Friday, June 26, 2015

A note on the Supreme Court's decision to affirm same-sex marriage

I remember being in my high school's student publication room watching the news when Massachusetts started allowing same-sex marriage. I also remember nobody else in the room caring.

Hopefully someday, gay marriage will become as mundane as non-gay marriage.

Hopefully someday, marriage will no longer stand as the arbiter of legitimate relationships in this country.

Hopefully someday, people will recognize that our struggles are connected, and that "not caring" is a way to keep others down.

Hopefully someday, people can just be who they are without having a whole big deal about it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some things I am interested in these days

being kind to people you know and don't know
taking a compassionate stand in life
reading books about different cultures
listening respectfully to people who trust you with their stories
not being an asshole
deconstructing stigma of mental illness and drug use
renaming streets after real heroes in American history
tearing down monuments to hatefulness
saying "I love you, you matter" while people are still alive
not being too hard on yourself, but being a little hard
helping people become better versions of their selves
helping people become as blessed as you are
petting cats and dogs
laughing with children
earning consent
behaving like a wild thing
behaving like a controlled thing
believing in your stars
coloring a picture
riding your bike
marching for justice
growing food
playing your instrument
avoiding pain
dealing with misfortune
walking the line
toeing the line
dispensing with the line entirely
singing your song
dancing your dance
taking up space

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Orleans elections 5/2/15: Another collaborative anti-oppression / anti-bullshit voting guide!

Hello, and welcome back to the New Orleans Collaborative Anti-Oppression  / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide!

We have (another) election day coming up on May 2nd because why not.

No really. There are only two propositions to vote on, which is a good tactic to ensure that only a handful of overeager civic-minded wingnuts get their way because nobody else is going to bother to vote. Also, this is on a Jazz Fest Saturday. Way to be in tune with the populace, City of New Orleans!

Don't be discouraged, however: You too can have your chance to be an overeager civic-minded wingnut who gets your way!

Here's what's happening:

Law Enforcement District Proposition (Millage)

Shall the Sheriff of Orleans Parish, as the governing authority of the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana (the "District"), levy a tax of not exceeding 2.8 mills on all property subject to taxation in the District (an estimated $9,366,050 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of 10 years, beginning with the year 2016 and ending with the year 2025, for the purpose of providing additional funding for the operation, maintenance and upkeep of jails and related facilities, the District and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, with said millage levied each year to be reduced by the millage rate levied that year for the District's currently outstanding General Obligation Bonds?

Ahhhh didn't we just reject this in November? Basically Sheriff Gusman is trying to maintain a flow of tax revenue to run his jail, in this case, shifting expenditures from capital campaign debt to...other unspecified budget items. And apparently he's allowed to take us to the polls whenever he wants. Some say the money will help pay for reforms mandated by the federal consent decree. We call bullshit. Gusman can't run a decent jail (if there is such a thing) to save his life. This proposition gives the sheriff "wider latitude in how he spends" money allocated to his special so-called Law Enforcement District, of which he is the sole governing agent. Why continue to fund this ineptitude? Vote NO.

Parishwide Public Library Proposition (New Millage)

Shall the City of New Orleans (the "City") be authorized to levy and collect annually, in addition to any other authorized tax, a special ad valorem tax not to exceed 2.5 mills on all property subject to taxation within the City (an estimated $8.25 million reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of 25 years, beginning January 1, 2016 and ending December 31, 2040, which tax shall be collected in the same manner as all other ad valorem taxes and which shall be dedicated to and used by the New Orleans Public Library system for the purpose of adequately funding its continued operations, said tax to be levied and collected in addition to the current 3.14 mills previously approved by the voters of New Orleans for the benefit of the City's public libraries, which current 3.14 mills shall expire December 31, 2021?

The library is running out of money (again), and doing a bake sale fundraiser through property taxes. We'll probably see a similar proposition in 2021, when its other tax mills expire. Despite a general lack of budgetary transparency in City-funded public services, we do love our libraries. Hey, we probably couldn't read/write this nifty voting guide without them! If you want to see your 7th Ward library reopen, and avoid drastic cuts to programming and open-hours, Vote YES.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Streetcar Named Stupid

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is hosting an informational meeting tonight at 6pm at Joseph Craig Charter School about the N. Rampart / St. Claude streetcar line, which is already under construction.

According to the Bywater Neighborhood Association's Facebook page, "During the meeting, the project team will be introduced and track alignment, station stops, shelter design, and the project schedule will be presented. Traffic control, major events and community outreach during construction will be addressed as well. Representatives from the construction and management team will be available after the presentation to answer questions."

