Reports from the Ground

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pain, drama, beauty

i've been benched for three days. not allowed to do anything. better not be seen lifting anything heavier than a fork. knocked a vertebra in my neck loose a few nights ago. two days ago, i couldn't do anything cuz of the pain. yesterday i was feeling better, so i was scampering up a 30' high dome and climbing around trying to help pull the fabric top on properly. then stay up til dawn playing in the treehouse, and today wake up in horrid fucking pain. very limited mobility in my neck. got another session of amazing weird body work. Unlike anything i've experienced before, and I've had bodywork done on me by some two dozen or more CMTs by now. It's frustrating because I want to play on the domes. The other smaller dome (30' wide, 15' high) is being constructed tomorrow, and I can't do any of it. I've been super excited about these domes coming for weeks, and now I can't take part in building them. Sigh.

We had a large, long tension filled council circle last night. People are stressed. Some folks who have been here for over a month, really need to take a break. Get out of here for a while and then come back if they want. But their stress is hurting things here. Morale was higher today, but still needs to be worked on. Tonight, we had a vision circle/cuddle puddle, organized by Cory. Smaller, only some 12 or 15 people came. But we were to discuss our visions for where things are going, and what we wanted to do with the domes. Also, where to put the smaller dome that's going up tomorrow. Started off wonderfully well, but over time, it lost focus, and some tension arose. We need to figure out how to deal with this. I think it's likely just growing pains of our community that's building here. Large number of people living 24/7 together in small quarters. We'll figure it out. The larger Waveland/Bay St. Louis community doesn't have a clue. We still serve amazingly good and good for you meals on time three times a day. Other folks around here talk as though they think we've got a utopia going on. Everything seems so perfect, but there are definitely problems that we're needing to address. I'm glad the beauty shines through most of all, though.

And there is lots of that. So many beautiful people. So much inspiration. It takes something special to be here right now, and so we have a community of incredible people.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Answering questions emailed to me

I've been getting great responses from folks about these postings. Great, I'm glad that people are getting something positive from them. I'm sorry I haven't been better about posting. It gets hard sometimes. And of course, the quality of my postings varies by mood. I don't really have time to respond to all of the emails that I have gotten. I hope no offense is taken. I do read them. And many ask the same or similar questions. So here are my answers:

I have been here for over three weeks now. I have spent almost zero money since arriving. I bought a digital camera, because it just seemed like something I should have down here. Other than that, I've probably spent less than $20 in total.

I have been sleeping in a large tent with a few friends of mine. We sleep on two clean, not contaminated, mattresses that were given to us by a local.

I eat three good meals a day, plus snacks, all provided by the kitchen that I'm working in/along side of.

I have been asked if help will still be needed in December/January. The answer is YES. No doubt. What kind of help? I'm not sure at this point. Will it be the same scene as it is now, i doubt it. Things seem to change here quickly. But if you want to come down and help, let me assure you that your help would be greatly appreciated and needed for quite a long time still. While the media may have largely lost interest, this is not over. And it won't be anytime soon.

How long am I staying? Good question. I have no idea. I feel as though I am still barely getting started. I have a vague sense that I'll be here until sometime in December, then head off to Florida to see my grandmother, great-aunt/uncle, and then up to NY to see the rest of the fam for the holidays. But that's really all a big question. Perhaps, I'll stay here longer. Perhaps, shorter. Part of me isn't sure if I'm going back to SF at all (other than to pack and say goodbye that is). But again, I'm really just not sure. I have a great community of people in SF that is certainly a big pull, yet at the same time, I'm feeling that staying in SF is more self-indulgent than anything else. Can I really affect the change that I crave whilst living in the Bay Area bubble?

Do I need anything? Um, I can't think of anything at the moment. I miss tofu. And dark chocolate. But other than that, I don't really need anything. Don't forget, I've been working on this non-attachment, non-materialistic thing for a while now, and believe me, being here and experiencing and witnessing that which I have, has certainly strengthened those elements within myself even further.

I'm sure there are some things that we could use for the center, but I'm not sure what they are yet, when I do, I'll let y'all know. I think a wishlist is being compiled, so I'll send that out when it's done.

As far as donating money to fund either my projects here, help me stay afloat (paying bills that I'm still dealing with back home (wait, where's home?), etc), or donating to Katrina relief in general: I am working on setting up a personal pay pal account; Cory's non-profit The Action Hero Network would certainly be a good place to make a donation. He's really responsible for pulling together these domes, as well as, a wide variety of awesome people to make this community center happen. You can make a donation thru:

http://www.ihcenter.org/groups/actionheronetwork.html

his website (which is a great read, but needs to be seriously reworked for professionalism and ease of use) is: http://www.actionheronetwork.net

As per other ways to donate, I'd check this list:
http://katrina.mayfirst.org/

Local church groups work well too. I've really been blown away by how many people have come down thru their churches and how much work they are doing.

