Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Heartbreaking (Still)

Incredible job by June Cross.

Full video available.

More to say later.


I'm not one for assigning homework but seriously if you don't watch June Cross' report for Frontline, well then I don't see how I can pass you.

There are a number of amazing things about it, whether we're talking about the Gettridge family on which the story is centered or the report's high production value, much enhanced online by all sorts of interesting interactive options to learn additional information.

Most remarkable is that it tells an incredible human story without sacrificing political or cultural context.

It's called the trifecta and this might be the only time I've seen it pulled off. A lot of journalists can get 2 of 3 but I've never really seen it all come together.

On the cultural front, Cross is able to describe the Gettredige Clan as part of a richer tribal fabric that weaves together generation after generation of New Orleanian not just as natives of a particular city but as a unique people. You even get the historic context, a description of how the Gettridge patriarch fought to integrate an elite tradesman guild reserved for creoles.

I just can't say enough about it. It's essential.

There are a couple of things I've really been chewing over in particular on the political front.

One is that I don't consider often enough the implications and injustice of Bush's waiver of the Stafford Act. There are books about this and I need to read one. (And please do recall that Helena Moreno the somehow the best New Orleans democrats could muster against Bill Jefferson.)

The second thing I don't consider often enough when I'm figurin' about local politics is the lingering implications of the decision to pink slip 50% of the municipal civil service. This devastated the African American middle class of course. And in spite of all the waste and inefficiency built into that system, the halving of the city's work capacity certainly hasn't done much to streamline the provision of services. There's an awful lot of resentment there. And it reinforces explanations as to why the Nagin administration's divisive communications strategy remained so powerful for so long.


Lastly, there's the untold story of Lawless High School. Cross uses powerful images of the inundated and unsecured Lawless High in the Lower 9th Ward as a device with which to contrast the resilience of individuals like Mr. Gettridge and the generosity of volunteers to the indifference and inefficiency of federal and local governmental rebuilding. She goes back to Lawless again and again to demonstrate the irrevocable nature of the changes Katrina wrought on New Orleans communities. The frustratingly slow process of home reconstruction was still nonetheless inspiring. But then Cross would go back to Lawless to demonstrate government's failure or refusal to restore neighborhood services or rebuild basic community institutions.

It was very powerful.

It struck me particularly hard because I know what happened to Lawless High School when the Orleans Parish School Board signed the Recovery School District's school facilities master plan into law.

I argued for months and months that this master plan was being formulated under the immoral premise of community "viability" under which only communities able to pass an artificial threshold of 'already-rebuilt' would be extended the privilege of public education. The worst damaged neighborhoods were not populated enough for schools and would thus not get schools. The worst-damaged neighborhoods were and are most in need of institutional reconstruction as catalysts for neighborhood revival but governmental reconstruction ideology was and is predisposed to starving the most desperate neighborhoods of services and institutions. This amounts to de facto shrinking the footprint and de facto racism. See this post:

Moments ago, I attended the media presentation of the master plan at the Contemporary Arts Center. I asked State Superintendent Paul Pastorek to what extent he believed the locations of schools facilities might impact future population patterns. He answered that he believed it would have a positive effect. I then quickly followed up by inquiring whether it then followed that the population of a community might be negatively impacted because it was not selected to receive a school. He had no satisfactory reply, stumbling toward an insistence that the master plan was not in the business of influencing re-population.

If the presence of governmental facilities, assets, and services contributes to an individual or family's decision to return and rebuild, to what extent does the absence of such basic maintenance discourage population renewal?

I was most upset because the Upper 9th Ward was not going to get a single high school. Both Carver and Frederick Douglass were slated for closure, with no school being rebuilt in Phase 1, the only portion of the plan with funding.

But what's remarkable is that Lawless HS was a Phase 1 project.

The money was ready and there was going to be a new Lawless High School in the Lower 9th Ward by 2012-2013 ish.

I was there as other communities deprived of schools organized to demand public education in their respective neighborhoods. It was something of a PR nightmare for the Recovery School District. The RSD team had to run away hard from the term (their term) "landbanking," which is what they planned to do to school properties that were not going to be rebuilt. When the Bureau for Governmental Research weighed in negatively about the financing outlook beyond Phase 1, communities scrambled hard to try to get their school on top of the first wave of construction.

