Did I Do That?
Written by Editors
Tuesday, 05 June 2007 12:39
It's no coincidence that C.Ray Nagin's State of the City address on Wednesday, May 30th, was held in the D-Day museum. A big, neutral room, concrete, with a very large plane hanging overhead, it could easily be in San Diego, Boise, or Birmingham. But here it is: our National WWII Museum .
In a city that has little connection with its kin to the north (of the I-10), the museum provides a tenuous federal connection, reminding us that we are, in fact, American. A temple erected to edify the "Greatest Generation" and built by its greatest mythologizer, disgraced History professor Stephen Ambrose, you feel you must save Private Ryan when you are there. While other museums in New Orleans serve to display our city's "unique culture and history" to our northern cousins, fulfilling their occasional pangs for the exotique, The D-Day museum, as a shrine dedicated pro patria mori, reminds us of our national obligations. By virtue of its existence in our city, it proves we are part of the United States. As C. Ray said, "We are not here in this place two days before hurricane season starts by accident."
By placing himself in such a mix, C.Ray's speech reminded the State and Federal authorities that they too are obligated to us. He called the President of the United States to the mat for breaking his promise made last year in Jackson Square; $100 billion federal dollars may have been allocated, but the cash has yet to reach municipalities such as New Orleans.
He fired shots at Governor Blanco: "I am extremly disappointed that in this time of a record state surplus, the devastated areas of South Louisiana have not been prioritized," despite the fact that much of the State's current budget surplus has been fueled by Post-K migration, property values, and rebuilding efforts (e.g. our neighbors in Jeff Parish, who, as the only retail game in town, reap the benefits of our misfortune via a ready-made tax stream ).
Classic C.Ray. He rattles off a list of our accomplishments, of open schools, improved financial outlook, infrastructure development, hired first responders, and our "lemony fresh-smelling French Quarter." But he also mentions that:
"We had six times as much debris from the storm as the ruins from the World Trade Center."
"No, I am not going to go there!"
And so there he goes, and he brings us all with him. During last year's mayoral election, we were faced with a choice as to who would steer this leaky ship through the dull waters of recovery. On the one hand, a well-connected, fairly respected scion of Democratic nobility, cast (literally, if you recall his campaign commercials) in a halo of civil rights-era glory. A uniter, Mitch Landrieu promised an easy-peezy approach, working with the Feds and Baton Rouge to rebuild the city with minimal friction. Like a self-administered lube-job before the money shot, bringing the city under the sway of the Landrieus would have minimized the pain and only slightly decreased the humiliation as we bit the pillow while BR and DC had their way with us.
On the other hand, C.Ray: upstart, private-sector reformer, Black CEO, alternately hated by Blacks and Whites alike, who in the wake of the storm was the public face of our madness and our tragedy. Nagin's Post-Katrina press appearances have mostly been spun to illustrate his role as divider, as mad hatter, unrepentant for having been rescued from the proverbial rooftop his negligence found him on.
Last May, a little more than half of the city approved of C.Ray's approach. Despite the shock expressed by the national media and our own local press, there is something in our New Orleans that admires the mayor's caprice, his defiance; he is one of us, and claims frustration, despair, and he, too, is angered with the slow pace of recovery and his own corrupt contractors. And so when you listen to "The Man Right Here," you wait for him to stop reading the teleprompter and to go off the rails on a crazy train; you know he will, because one day you know you will.
He gets incantatory, preacher-like; he gets fired up, his tongue gets loose, his voice loud. And near the end of the speech, you were not disappointed. If you didn't watch it live, if you relied only on the public copy made available, you missed out on the money-shot, C.Ray style. Referencing the Smokey Johnson classic "It Ain't My Fault ," he let everyone know that it ain't our fault the levees broke; it ain't our fault that the water system is leaking; it ain't our fault most of the city is destroyed.
Of course, he's right. It is not our fault, and by our I mean the current residents of Orleans Parish. We did not abandon the city; We did not eliminate the tax base in a migration to the suburbs and the North Shore; We did not undermine the infrastructure, nor did We underfund the schools and medical services, nor did we build the levees. Instead, We are engaged in the struggle to remain here against economic forces which are determined to drive out the middle class and the marginal, the indigent, the hoi polloi, by a slow bleed. And when the market forces prove the strong have survived, the gates will open and we will be flooded not with putrid waters, but federal dollars.
Near the end of the speech, C.Ray shouted a littany of "...And Justice for All!" and finished with a solidly defiant "New Orleans is coming back, so deal with it. We need help. We want the whole city fixed!" The problem is, only some of We want the whole city back. In fact, most of We don't.
So what is the state of the city? "My friends, the state of our city is one of strength and determination," said the Mayor. But if the state of the city is truly strong, truly determined, defiant, Sparta-like, then we wouldn't need help. We would face down overwhelming odds and happily expire in the service of king and country, our lives to be chronicled in the annals. After almost two years observing the citizens of Orleans Parish post-K, the people are exhausted, the insurance money is spent, anxiety is more a part of our lives than ever, and many are thinking of fleeing the field before they end up carried out on their shields.
If you're unfamiliar with "It Ain't My Fault," you can often hear it in the street, brass bands vamping on New Orleans drummer Smokey Johnson's 60's groove instrumental. The original is credited as a bedrock for the evolution of funk. But as a cultural reference, it's real relevance to the State of the City lies in a remixed version of No Limit artist Silkk the Shocker's 1998 Charge it 2 Da Game. Local icon Mystikal (currently serving 6 years on sexual assault and extortion) drops the following chorus:
It ain't my fault
(did I do that?)
It ain't my fault
(did I do that?)
We can't stop now bitch!!!
We can't stop,
and you can't stop us,
so bitch don't try.
We TRU soldiers, we don't die,
we don't die, we don't die. [2X]
But are we "TRU soldiers," or merely citizens in a semi-abandonded colonial outpost, significant only for our geography? Despite claims of re-population, many of the city's young professionals are bailing out; the FEMA trailers are set to be removed, the cost of living is on the rise, and suicide calls are up 700% even as the economic opportunities are grinding down.
By the end of this hurricane season, we'll better know who can't be stopped, and who can.
|< Prev||Next >|