I do NOT recommend donating thru the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Again, it isn't so much that I think they are doing nothing, but that if you look at just how much these local groups are doing with so little, and how little these large groups are doing with so much, it's pretty clear where money should really be donated.

I've also been asked about the scale of the destruction. It's hard to explain. Well over a hundred miles of the coast has basically been levelled. In this area, Waveland, the streets down by the coast are just surreal. There is literally nothing left except for the foundations that houses once stood on. Most other places there's more to look at: debris and more debris, collapsed houses, battered houses, roofs separated from walls, walls split open, cars flipped over and crushed, etc.

What percentage of stuff is like this, versus things still standing? I can't really say. Certain areas are fine, and a block over, everything destroyed. I can't really see the rhyme and reason behind it.

Where's the food coming from? Lots of places. Our biggest supply comes from Organic Valley Family of Farms in Wisconsin. Yes we serve quality food down here. Sanderson Farms gives us truckloads of chicken, and I believe we get other things from other folks here and there.

What's our involvement with the Red Cross? I know that they have been paying for the fuel for our generators for a while now. I'm not sure how long that will continue. I have also heard that we give them some of our food to serve elsewhere, and I know that we feed some of their workers who come by. On monday, a specialist working thru the Red Cross is doing a workshop here for parents on how to help their child deal with this trauma.
---
OK, that's all the major questions I've been asked lately.

Group visions, Eunice, and Virgil

On Monday, we had a meeting of folks from Waveland, Gulfport, and Biloxi who were working down here as independents or small groups (i.e. not governmental, nor Red Cross, nor Salvation Army). The meeting largely acted as a meet and greet. There were 26 of us there. Amazing amazing people. We are trying to learn how we can network together, and support each other. Most of our visions and ideas gel very well with each others'. There were a couple of people that spoke whose passions dreams seemed to run counter to my own, but with the vast majority, it seemed as though our works really make a more cohesive whole.

After the meeting, we all splintered into smaller groups. A crew of us that seem to be connecting as a friendship group, hung out together late into the night, having fun, laughing together, and continuing to develop our communal dream. As Scott put it, There are a lot of "I"s out there right now, this was the first step towards "we."

The piece that I felt was missing to my experience since I'd been here, feels filled. I now have a community of like-minded friends around who are working towards similar goals. This should keep me inspired. Very necessary.

==================
One of my favorite people that I spoke with that night, was this woman named Eunice. She is a middle-aged woman with a background in psychology, volunteering here independantly.

Eunice reminded me that these people here have experienced trauma, and what that really means. First, they dealt with terror, and then they slipped into shock. She was surprised that four weeks after the hurricane, most people were still in shock. Most people were still not sleeping properly. Four weeks without real sleep brings out a state of psychosis. She told me that I should be careful when listening to survivors talking. It may sound like they're lying, but it's because they're dreaming. They start intermixing dreams and nightmares with reality. This certainly makes some of my experiences with folks make a lot more sense.

The emergency medical people are giving out sleeping pills. But Eunice says they don't work on terror. With terror, it's as though the sleep mechanism is broken. So more and more people start to turn to street drugs as a means of coping or even just to sleep. Alcohol being the most common, followed by marijuana, and then crack. Seemingly there has been a surge of all of these since the hurricane.

What these folks need is long-term mental health care. But it hasn't existed. The mental health care that does exist is from organizations or individuals that have come in to provide very short term care. Which, no doubt, is better than nothing, but they cannot provide the help that is really needed. First and foremost, these folks need to feel that they won't be abandoned while still in need, and the fact of the matter is, they will be.