Rampart St. Claude streetcar map

Unable to attend the meeting, I offer the following input:

As someone who lives and commutes along St. Claude Avenue, I am concerned that this project demonstrates a kind of shortsighted, tourism-centered approach to New Orleans urban planning that actually diminishes the quality of life for residents.

St. Claude Avenue is also known as State Highway 46, and is one of few entry points to the city from St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward.

Commuters and other locals will bear the brunt of construction-induced inconvenience over the next two years, only to reap the arguable benefits of a streetcar line that extends through the touristic French Quarter and only partially through the more residential Marigny neighborhood.

Moreover, engineers have identified the potential for environmental degradation that streetcar construction may cause.

Bus lines already exist to connect downtown's Canal Street to the Lower 9th Ward, via N. Rampart / St. Claude. Buses here are cheaper than streetcars, as they operate along existing infrastructure. They are just as safe as streetcars, can fit more people, and are wheelchair and stroller accessible. They even have bike racks on them!

Investing in more intuitive bus schedules would yield greater returns for people interested in travel along St. Claude and N. Rampart, and to other destinations. There is no reason why a person should wait upwards of an hour to catch the bus home when the City is spending resources on a stunted streetcar line for tourists who want the "authentic" New Orleans experience.

In truth, waiting for public transit has become a pretty authentic New Orleans experience, and we'd be better served if transportation money were spent where it is needed and useful.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Autonomous Zone Radical Support Group

What up New Orleans!

Trystereo / New Orleans Harm Reduction Network is starting a 12-Step alternative group for people who want to talk about and get radical support for issues related to drug-use.

It will be a free-form communal conversation about recovery & healing, drug-use and sobriety in New Orleans, deconstructing drug-user stigma, and whatever else is on people's minds.

This is for people coping with drug-use in their own lives. We ask for allies to step back here, unless specifically invited by a group member.

The meetings will be on Sundays at 7pm at Byrdie's (2422 St. Claude Ave.) Who Dat Cafe (2401 Burgundy).

Please forward this information to anyone who might be interested in coming!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the night: Why we all must confront violence against Black people

I biked up to Helen Gillet's concert at the St. Louis Cathedral tonight, not expecting to walk in on a live opening performance of "A Change Is Gonna Come," sung by approximately 20 individuals dispersed throughout the pews.

The act - staged similarly to October's Requiem for Mike Brown in a St. Louis, Missouri concert hall - seemed to surprise most attendees, including the Louisiana Tourism Bureau host, who stood smiling blankly on the altar throughout. Indeed, the group of singer-activists had planted themselves in the crowd in order to conduct a political intervention to the otherwise blandly styled "Christmas in New Orleans" event series.

"Know what else is happening in New Orleans?" the group asked through song: Black people are getting killed by police.

I didn't remember all the lyrics to Sam Cooke's civil rights classic, but I stood near a friend whom I'd spotted, and chimed in during the chorus:

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
Oh yes it will

The 95% white audience didn't seem to know what to do. Some people clapped, not so much in appreciation as polite communication to the singers to wrap up and get out. I wondered why more people didn't stand in solidarity with the message, which was to confront passivity in the face of horrendous social violence.

I was glad when a singer remained standing during the applause and the host's meek microphone-based attempts to get the concert underway. She - and we - began to shout "Black lives matter!" as most of the activists filed out of the Cathedral.

The concert proceeded with nary a mention of the opening act, even when Ms. Gillet referenced Pete Seeger and Joan Baez as musical inspirations for one of her French folk song renditions.

I suppose I could have expected such a muted response - after all, Christmas time unfortunately functions as the season of consumerist banality - but I also embrace feeling charged by such a bold interruption to the status quo. Yes, Black lives matter, and yes we should sing and shout that at all times. It is always appropriate to affirm the value of Black lives.

I recognized several Jewish people in the singing group, and I was so proud. The Jewish collective conscience demands solidarity with people of color, and anyone who is also unjustly targeted for violence in our society. We Jews must stand up for Black lives: We must stand up, we must confront injustice, and we must sing about the change we hope to make in the world.

Merry Christmas, New Orleans. Are we able to carry on?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Badass people I know [and what they're up to]: Carolyn Rodgers

This week in "Badass People I Know [And What They're Up To]":
Carolyn Natalie Rodgers!

