Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Oliver Thomas tells it like it is
His remarks were echoed by two other councilmembers and murmured assent from the audience. I'm going to go way out on this limb and say, yeah you right.
"We don't need soap opera watchers right now," Thomas said. "We're going to target the people who are going to work. It's not that I'm fed up, but that at some point there has to be a whole new level of motivation, and people have got to stop blaming the government for something they ought to do."
Blogs that touch on matters political tend to be stridently partisan, and part of the federation of fabulists of one party of the other, and this doesn't fit neatly into either side of the fence's world view. That is likely why you won't find any comment on this in the usual locations.
I'm a liberal's liberal. I changed my registration from independent to Democrat in 1984 to vote for Jesse Jackson for President. I loathe George Bush and Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist. And I'm as white as a slice of Bunny Bread.
I think this is a great idea. Folks of my political persuasion, especially white folks, are reluctant to stand up and say things like this. I think they need to be said, and I'm glad people in the African-American community are leading the way, because frankly they have street cred people like me don't have.
It doesn't take a masters in social work or a Ph. D. in political science to look around and see that what New Orleans needs is people willing to work. There is a monumental task ahead, the labor of a decade, a generation, a lifetime. We don't need to be dragging around slackers.
For the time being there is work to be had at good wages all over town, even for people who are the victims of the New Orleans Public Schools.
Most liberals were uncomfortable with Bill Clinton's welfare reform of the 1990s, but anybody who lives in an urban area has to agree that, as well intended as the efforts dating back to the War on Poverty were, we had built an untenable house.
Now that New Orleans is a city of untenable houses, we only need people who are willing to take up hammer and brush and start putting it back together. We're all going to have a hard enough time just carrying ourselves forward, without carrying people who won't put one foot in front of the other themselves.
The people who are organizing events like the NOHEAT coalition to demand continued free hotel housing for people, or those demanding the lower Ninth Ward be rebuilt, need to step up and endorse Thomas' remarks.
The politics of ethnic identity and victimization are a difficult nut to crack because they work politically, just as the white/christian identity politics of the GOP work so well. But they work by dividing us into warring camps, and New Orleans can't afford this any more than it can afford to carry slackers. In the early days of the Flood formerly known as Katrina, I railed against the uptowners who openly called for a whiter New Orleans, and didn't hesistate to call it ethnic cleansing.
We all need to get past that, because that's not what it's really about. Its about how do we rebuild a city that is recognizably New Orleans to its people--all if its people--and not just a false front for the tourists. Yes, we want everyone to come home, but we need to set reasonable expectations for everyone who does: we need people willing to work, and we don't need or want any gangbangers or thugs.
For now there are jobs. What people need now to return are housing and schools. People groaned when they announced Iberville was reopening. I did, too. The dense housing project concept was a failure all over America, and in Europe when it was adopted after WWII.
However, if we want people to come home, housing has to be provided somewhere, and no one wants trailer cities in their neighborhood. That's reasonable, given that the post-hurricane trailer cities of Florida have proven to be just a new kind of housing project. If the bricks have to reopen at all, I think Thomas' remarks are a step in the right direction.
People are also going to need schools, and the Bring New Orleans Back Commission education subcommittee issued a long power point full of charts, graphics and nice sounding ideas this week. I don't know that will be enough. The New Orleans Public Schools were, like HANO's housing projects, a failed and dysfunctional system.
That's why we've seen an explosion of charter school proposals across the city. People are fed up with the identify politics of the board and the general failure to produce a working school system, a tenable house. It would be easy to say that it's "those folks" at Franklin and Hynes and Lusher--predominantly white schools--who are doing this. Again, we need to get past that.
Frankly, the only thing stopping anybody from doing this, from cutting the cord to the school board and screening out the bad teachers and setting high standards is a willingness to do it. That's why we don't need slackers.