In Biloxi, an organization known as "Islamic Relief" has just finished setting up the first clean building for doctors that were working in the area before the hurricane to come back and work from. This is important in that people who had a personal/family doctor before will now be able to see that same doctor again, one who both knows them, and will be around for the long haul. This is the first attempt at making this happen. Six weeks later!
===================================
"This relief kitchen really gets it right. They put food out consistently, and on time. The food is healthy, and tastes really good, all in a joyous atmosphere. Morale counts too. Lots of people look forward to the meals here, because the rest of the day looks pretty bleak." (I didn't catch the name of the person who said this)
===================================
Virgil Jones, 40s, black male, contractor:
Virgil was standing on the pier fishing late at night when we came across him. I ended up completely ignoring the rest of the group over the next hour and change, because I was caught up talking with Virgil instead.
-
Not many people come by here at night. I just come here to think, and to really appreciate all of this (he gestures towards the water), it's beauty, and how it can just come get you. I have worked in houses that were miles inland from here that had feet of water inside. Can you imagine the force that it must have taken to drive that water all the way out there?
-
The whole country is living in a bubble. Perhaps this was a bit of a wake up call.
-
People here are experiencing a third world country, right here in the United States.
-
(We discussed why we came here. I told him that within days of finding out about the hurricane, I just knew I had to go. I can't really explain it. I just knew I needed to do what I could.)
What kind of person would come here and live like that? All of these people are fleeing out of here, because they don't want to live in these conditions, and yet, there are others who are coming in to help. Most people here, they can't really understand why someone would do that. I don't really respond to that question. You either get it, or you don't. You can't change that.
-
I just kept thinking to myself, where are all the people during all this who were caught by surprise? I knew they existed. There you are, caught in the midst of flood and incredibly high winds. Water is rising higher and higher. It reaches your waist. It continues up to your neck. You know that if it continues to rise, you'll lose your ability to stand up, and what then? How do you deal with this? Trying to survive, while at the same time thinking, what's happening to my loved ones right now?

What can I say to them? Nothing. They have faced life and death. They have met their maker. What can I say to that? They know so much. I try to just listen.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My mission here becomes clear

Being away for four days really helped me appreciate what we've built here in Waveland. Sure, there are problems here and there, but this is really beautiful. A group of people that converged here to create a kitchen and serve a devestated community, has grown into a community of its own, serving not only food, but also feeding the souls of both the residents of this area, as well as, all those who come here as volunteers.

Tonight, we had a local cover band come in and rock the house for hours. We had a full house of Waveland residents dancing around with us. After the band, we brought out our circus toys: hula hoops, poi, and devil stix. We played, performed, and taught each other how to play. It is now after 2am. The locals have left, but there are still about a dozen of us up and about. I think there are salsa lessons going on behind me.

After having one's entire home and community destroyed, what could be better than to bring people together and bring joy into their lives?

My mission here has become much clearer. Enough so that I feel I am finally able to explain it here.

Cory has arranged for two geodesic domes http://www.pacificdomes.com/ to arrive here on Wednesday. One is 30' wide and 15' high, and the other is 60' wide and 30' high! In other words, HUGE! We will be using the domes to create a community center here. We are having $2500 donated to us by Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com, to use to deck out our community center domes. We're poshing them out BurningMan style to turn them into places that are really enjoyable to spend time in. In the 60' dome we are going to create a second level using rope hammocks which Cory has taught me how to make: http://www.solomax.com/monkey-spider.html

We are using the community center to have a full schedule of activities, workshops, and events for the residents of the area. We are hoping to use it both as a means for the many people here from all over the country to share their skills and introduce new ideas into this community, as well as, to create a space for residents here to put together their own workshops to share their talents and skills with their fellow community-members. I'm hoping that this will act to both create a stronger sense of community, as well as, help the residents here feel more empowered.

However, another major goal of ours is to create a space for the residents here to congregate and share their dreams and visions of what they want to happen now. The silver lining of everything having been destroyed here, is that now, anything is possible. As Charles Dorsey said, we can start fresh or we can just rebuild.
http://gregsreportback.blogspot.com/2005/10/what-do-you-value-property-or-life.html

Try to imagine what your ideal community that you'd like to live in would look like. Don't worry about what you think is possible. Dream. What would your ideal community look like?

What I am trying to do, is bring the residents here together to start thinking about this question, start dreaming about it, start talking about it, debating it, even arguing about it, but most importantly start bringing these questions into our consciousness. And once there, asking the question, now what steps can we take to start moving in that direction?

We can take responsibility for our communities, come together, and build something that works for the actual community of people that live here, or we can wait for the developers, food chains, and box stores to rebuild the city in their own image. Though the hurricane nearly annihilated this town, this state, and this region, it also created an opportunity to build a new type of community, one that depends more on the individual and communal efforts of its people than the drive of individual and corporate greed.

If this sounds good to you, and you have the means to get down here, please COME! No matter who you are, you have strengths and talents that could add to this project.

Come and help affect things.
Come and be affected.

Some Pics from Waveland:
http://sanfrancisco.tribe.net/template/pub%2CPhotoAlbum.vm/context/tribe?parentid=258bd898-138e-4ad8-a0c9-afc1face3565&r=10535
(be sure to copy and paste both lines of the link)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Biloxi, MS; Devastated; Casinos; Learning; Money

Biloxi, Mississippi.