Carolyn and I met during AmeriCorps training in 2010, and have been long-distance friends ever since. She recently finished a two-year PeaceCorps term teaching English in Armenia, where I visited her last fall.

In this interview, Carolyn and I discuss the important things in life, like globalization, bathtime, and why it’s important to maintain a strong Long Island accent.

Shtetl Chic: Hi Carolyn! How are you? Have you done anything nice for yourself today?

Carolyn: Hey lady! I'm doing alright, pretty pumped to see you in the flesh soon. I started my morning by reading a new book - "We Are Not Ourselves" - in my parents' hot tub, so I feel positively about that.

Shtetl Chic: I never understood how people read in a bathtub. Don't the pages get all wet?

Carolyn: You definitely have to be careful. As long as you keep your hands dry, you're all set.

Shtetl Chic: Oh. Well, okay. I've been looking forward to your visit to New Orleans. I've been telling all my friends about you, and how we know each other.

I remember meeting you because we were at that AmeriCorps training conference and it was super fucking bogus, like "Cultural competency in a community that doesn't really want you there, or didn't ask you to be there, and you're probably taking jobs from the people who live there, and here's a PowerPoint on that!"

And I remember we were at lunch or something - this was in Seattle, so everyone was from California and Alaska and places like that, so I'm thinking, Why am I here? - and I hear this really brash Long Island accent from across the room, and I was like, "I need to find that person, because everything here is awful except for that person…Who is she?" And then we just hung out.

Carolyn: [Laughs] No, dude, this is what happened: You may have heard my accent, but I remember being across the room from you, and I was trying to be polite, which is fucking painful for me -

Shtetl Chic: Like with icebreakers…

Carolyn: Yeah, I think it's the worst thing ever.

Shtetl Chic: That AmeriCorps job has ruined high-fives for me. I can’t give them. I have trauma.

Carolyn: Yeah. So anyways [at AmeriCorps training], I’m like, "Oh yeah, I’m from New York." Because someone had decided to approach The Sullen Girl Against The Wall, you know? And they’re like, "That girl’s from New York too, over there." And I’m like, "Oh really? I’m gonna go over there." I actually remember sitting down next to you, and I was like, "So I’m from New York, and I heard you’re from New York, and I figured we could probably be friends."

Shtetl Chic: [Laughs] Yeah, and I was like, "Well, I don’t see why not." Anyway, I'm really excited to see you soon. Have you been cooking Armenian food since you've been home? Are you going to cook me Armenian food?

Carolyn: I'm so excited to see you too! I don't know if I'll be cooking you any Armenian dishes, though.

Shtetl Chic: Aren't you a tomato/eggplant master by now? Don't lie. 

Carolyn: I am! I am! But [since I've been back] I haven't really made any [Armenian] dishes per se, but some side vegetables here and there. The way I prepare food has been forever changed though. We didn't have large kitchen knives, and instead used the hilariously named "Fuxwell's," which were these palm-sized, extremely sharp and serrated ones. I miss those guys, because as a short person with small hands, I'm much more efficient with them. Also, I almost never use a cutting board anymore.

Shtetl Chic: Do you throw food in the air and hack at it? I used to play machete-ball with my friends that way, using rotted cantaloupe.

Carolyn: No, I'm mostly holding the fruit or vegetable in one hand, palm-sized knife in the other.

Shtetl Chic: Oh.

Carolyn in Sevan, Armenia, 2013

As part of her PeaceCorps term, Carolyn organized a national poetry recitation contest for young students.

Carolyn: [This year's] contest went swimmingly! It was easily my proudest moment in service, as well as the most successful. All the planning came together seamlessly, and it was an enjoyable event for not only the children but everyone involved, including me.

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia came. And this guy’s a ham! At the time, those viral videos of Pharrell's "Happy" song were coming out, with different cities doing it. There’s “New York Happy,” “New Orleans Happy”…So the embassy did a "Happy Yerevan" [for the Armenian capital city].

Shtetl Chic: Are you serious?

Carolyn: Yeah the ambassador's in it two, three different times. He came to our conference, and requested that he be introduced via his music video, "Happy Yerevan."

Shtetl Chic: Wow.

Carolyn: Yeah. But back to the poetry contest, which was a really great opportunity to spend unstructured learning time with my students. It allowed us to have a less formal relationship.

Working with the girls was particularly special for me because I was able to connect with them in a way I had not previously. They felt safe to be their goofy 14-year-old selves, and I could be myself. It was a source of hope to see them push themselves past their own expectations.