Carver and Douglass High Schools made noise and won concessions. Douglass will not be landbanked as quickly as originally planned, opening the door for possible renovation of that building, which is still in decent shape. Carver HS got moved from Phase 2 to Phase 1.

These changes were previewed in the Times-Picayune on Saturday, released to the public Monday, and approved by the Orleans Parish School Board on a Thursday. So it wasn't as if there was a whole lot of time to review the modifications.

And guess who got screwed?

Lawless High School was removed from Phase 1 and Lower 9th Ward residents, who had assumed for months and months that Lawless would be there, were given all of four days to organize against the last minute changes.


Last week, I wrote about Louisiana officials' unambitious play for a piece of the upcoming infrastructure stimulus package. The school facilities master plan is not amongst the projects for which the state is requesting federal funds. Why not?

Those projects are as close to shovel-ready as any we have in this city. We could bump damn near every school construction project into Phase 1, including Lawless in the Lower 9th Ward.

Pastorek promised aggrieved Lower 9th Ward residents that the school facilities master plan was just a blueprint, that they would work with the community to resolve some of their issues.

Well now's the time. There is a going to be a bill in Congress that spends damn near a trillion bucks on infrastructure. We have Congresspeople, call 'em up. Get some extra money for the SFMPOP and break ground on new schools this year, including one called Lawless in the Lower 9th Ward.


Puddinhead said...

I wanted some grilled chicken or maybe at least a little piece of ham to cut up over my salad for lunch today, but there was none to be found. It's clearly a plot to disenfranchise the African-American population.


Karen said...

Those with more resources have had an easier time returning. Those without have not.

The fact that no recognition of that facthas been articulated and addressed is in it's own way a "plot"

jeffrey said...

I don't have much time to comment right now but real quick.

The impact of the municipal layoffs is a constant hobby-horse of BSJD's. He often contrasts it with the Mayor's over-inflated, overpaid executive staff.

Watching that last night, I was struck with the exact same thing that hit me when I came back to New Orleans to help clean up the libraries. As we drove through the neighborhoods block by devastated block the true horror of the disaster was the unimaginable scale of the devastation. It just went on and on and as you tried to calculate all of that at once it was just overwhelming.

The Gettridiges are just one of hundreds of thousands of families affected in exactly the same way. So again last night I found myself multiplying what I saw by the many more we all know were affected.

And as you add all of that up and start to weigh it and add to it all of the bullcrap... the cruelty of the political posturing, the misunderstanding, the hostility we've had to fight against just to start to recover from the disaster itself it's... ovewhelming and infuriating all over again.

This will never go away. We will be fighting this shit for the rest of our lives.

Jeffrey said...

Agree with everything, especially with thinking about what to do next--and your proposal to have the school master plan funded through the infrastructure bill is something I hadn't thought of but which I think is spot on. The Master Plan won't be done in time, nor will coastal restoration/levee protection; echoing your previous post--we won't get what we don't ask for, and schools should be at the top of the list.

Also, libraries come to mind, too, which came out with its master plan in the middle of last year. Heck, while we're at it, what about the criminal justice system? Seems to me that we have plans for municipal infrastructure to rival any plan in the country, and yet no one is going to ask the feds for money to fund them!

E said...

Well let's come up with that list. Who has created a facilities plan in the last 3 years that doesn't have immediate funding?


And of course the NOPD needs a new evidence room, but I know that we passed Gussman's bond to cover the shortfall in the plan to build a new cj facility.

Maitri said...


A good number chose not to return because they didn't have money and found better lives elsewhere - better jobs, better education for their kids - and were willing to sacrifice living in New Orleans for that.

But, for Cannizzarro to suggest that poor people not come back to their homes even if they want to is horrendous. Who the hell is he to say that? Furthermore, Road Home program and other bureaucracy blockades to people who want to return and stay, depending on what part of the city they live, does suggest some sort of scheme not to bring some people back.

Great, keep the lower middle class and working poor out, build more condos, keep rents unaffordable, bulldoze the wrong homes and allow the damaged ones to fester. This city is ready for the inordinately rich, the dirt poor and criminals.

Karen said...


"A good number chose not to return because they didn't have money and found better lives elsewhere - better jobs, better education for their kids - and were willing to sacrifice living in New Orleans for that"

that would be the hope..but what if they found was just another rut with no way out..

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