I've spent time now in Algiers, LA; Waveland, MS; and now Biloxi, MS. Each of these places seems to have its own set of intense problems to deal with. Each of them have different forms of grassroots organizing efforts going on. Each with their own strengths, each with their own weaknesses.

Biloxi has been devestated, especially the blocks closest to the water. There's nothing left standing. People's homes are little more than rubble. Houses literally blown off their foundations, halfway onto the street. The roof of a building laying in a neighbor's yard a few houses away. Or in many cases, completely collapsed. Cars and trucks smashed up laying on end, or upside down, or literally squished between neighboring houses.

Eleven years ago, casinos started being built on riverboats right offshore, which quickly grew into Casino barges, which grew into larger and larger barges. I can't explain the size of these floating casinos. They are larger than cruiseliners. I would actually more associate them with skyscrapers laying on end moored in the water. I have pictures, I just haven't been able to get them online yet. I will soon.

The casinos are a source of division in the community. The sentiment seems very mixed between those that are very pro-casino, and those who are very anti-casino. Some people believe that the casinos have brought money into the community. But at the same time, crime has gone up considerably since the casinos moved in. There are 6-7 bank robberies per year, whereas before the casinos there was maybe one every five to ten years. Increase in home robberies, prostitution, and drug use as well. The explanation that I've heard is simply that people lose all their money and go crazy.

During the hurricane, the barges were swept inland smashing into buildings, and are still stuck on land. There seems to be a big question of how they're going to be removed.

Two weeks ago, Mississippi rushed through legislation that would allow the casinos to move inland (which was not legal prior). This seems to be quite contentious. Again, there are those that think this is great. They believe that it will help the economy. And than there are others who feel that it will destroy the community. There are lots of rumors flying around, but it is difficult for me to know what is fact. There are developers here from all around the world, eyeing the properties here. People are being offered $5000 plus the paying off of their mortgage. To someone who looks at their destroyed property, and their demolished home, this sounds like a good deal. In truth though, they are being swindled. With these changes in casino legislation, the residents here are sitting on 'prime real estate' so to speak. If they are organized, at the very least, they can make out quite well economically speaking from this buy out, or perhaps they'll even be able to stay put. As is though, there is little communication between residents, and the buy outs are happening one by one. The residents are largely ignorant of the fact that despite their homes being destroyed, their property is actually increasing in value every day.

There is a convention going on here for the next week. Hundreds of city planners from around the world, looking to see what they can do to Biloxi. What each of their intentions are, I don't know. Talking to city council members, I'm suspicious. Especially of the city council members. It feels as though the vultures are circling, trying to remake Biloxi in a manner which concerns their own profit first and foremost.

The racism down here is tangible. It's different than the racism I've come to understand in places like Long Island, NYC, and San Francisco. It's much more overt. It's quite intense. I'll write more on that as I understand it better. But it upsets me a lot.

I'm learning a lot. I'm meeting so many incredible people. People who are quite different from myself, and so we have much that we are learning from each other.

I want to get back to Waveland as soon as I can find a ride back over. I think I've learned the major things that I needed to here in Biloxi. I wish there was more that I could do for the people here. I'm just happy that there are good people doing good work here.

Once again though, the faith-based organizations are doing FAR more than the governmental organizations or the large organizations like Red Cross and Salvation Army. It isn't as though those organizations aren't doing anything, but when you look at the money that they are taking in and you look at what they are doing, and then you look at the money that the local organizations and churches have and what they're doing, it's easy to see that if you want your donated money to do it's most good, do NOT give to the large organizations. Find a local organization that you want to support. They'll do far more with the money.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Clair, James' Katrina experience, random Siddhartha quote

Clair, 40-something white female:
Stay out of New Orleans. it's a dangerous place. It was a dangerous place before Katrina. The French Quarter's fun though. It's like going to the fair.
-
I did search and rescue for a couple days. That was no fun. I found an old man in a wheelchair. Drowned. Hung down in his wheelchair.
-
See this center right here. I used to shop here all the time. They're tearing it down and building condos. So much for the dollar store, huh?
-
It's crooked here. They need to take out everyone who runs this place and put in new people.
-
The Waveland PD, they're nazis. We call this place, "Handcuff County."
-
Our Walmart was the second biggest in the country. Brand new. We try not to go there though. Everything is too expensive. It's huge though. You need skates just to get around the place.
(Her daughter's friend Samantha, 14, chimes in) Yeah, I got lost trying to find the bathroom.
-
Samantha: You're the weirdest person I've ever met.
Josette, 13: Uh uh. Paul.
They then go on to argue over who is weirder, me or Paul. I have no idea who that is.
===============
James, 40 year-old black male:
I wish they'd put me on TV and let people hear what I've got to say.
-
I'm renting a room in a house with six other people. We woke up at 7am. We get up and water is coming in from under the door. We're gonna go down the street to a friend's house. We open the door and water rushed in waist high. We couldn't make it to our friend's house, and now we couldn't close the door.