New Orleans has a reputation that leads to that awful tourist name "the Big Easy". During my decade in the upper Midwest, I've often felt like the fabulous grasshopper in the world of the ants, and joked about being a lazy and shiftless southerner. Yes, we like to take life easy. It's an ingrained part of both the Creole and Cajun cultures that define Louisiana.
Still, most of us get up to go to work, and many haul their kids around town to make sure they have a decent school. We do what has to be done day in and day out so that we can have the rest of that friendly and easy lifestyle.
That's what the city needs right now. People who will get up and go to work, people who will invest the time in their kid's schools to make sure they are up to snuff, people who are coming home to be part of the rebuilding, not just part of the city. I want all of y'all to come home: white, black, yellow or brown, pink or blue or green. We need your hands to help. There's a lot of work to do.
Katrina NOLA New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Think New Orleans Louisiana FEMA levee flooding Corps of Engineers public housing public housing Oliver Thomas charter school
Pub. Note: Technorati New Orleans is showing somebody else's post under my headline, so I'm adding this note and reposting to try and trigger a relisting.
I finally rippled the blogosphere this morning. (slow slow, cuz I've been trying to bring up the new domain)
I don't have any problem understanding why NOLA would see things this way. I do have some issues with people continuing to not work in Houston, particularly since they're here for the long haul.
We have a large lumpenproletariat (to get all Marxist on you) and I don't know what to do about that, anymore than I know what to do with 20 million dittoheads who are about as well informed about the real world as the aveage North Korean.
But I think Oliver Thomas has at least said the unspeakable, and started us down the road.
How about the fact that people who were displaced who stayed in hotels and who WERE working steady jobs are being evicted from the hotels now, and have to quit their jobs because they have no where to live? Think this isn't happening? It is.
Sure, there are malcontents in every city. But the level of generalization about the refugees from New Orleans is such thinly veiled racism, you all should be ashamed of yourselves. You go on down to the lower 9th ward, like i did last week, and then tell those people to get jobs. tell the grandmother is Pass Christian who has had to use a bucket for a toilet in her apartment for 6 months to get a job. you tell the little boy whose mother worked two jobs and then lost everything that the fact she can't keep her job is not about the fact she has no home and no day-care, but that she watches too much television.
We're not talking about a small group, either. Unemployment was very high before the flood. It isn't now. To tell people coming back, we only want you to come back if you're coming to work isn't racism. Its about reality.
This isn't about race, it's about class, about what in Marxism is called the lumpenproletariat, the people left behind by the system so long and without hope so long that they've forgotten how to live. If they're coming back they need to be prepared to lift themselves out of that cycle. Or stay away. We don't have time for anyone who's not here to rebuild anymore.
Read me again, and tell me where you think I've slurred someone racially. You can't. You just impose your sentimental Identify politics filter, and I don't fit. Well, I don't. A
nd in the future of New Orleans, identity politics--Audubon Place or Iberville, it just can't be allowed to be the basis of race or economic or any other kind of relations in the city.
If I've offended you, good. I wish you had left an email so I could really piss you off, so I could push you to some catharsis where the pointlessness of identify politics, of trying to prop up the untenable house, might break through.
But I can't.
If you're back reading this, go back and read Knights of the Invisible Hand or Building The New Bricks. If I'm a racist, I must be blue or green or purple, cause I sure must not like white people much either.
Even if one puts race and class totally out of the equation - the reality is that NOLA is hardly prepared, economically, to support people who could work, but do not.
I'm never going to understand why people insist on viewing the world solely in terms of black and white. How very... bland.
Brooke hit on something, Thomas' remarks are an attack on the working poor, plain and simple... The rest of you have proved that liberalism is dead. I only hope something constructive can rise from its ashes.
Oh yeah, and more here:
How do I live with myself?
Everybody who writes is entitled to call one wrong every now and again. I know I have. But think seriously about the guy's use of words and the tradition he's trying to tap into before you support him.
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