Last year, one of the girls was too nervous to say her poem. She practiced and she prepared, and she got to town and she never said it. This year she said her poem, and I was so happy. I was really proud of her. It was a huge moment. I'm still in touch with those girls, and that's a great reward for me.

Shtetl Chic: As an educator, what would you say is the advantage to introducing English - literary English - to Armenian children?

Carolyn: We open the door to the contest at seventh form, which is the year that many kids really begin to slack off. That’s when you can see a great difference between a seventh grader and a sixth grader. A lot of the value is in the contest itself. The result is that the students are encouraged and they can like their poem, and like English. I think that it’s a really smart thing to get them at that age where they’re on the cusp of giving a shit or not.

Shtetl Chic: I remember being in your village and all these little kids popping up out of nowhere and being like, "Hello Miss Carolyn! English!" Or they’d be like, "How are you?" and you’d be like, "I’m fine, thank you," and then they’d run away. And you’d say, "I taught them!" And that was cool because they wanted to show off to you, even though they were too shy to have a conversation.

Carolyn: Ha, yeah.

She got my mail!

Shtetl Chic: What would you say is the difference between the Carolyn who started PeaceCorps, and the Carolyn who finished PeaceCorps?

Carolyn: Oh, Lawd. Carolyn who started was not as confident or certain of herself. I've learned to trust my gut in a real way. Another big change is my acceptance of other folks, but I feel that comes hand-in-hand with acceptance of self. There are so many gifts that I've been given through this experience.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah for sure! What do you mean by acceptance of other folks - like, culturally? Linguistically?

Carolyn: Both, and then some. For example, many English-speaking Americans have a very "Learn my language!" attitude; that wouldn't have been helpful in my role as a teacher in Armenia. During interactions with others, I try to see things more compassionately, because ultimately we all need kindness and patience.

Shtetl Chic: Still doing yoga? 

Carolyn: Yes. Yoga has been a gift to me, and it has helped. It’s totally been a part of my healing process. I feel very like myself, in the purest sense of the word. It centers me, it’s important to me, and I want to elevate my practice. I'm pretty excited to experience the yoga community near you.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, I don't know much about it. I used to be into yoga classes, like daily. Now it makes me feel bored. I think you really have to be in the right mindset for it, or have a practice/instructor that matches what you need.

Carolyn: We can practice together if you like! We'll get real fucking connected.

Shtetl Chic: What else would you recommend for the angsty 20-something white female to do about feeling out-of-sorts with the world?

Carolyn: Wow, that's difficult especially since I essentially am one. Not nearly at the level that I used to experience, but angsty nonetheless. My suggestion to young females is that they get out of their comfort zone. Do not be content with discontent. Figure out what in fact you are not okay with, realize it's okay to not be okay, then take the necessary steps to put change in motion. Do not stop searching for your place in this world.

I have the pleasure of knowing many people working through their shit and finding their path. I have the great honor of sharing hopes and fears with people like yourself, who gave me permission to be exactly who I was.

Shtetl Chic: I like that part about not being content with discontent. While acceptance is good in general, it can stymie real growth. Do you think everyone has a specific place in the world to make a contribution, or is that a more fluid concept of feeling good in your life?

Carolyn: I see life as this awesome experience and opportunity to seek happiness and fulfillment. A lot of people are completely numb, sleep-walking through life. It's the greatest tragedy of all.

If you do not like where you are - spiritually, physically, or emotionally - the expectation that one day it'll simply be better, with no effort on your part, is most likely not going to get you out of that stagnant place. Oftentimes your location and the people that surround you are obstacles to a peaceful life.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah. Maybe that sleepiness is a defense mechanism, 'cause you know the world is hard.

Carolyn: Sure is, kid.

During her return to the United States, Carolyn managed to import a pet cat she cared for in Armenia.

Carolyn: Francis Scott [Cat] is a majestic prince. I can't imagine having left him. His presence in my second year of service was a great source of comfort.

Shtetl Chic: Did he need a special visa?

Carolyn: He had a kitty passport that was handwritten in Russian, as well as an Armenian government-certified document confirming his vaccinations. All I'll say is that it's incredibly easy to bring domestic animals from Armenia into New York... maybe easier than it should be.

Shtetl Chic: I love you desperately. Don’t ever change, unless it’s for the better.

Carolyn: Alright.

Come meet Carolyn when she visits me in New Orleans for Thanksgiving!

Thank you, Carolyn, for who you are and all that you do!

Interview has been condensed and edited.