The water kept rising and rising, neck high. We climbed up into the attic. Water came within 2" of the attic. All the sheets of tin blew off the roof. We huddled in the corner under a couple tin sheets that had stayed up, and used these three sheets of plywood that were up there to box ourselves in to protect us.

An hour or so of being up there, we hear a whistling from two houses away. People needing help, they were hanging off the side of a roof. An older guy, an older woman, a younger woman, and her 2 year old baby. The baby was hanging onto the man's neck. We swam over and helped them up onto the roof. Let me tell you, it wasn't easy swimming over there, and it sure wasn't easy going back.

Two days of no eating, and wearing the same soaking wet clothes. Eating wasn't exactly on our minds though.

I'm just saying, there could have been a way. Send a boat around. Let us know something. 'Look we can't get everyone now, but we're trying. We'll come back with help, as soon as possible.' Something, ya know? Come around at least with some crackers or something.

Elderly people had to walk miles to another town just to get some water.
-
That's the way the system is here man. It's really screwed up. The cops they hassle everyone. And if you don't know the law, you guilty, even if you're not guilty.
-
People stop me and ask me if I'm illegal here. I'm from Slidell (Louisiana), both my parents are Cajun. I'm balck, but people think I'm straight from Mexico. There's a lot of racism here. I can go near the street and wave at people going past and some white people, they won't even wave back. Especially, the police. I don't let them bring me down, they got to deal with the Lord, not me.

They no better than me. We bleed the same color. Our skin color may be different, but we all human beings. God created all of us.
-
I was walking down the street with a friend and some white guys pull up and yell, 'what you niggas doing down here?' and sped off. I don't let it get to me.
-
I'm not gonna stop living for what they doing.
-
I'm gonna go with a church group to Alabama. I'm done with this place. I'll help out over there and they give me a place to live. I'm tired of it. I'm ready to go.
-
My mother, she worked for white people all her life. Housework. While she did that we'd be in the yard playing with the white kids. I have no prejudice. I've seen the movies, and what's been done to us, but there are some good white people. Real good. Over in Louisiana, I had some really good white friends. We took care of each other. There ain't none of that over here.
-
Money changes a lot of people. I don't need that. This town's like that. If you got something, people treat you differently. If you got nothing, people treat you differently, too. I'm not going to treat you different if you got more than I got, or if you got less than I got. It don't matter. I'll help you with whatever I got. If you a drug addict, and I know you a drug addict, and you come and ask me for $5 for some food, if I got it, I'll give it to you. You're not for me to judge. The Lord will take care of that.
===========================
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse p. 38-39:

Truly, nothing in the world has occupied my thoughts as much as the self, this riddle, that I live, that I am one and am separated and different from everybody else, that I am Siddhartha, and about nothing in the world do I know less than about myself, about Siddhartha...

I will no longer try to escape from Siddhartha. I will no longer devote my thoughts to Atma and the sorrows of the world. I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins. I will no longer study Yoga-Weda, Atharva-Veda, or asceticism, or any other teachings. I will learn from myself, be my own pupil; I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha.

Notes on the New Waveland Cafe

I've been staring at my journal for the past fifteen minutes, completely at a loss of what to write here. And I haven't even written in it the past couple days.

Waveland and the New Waveland Cafe:

I don't think I've ever been around so much Christianity before. There is an open mic and soundsystem set up. I've heard so many songs about Jesus. I keep thinking, where's Ryan Harvey when I need him.
http://www.riotfolk.org/
--
There's a late 20s, muscular cop playing guitar and singing a song with the chorus: "My sins, they're over taking me."
And the verse:
I got high, and got thrown in jail.
I got high, and got thrown in jail.
I got high, and got thrown in jail.
My sins, they're over taking me.

