Monday, September 26, 2005

Knights of the Invisible Hand

This morning on NPR, there was an indication of the future of New Orleans--a future without the small businesses or neighborhoods that give the city much of it's character.

In one part of the story, the owner of a small Algier's coffee shop wonders how long she can hold on, when her employees haven't returned and there is little prospect that they will. In another, residents on the Gretna side of Opelousas--a working class black neighborhood of older, rental home--a mother and daughter wonder what their future holds, staring with what they will do when the landlord comes.

You can listen here.

The stark fact is that New Orleans cannot be rebuilt with out her neighborhoods, and the small businesses that make them livable, and without the people who called them home. For many in the most afflicted parts of the city, there is no clear path or plan for their return.

Algiers is a mixed neighborhood, but much of it is white and middle class. The other unflooded areas: the French Quarter, Garden District and University areas of uptown, are largely white and upper middle class. The blacks who do live south of St. Charles Avenue nearest the river have no near term prospects for employement, unless they are employed in the recovery effort. Moreover, the city warns: children and the elderly are not welcome.

What these restrictions amount to is an open welcome for white business people and professionals, and a keep out sign for everyone else.

Meanwhile, there are ugly rumblings in the Wall Street Journal from the neighborhood around Audubon Place--a private drive next to Tulane University and across from Audubon Park, currently guarded by Isreali mercenaries--of building a "different" New Orleans.

The new city must be something very different, Jimmy Reiss, head of the New Orleans Business Council Reiss told the Wall St. Journal, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completey different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

I think that about speaks for itself.

The President speaks of letting the markets dictate the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. But that is merely code, meant to comfort Mr. Reiss and his friends who live in the best uptown neighborhoods, guarded by foreign hired guns with automatic rifles.

The President and his party are good at the code, having used it for decades to build themselves an unassailable base in the South among the unreconstructed sons of Jefferson Davis.

The free market does not build affordable housing. The free market exports decent paying jobs for blue and grey collar workers, and sends the rest to Wal-Mart. The free market gentrifies desirable old neighborhoods, and drives up the poorer, darker residents who once called those places home.

When Mr. Bush says "the free markets" he speaks in a language the peoplw who's homes line St. Charles Avenue understand: there will be no room for "those people". The children and grandchildren of those who once led the White Citizen's Councils are the new Knights of the Invisible Hand.

How dare you suggest they are racists, some will say. They are merely good American economic freebooters, doing what made this country great. The sad and simple fact is, we all know what the WCC were: they were the Klan in cloth of a different and better cut. We all know what their descendents mean by a "different" or a "better" New Orleans.

But if their vision is fulfilled, it will be a New Orleans without black musicians, except those bussed in daily by Disney or Harrah's to work in a "different" and "better" French Quarter. There will be no Mardi Gras Indians or other marching krewes.

There will be a Camelia Grill, which could easily be created and franchised, but can you imagine the city without Mandina's or Liuzza's or Franky and Johnnie's? Sure, there will be a Tipitina's, and of course a Preservation Hall. But what about The Maple Leaf, or Benny's or the even smaller places where young musicians get their start?

The Knights of the Invisible Hand don't care. They long for an antebellum never land that never was. What is frightening is that they have the means and the influence to have their way, and good friends from Mayor Nagin (a former Republican) through the leaders of Congres and the President.

No one wants a return to the failed schools and death-trap housing projects of the past. That is unacceptable.

So, however, is the vision of the Knights of the Invisible Hand.

Coming Up: Two visions for rebuilding NOLA and defeating the Knights of the Invisible Hand.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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