongly suspect that it has more to do with the disposition of the individual Pagan than that of the would-be persecutors.
My fingers swell in the heat, so before I left with the Red Cross I removed all my rings, including my wedding ring. After much debate, I decided to bring along a single piece of jewelry: a pentagram pendant about an inch wide. I don't want to ever wear it as an exercise of advertising my religion, much less looking for trouble, but it also was my one link to my regular life, and I likewise don't like tempering my choices of apparel based on what someone else might think. Nevertheless, I will confess a little curiousness as to how it might be received, and if it caused trouble I would have tucked it under my shirt. (My purpose for being there, after all, was to comfort the clients, not start a debate in religious toleration.)
I will say that I ended up having very little contact with clients. However, I did exist within the cities of Montgomery Alabama and Beaumont Texas for three weeks. People saw me on the street, in resturants, and at hotels. I'm sure many did not even notice my pendant. But unless Southerners are somehow less aware of their surroundings than other people, it stands to reasons that many people did notice it - and yet they said nothing.
Only twice was I recognised for what I was: once as a Pagan and once a Wiccan. Neither person expressed a problem with the revelation. Several times I was asked if the pendant meant anything, and I would explain it symbolized the unity of the four elements with Spirit. A couple times this conversation turned into something deeper, but the rest of the time it did not. Twice I was asked if I was Jewish. ("Nope, one point short of a Jew," I'd respond.)
No one expressed a concern that the symbol was Satanic. One person asked if it was Satanic if it was "upside down" (quotes used here because there really is no such thing as an upside down pentagram anymore than there can be an upside down triangle.) A former Catholic, now non-denominational Christian, started a long conversation about what I believed in, as did a born-again (not Twilight, described in my previous post). The only vaguely negative reactive I got the entire time was from the born-again, who, after I explained that I had left the church and that I was polytheist, asked me how I thought I was following the commandment to "worship no god before me." And that simply left me baffled, not insulted. That came from ignorance, not spite. (Hello, not a Christian, not a Jew, not even a Muslim, not interested in your commandments, along with half the world's population!)
Back in chilly Appleton, I'll probably be sharing some of my Red Cross exploits over the next few days, as once we were moved to Texas we did get to participate in something approaching an exploit.
I'd like to start, however, by introducing you to one of the most quietly inspiring people I've ever met: partly because of her own exemplary approach to life, but also because she steadfastly refuses to to be categorized.
Twilight is a 20-year old RC volunteer that I first met in Alabama and travelled with to Texas, where I got to know her. She drives a car, owns a computer, hopes to get an email address, and while she doesn't own a cellphone she can confidently use one (unlike some of our older volunteers!). She wears her pajamas confidently in the gymnasium where both men and women volunteers sleep.
Twilight is also, incidentally, a Menonite. Kind of.
Twilight's mother used to be Menonite, but left her congregation. Twilight's father used to be Amish, but he was kicked out when he became a born-again, which the Amish don't believe in. They now attend a nondenominational church, and so technically speaking that is what Twilight is religiously: a non-denominational Christian. However, her lifestyle is generally Menonite: she veils her hair, always wears skirts and doesn't own a television, for example.
Her reasons for such behaviors, however, are neither blind nor unconsidered. Ask her why she does these things and she'll always have a well thought out answer, not some answer memorized by rote and fed to her incessantly by parents or congregation. She veils her hair because of the passage in the Bible insisting women cover their hair when they pray, and she never knows when she might be moved to start praying. She wears long skirts because she considers them more modest than pants. She is not in any way offended that other women wear pants or even shorts, but she is uncomfortable with revealing herself in this way. She doesn't own a television because there's very little on it she thinks is worth watching.
People frequently think of women in these communities as being raised to be subservient and meek, but that is certainly not the case with Twilight - although I made the mistake early on of confusing her good manners with deference. She ignores minor slights, not willing, I now I think, to sink down to those levels of pettiness. But when she or someone around her is seriously wronged, she'll let you know. Her complaints are almost always, however, attempts to somehow correct the situation, not to merely rant.
She is deeply religious, also considering herself a born-again, but without the judgmentalness society frequently associates with such people. She believes that AIDS probably was first visited upon humanity as divine punishment, but she also accepts that many, many people now get AIDS through no moral fault. She also agreed with me that even if AIDS was a divine punishment, that was no excuse to ostracize or not care for AIDS patients - she sees no problem in one human helping another human even if God is punishing him, as it is not like we're going to interfere with God's plans, if he really has such plans. She never attempted to convert anyone. Indeed, most of what we learned of her faith came from her answers to our questions, not anything that she preemptively explained. If she has any negative opinions about non-born-agains or non-Christians in general, she certainly never expressed them in my presense.
We departed Camp K-Mart at about 11:15pm last night, packed onto a reasonably comfortable charter bus. The first thing that struck me was how united the non-supervisors are even if the supervisors are on a different wavelength. While I've gotten nothing but grief from the latter, the former looked after each other well. While this afternoon it had been 80 degrees and I was in shorts, it was downright cold that evening, and one of the volunteers offered me her blanket.
We reached New Orleans at about 3:30am, I think. By that time I had drifted in and out of sleep, and I didn't even think to look out the damn window. That freed up almost half the seats on the bus, and I got both my seat and the seat next to me to myself, which I curled up on and got some actual sleep.