Meanwhile, four uniformed cops are sitting and listening, and two 20 or 30-something year old hippies (1 male, 1 female) are sitting at the next table drumming along.
--
Joshua (male hippie) and I start talking. He's from one hour norht of here. I tell him that I have a lot of respect for him. It's gotta be a lot harder to fully realize yourself as who you truly are here, versus in someplace like San Francisco. He responds, "Well yeah, but it's easier too. You have a lot less outside influence, so more of it just has to come from the inside."
--
Oh my God. He's now singing, I fought the law and the law won. The cop!
--
The first ever Waveland Cafe Free Pile Fashion Show is about to start. Having fun and doing good work. Having fun and doing good work.
--
"This whole thing is changing how people see us (rainbow hippie types) here. I been up and down the East Coast and I never had a cop shake my hand. They just want to slap the bracelets on (handcuffs). The local paper here said, Hey Red Cross, Hey FEMA, if you want to learn how to run a kitchen, you go over to the New Waveland Cafe and take notes. No central organization, no money, and people coming in from all over the place."
-Country, 24
---
"What inspires me in life is the beautiful feminine energy. It inspires me to be a better man. To give back as much as I receive, but never to expect it."
-Joshua from above
---
"People are getting desperate. They won't listen to you. No sorry, this is for the kitchen. You're not a numan being, you're a 'relief worker.' You don't know anything in their eyes. You turn around and they take what they wanted anyway. Everything's 'free pile.'"
---
"I'm doing this. Who wants help. Not, 'we should do this, or someone should..."
---
"If someone wants to take it upon themselves to do something, who are we to tell them 'no.'"
---
"I'm from a different generation. They had the hippie children thing going on then. You guys, I know you like to think of this more as 'an alternative lifestyle' or something. But let me tell you, I see you guys doing the cooking, cleaning the dishes, setting things up, taking them down and let me tell you, I've never seen such hardworking people coming together and sticking together and just making everything work. I think it's just great." -Fred, 65, ex-military.
---
---
Me: I think I'm learning it. I've been saying that I'm trying to learn about humility and I think it's happening here. Being surrounded by all of these amazing people all the time. Seeing my own assumptions and perceptions challenged and really questioning if I'm wrong, and sometimes realizing Yes I am wrong, and hopefully changing. Very good for me.

Take your time. Realize this is going to be happening for a long time. If I treat it like a sprint, I'll get winded before long and won't be able to continue. This is a marathon. And what I want in Life is REALLY a marathon.
---
Me: I lost my The Essential Gandhi book. Sigh. Hopefully it turns up, but it's been a few days. One more lesson in non-attachment. I swear, my bad memory and tendency to lose things has been my biggest teacher in regards to not being too attached to physical things. Hopefully whoever found it is getting a lot out of it (and finds my underlining helpful).

So I borrowed a book from Cory, "Siddartha," by Herman Hesse. I read it in under two days. High recommendation from me! It's like my Vipassana meditation course I went though, I wouldn't want to say too much about it, for fear of tainting the experience.
---
So much more. OK, quick sample of quotes from the locals. Next entry...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

What do you value, Property or Life?

Charles Dorsey, 60 year old black male:


We still slaves. You don't see that? Don't work. See what happens to you.
I'm sixty years old, I've been working since I was eleven. My body is tired.


We don't ever really own anything. I've paid for my house and see what'd
happen if I stopped paying taxes on it? Same way with my car.


They took my gas meter. No one came over and asked me, or even just to tell me they were gonna take it. I just come out and they'd already taken it outof the ground. What's that tell you? There's not gonna be gas here for a long time. What's gonna happen when it gets cold here? What about the older folks? I've got arthritis. I can't deal with that.


You can't help me. Ain't nobody can help me. Only He can help. I'm
waiting. And I'm ready. I'm ready.


It's coming. I don't know when, but it's coming. God's coming back. I don't want to be here. I want to go before it happens. It's not gonna be anything nice, that's for sure. They been talking about building skyscrapers and new casinos. Where are they now? He's trying to teach us a lesson. But are we listening?


The world is nothing no more. It was a beautiful place at one time.
Beautiful. The rich folks have messed it all up. You write that down,
because it's true. They did.


Life's been hard. You don't know what I've been through. You don't want to
know. No. Oh no, you don't want to know. (I assure him that I really do
want to know).

They treated us like we were the enemy. During the Vietnam War. Us, our
own people. Those people (The Vietnamese) they loved us Black people. Cuz
they knew what we was going through back in the United States. They
wouldn't kill us. If they saw us, they'd avoid us. If they saw a white
boy, they'd blow his ass up. They had no problem with us.


I don't want to talk about this anymore. It brings back memories that I don't want to
have. I've seen things that you wouldn't believe. No one would believe it,
unless they experienced it. But we don't talk about it.


That president. He sends all our money over there while we have people
starving here.


I could write a book, huh? But then, I'd be just like them. But I don't
want to make no money. I just want people to know. I just want people to know.


I don't want to be here no more. I want to be up there with Him.


Just look around. Look around. I wake up at five o'clock every monring.
It's beautiful. So quiet and peaceful. And we talk, me and God. I ain't
ashamed to say it. We talk every day, and it's wonderful. But then by 6:30
or 7:00, it all changes. The sirens start going off from across the
street, the trucks are rushing by.


