10 Long Years

I'm not sure how we're supposed to talk about the 10 year anniversary. I'm not sure if we should ignore it, acknowledge it, or throw a parade. I know I feel disgusted when I see Katrina commemorative snow globes. I know I feel sad seeing all the pictures, again. I know I feel happy that a lot of people are okay now. I know I feel frustrated reading the things that have been written in cruelty and in ignorance the past month. But mostly I feel angry. Angry that this ever even happened. And angry that there are still unmet needs. And angry that these so called lessons that we were supposed to have learned haven't been.

When I first went to New Orleans I painted a wall. I met an old lady who lived in a FEMA trailer whose name I don’t remember anymore. I saw Bourbon Street. I bought a snarky t­shirt. I got real angry. I announced, “I’m going back. I’m going to rebuild New Orleans”. I was indignant. Hand me a hammer, give me a mission and off I’ll go. Abruptly I graduated from disaster tourist to YURP (Young Urban Rebuilding Professional).

Scowling down on our neighboring trustafarians I found my righteous Wolfpack. To the 9th! we charged, mobilizing our uptown bubble in our big white vans. We had rebuilding clothes. A four am curfew. Jugs of water. PB&J.

Can a city be rebuilt by matching t­-shirts and 7am Saturday wake up calls? We sure thought so. But really solidarity is a word soaked in distant promise and delusion. And justice was defined in a narrative spoken only by the privileged.

I get angry when I think of the proclamations of "opportunity" and "blank slates" because it was a slate cleaned by malicious incompetency. It was a slate that had innocent families and children and love and human experiences and memories and history and a community and passion and dreams.

Sometimes on a roof in 100 degree heat you think you might see a some kind of savior (not a god but just some fucking help), some glimmer that this isn't crazy...that this city really isn't dependent on matching t-shirts and one nail at a time. But the masses aren't there. They're busy.

If it is the third world city then it’s okay. We have a place to put New Orleans. New Orleans is a city meant to be used. It is an escape. An artifact itself. Waterlines have only added to the charm, added to the sights. They're part of the authenticity now.

Recovery in New Orleans has been hard. There have not been handouts. There have been lawsuits and tears and rallying and successes and failures.

And it kills me because we knew the 9th ward would look like this while the superdome is plated in gold. We knew uptown/ quarter would come back with thriving tourism. We knew the YURPs would need to live somewhere and that the gentrification that started in the 1970s would continue. We knew the levees wouldn’t be rebuilt (i.e., built) as best they should. We knew political change over was inevitable but the system wouldn't change. That the pattern of systemic racism and social inequality that has existed on this soil since 1492 would continue.

We knew celebrities were going to voice truths (I see you Kanye) and others were going to try to rebuild the city themselves (I see you Brad). There was always going to be controversies, and lawsuits, congressional acts (most impressive in name only), and nola.com comments.

There were always going to be naysayers and quiters, champions, and fighters. There was always going to be people that wouldn’t (or couldn’t) return home and new people with means and missions that would take their place. There was always going to be green dots and rallying.

People were always going to get angry with FEMA, with congress, with the white house, with the red cross, with china, with transient migrants, with white people, with black people, with locals, with tourists, with transplants, with neighborhood associations, with contractors, with naysayers, and with doers.

And on the 10 year anniversary there was always going to be controversy. Tensions were always going to run high. Debates were always going to break out. Some idiot in Chicago was always going to write something hurtful. Snow globes were always going to be made. And most of us were going to sit here not knowing how we are supposed to feel and how we're supposed to express our love for New Orleans and our hatred of what happened.