Woke up at about 7:30am when we stopped for a break and stayed up. The sun was up now, and we could see signs of hurricane damage as we crossed the LA/TX border. I expected it to be an all or nothing affair, but instead the damage looked quite simialr to tornado damnage, which I'm much more personally familair with: A metal billboard twisted and bent in two while nearby houses remained intact, for example. There were also whole neighborhoods of "blue roofs," covered by tarps to keep out the weather until they could be repaired. Everything I saw were middle class homes, which led me to reflect on the stereotypes I've heard over the past few weeks - occasionally down here but more often back home. When people think of storm damage, I think they mostly think of middle class families. Certainly that has been the pictures from the media: solidly built homes up to their eaves in water or with their roofs ripped apart.
In comparison, when people talk about the fraud that occurs down here in the wake of disaster, they're almost always specifically thinking of poor people. If you listened to my boss back home, you'd think the entire South was populated by people unemployed because of laziness just waiting for the next disaster so that they can bilk the government out of more money. So there are two images emerging: middle class victims and lower class frauds.
Simply put, most of us who live in our comfortable middle class suburbs can't comprehend what goes on in many of these neighborhoods. Most of our cities don't have the poverty problems of places like New Orleans, and so we think that if things work different in New Orleans, they must be doing something wrong. Yes, it's uneducated (frequently illiterate) people raising uneducated children, and teen mothers producing more teen mothers, but its an ugly cycle, not one you can just say "I'm getting out of this" and walk away from.
Are there frauds down here? You betcha. It's rampant. But its also a small minority. People don't line up for hours in 90 degree heat which their babies to con a few hundred government or charitable dollars. They certainly don't live in shelters as a chosen lifestyle. Even with all of the prevention and sanitizing that we do, volunteers are coming back from shelters ill. (One got sent home today with pnuemonia) I haven't gotten to meet our clients yet, but I've talked with those who have, and the stories have been crushing. There's very real reasons why the Red Cross provides mental health workers for both its clients and its volunteers. I know a supervisor who sent a volunteer home after a suicide attempt. Then again, when you're working with people who took refuge in an abandoned building for a week without food, water or sanitation before the RC even found them, or with the guy whose apartment survived the storm but was bulldozed with his belongings inside without his notification, (attourney general is already looking into that one, along with similar incidents) it's not surprising that someone is going to break. This isn't a lifestyle of choice.
For the volunteers, Houston has been wonderful so far. We actually feel welcomed here, with the local staff astounded that we rode a bus all night to get here. They tried giving us tomorrow off, but I think we've convinced them that we've mostly had the last week off. There's every indication I will actually be assigned to the field tomorrow. And so the volunteers rejoiced.
We're currently set up in an abandoned hospital which has been nicknamed the St. Rita Staff Resort. not as cute as Camp K-Mart, but it will do. We share the building with FEMA, as indicated by the multiple stenciled signs outside in bright pink reading "FEMA HOUSING" with the "N" in housing backwards on every single one of them. Insert your own punchline.
I really do hope my reasignment puts me in a place as amusingly nicknamed as Camp K-Mart. It's an amusing moniker. Besides which, I rather liked the irony of waiting for hours on end under a sign marked "Layaway".
I've been doing random chores for the last few days here. On monday 30 of us were packed into two 15-person vans (they can afford food and hotel for all these extra people but they can't afford a third van so that we're not packed like sardines?) and drove to Brookhaven, Mississippi to drive back rental cars. Mundane, yes, but it is a job that needs to be done. People and supplies get shuffled so much that cars don't always end where they began.
Tuesday I was sanitizing cots from the closing shelters and cleaning trucks. Picked up my first battle scar: two of us climbed up on the trucks to clean off the weeks worth of dead bugs splattered up there. The problem was getting down. We nixed the climbing idea after that.
Wednesday was more book reading, a little security work (while book reading - I was just making sure no one took stuff from the warehouse without a requsitiion form), and the assemblage of comfot kits, which is kind of fun. Then the real chaos happened.
I'm being transferred to Houston. Tuesday night the tentative plan was transferring to Dallas, but today (Wednesday) the word is Houston. Others are being transferred to New Orleans and Baton Rouge. After much hemming and hawwing about the whole thing, they gave up sending up today and told us to leave early and get some rest. Then I get a phone call at about 6pm callng me back: while at 2pm it was too late to start the trip, now the plan is to travel tonight. Go figure.
What awaits me in Houston I have no idea. Supposedly they have need of us. (Supposedly Montgomery had a need for me too!) Supposedly this has been double-checked. I'm not the only one who has stopped believing anything we hear until it actually happens.
Someone told me president Bush announces last week that the shelters were closing on the 15th, and that's why we're in the hurry to close them. Can anyone confirm this? One more reason to hate the man. I'm pretty damn sure he didn't really talk to the Red Cross before this announcement. I've talked to people coming back from the shelters - they doubt they'll all close on time, and those that are being rushed. Now, to be clear, NO ONE is being abandoned. The Red Cross does not do that. As long as there's a need, the Red Cross answers. But they can answer by dropping them into a hotel room and paying the bills. But there are areas that are resenting it. Going through Jackson, Mississippi to pick up those retal cars, we were warned to hide our Red Cross ID badges when we got out to eat, because some volunteers have been hassled. The communities are feeling abandoned. I don't know the details why, or whether its a valid complaint.