You see what happens here? Everything, destroyed. God gives us the chance
to start again, to start fresh, but instead, we just rebuild.


(I can't tell you how many times I have thought about this last part since hearing him speak these words).

======================

Directly across the street is a Fire Department and Police Department adjoined. So when Charles said he was tired and didn't want to talk anymore, I figured it would be a good place to go next. I went over to the fire department first. I kick myself for never making it to the police department, but the sun was setting and I thought I was going to have to walk the four miles back to the New Waveland Cafe. Charles ended up driving me, though.

======================

Steve Parker, 39 year-old white male, firefighter:


I don't think we are getting much news coverage. It's all focused on New
Orleans. We're not the big international city. But we got flooded just as
bad, plus we had three thirty-foot tidal waves on top of that.


You know how old this area is? Biloxi was founded in 1699. It's the oldest
colony in the United States. Most people don't realize that. I don't think
people realize how devestated the coast really is.


I have this friend in Japan, and he tells me that from what they see on TV
over there, New Orleans looks like a Third World country now.


Some people say that they let New Orleans flood out in order to flood out the
people. I heard on the news that Louis Farakhan is saying that the levies
were bombed out. Well, I don't know about that, but well, I don't know
what to believe anymore.


(I mention that the news seems to be saying that everything is fine now).
That's far from the truth. Far from it! We had three and four million
dollar homes on the beach. 300 years old. Gone. You can't replace that.


We made history by our history being wiped out.


I have trouble carrying a conversation, trouble remembering words. I
didn't have that problem before. It's definitely played with people's
heads.


It'll be a long, long time for things to really get back to normal here.
We won't ever know the coast like we knew it all our lives. That coast is
gone.


Over a billion dollars in damage here. Multi-million dollar homes destroyed.


I don't think people realize how this affects people physically.
This may sound gross, and I'm sorry, but some people couldn't go to the
the bathroom for four or five days. What does that tell you about what it
does to your body? People lost their apetite. They couldn't eat anything.
It wasn't that the food wasn't good, they just couldn't eat.


They didn't tolerate any looting. They didn't jail them, but when they
were finished they wished they were in jail. The cops would teach them a
lesson, that's for sure. Well, what else they gonna do? We don't have the
jail facilities. Are you just going to let them get away with it? You've
got to make an example out of a few people. Get the word out: This will
not be tolerated.


We got this one kid, he kept trespassing on this guy's property. The
owner, he tells the kid three times that he doesn't want him near his
property. The third time he calls the cops. By the time we get there, the
owner had beat him within an inch of his life with a steel pipe. His mom's
all mad because we don't arrest the owner. But what are you going to do?
He kept trying to steal things. The kid's lucky he wasn't killed.



=======================


It was really difficult for me to sit and listen to this man speak. Especially after listening to Charles right before this. I couldn't get over how different their two perspectives in life are. Charles largely spoke about God, and about man's inhumanity to man. Steve seemed to be most focused on property. When he speaks of history being wiped out, he is referencing property. When he talked about damage, he focused on the homes of the wealthiest individuals. And while he did mention the effects that this hurricane has had on people physically, he spent far more time discussing monetary damage than anything else.


Then, of course there was the last section... Major points that I noted: He kept going back and forth between saying "they" and "we" when discussing the police. Perhaps the connection of the buildings together has also resulted in the connection of the two departments psychologically as well. As someone who has a high respect for fire departments and little respect for police departments, this disturbs me. Steve also continuously condones police vigilante behavior. The stated purpose of the police is to bring suspects into the judicial system, and for the judicial system to determine guilt or innocence and to determine the punishment for those found guilty. Steve didn't see it that way. He saw it as the police's responsibility to punish those that they determined to be guilty in order to send a message to the rest of the community. Steve also seemed to think that physical violence was not only an acceptable means of 'enforcing the law,' but the right thing to do.


And the last part of the story... I don't even know where to begin except to say that I felt sick listening to him, and I feel sick now thinking about it. The question isn't whether the kid was in the wrong or not. The question is what do you value more property or human life? I think to myself, what could I ever possibly own that is worth a human life? Maybe it's just me, but it sounds like this cop, whoops, I mean this firefighter, is just taking the property owner's story as fact, without any investigation. Once again, it seems that the police don't understand how the judicial system is supposed to work. It is not for the police to decide who was right or who was wrong. It is not for the police to determine if the owner was 'correct' to nearly kill the supposed 'looter.' That is what the court system is made for.


This is the problem with institutionalized power. It is abused time and time again.

Breaking Sheetrock, and a little about Waveland

I find it very difficult to know what and how to write. My internet access
is infrequent and unreliable, and every day, I fill up my journal with pages of notes, each one could easily be written as a full story in itself. Most all of it
is so powerful. I can't explain all of it in detail, it would be hundreds
of pages.


I'm back in New Orleans today. Cory and I spent the day helping out a 70+ year old long-time activist woman (Kit) clean up her home. Cory sat 20 feet up in a tree using a chain saw to cut down a massive branch (the size of many tree trunks) that had broken off the tree but caught in the other branches on the way down, while I was in the basement apartment level tearing down sheetrock with mold growing several feet up the wall. I had to wear a double ended particle mask in order to breathe down there. And even so, I question the wisdom of spending all day down there. While my body was definitely complaining about the physical labor by the end of the day, I really enjoyed it. I've never done anything of the sort before, and swinging a hammer into a wall, well, there's just something enjoyable about the experience.


It's been very strange spending time with these folks after some of these other experiences that I've had. They seem to be white, liberal, middle to upper-middle class folks. Very nice people, but well, when Kit's daughter (mid-40s) got all excited telling us about how she was able to find her favorite locally-made salad dressing again at one of the shops in town, I couldn't help but think how petty it sounded compared to what so many other folks are going through right now.


What's been going on in Waveland, MS is very different from New Orleans. The police/military presence is much less, and those that are around are generally rather friendly. The diversity of people is really incredible here. Not in regards to ethnic/racial backgrounds per se, but in regards to how people think and live. The rainbow kitchen has changed the way that a lot of people here think about 'hippies' that's for sure.


For example, I was talking with Fred, 65 years old, ex-military.
"I'm from a different generation. They had the hippie-flower children thing going on then. You guys, I kknow you like to think of this more as an 'alternative lifestyle' or something. But let me tell you, I see you guys doing the cooking, cleaning the dishes, setting things up, taking them down, and let me tell you, I've never seen such hardworking people coming together and sticking together, and just making everything work. I think it's just great."


The New Waveland Cafe (the Rainbow Family kitchen) was also featured in the local paper. It said, hey FEMA and Redcross, if you really want to learn how to run a kitchen come watch these guys and take some notes.

Article on Waveland, MS:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/01/AR2005090102455.html

Sunday, October 02, 2005

affecting/affected

If you can make it happen, please come down here and help affect things.
If you can make it happen, please come down here and be affected.

From Gandhi to Waveland

"To learn a lot, go where you know nothing." (Cory)
"Wander where there is no path" (Nikos)
==
I've been on an autobiography kick lately. In the past six months, I've read The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (actually I read those two back-to-back), and right now I'm reading, The Essential Gandhi (I've got two other Gandhi books in bag, including his fullon autobiography). I can't doubt that reading this book at this juncture in my life is going to affect me. Anyway, I get back on the bus, and read this:

"I have found by experience that man makes his plans to be often upset by God, but at the same time, where teh ultimate goal is the search of truth, no matter how a man's plans are frustrated, the issue is never injurious and often better than anticipated."

Or as Asha tells me: You have to learn to trust the perfection of the universe. I have to say that my own experience certainly verifies Gandhi's statement.
==
There are some fuct up things about the founding of this country, but there are some really beautiful things, too. We, as individuals, have a lot of power. It was built into this country. But we've fortten this. We need to relearn.
==
"Be careful of your words
for someone will agree with them
Be cautious of your conduct
for someone will imitate it"
--Lieh Tzu (from Nikos' book)
==
"My parents are looking at me differently now. 'Wow, you are doing a lot of really good things. How do you do it?' 'You just have to do it.'" (Nikos)
==
We're in Waveland, MS now. The air is toxic enough that I already have a headache. We come in and there are well over 60 people sitting in a large circle having a meeting. We catch the end of the meeting, spirits seem very high. We all stand up, hold hands with the people next to us, and OM.

Woah, big change from where we just left. Seemingly this encampment is filled with everyone from Rainbow Family folks to Christian folks of all stripes, and all ages represented as well. It is MUCH whiter here, though. I can't say much about this place yet, only that it's really large, and everyone seems to actually enjoy being here.

It is almost 5am. I have been transcribing from my journal for hours now. Time for sleep. I didn't sleep much last night either. I was up late talking to Steve the Commie, reading Gandhi, and writing in my journal.

Can you believe that my plane landed at the New Orleans airport nearly exactly 2.5 days ago?

Leaving Algiers, and Mama D

I barely get back to the distribution center when Wajeed comes up to me. "Hey, you and Cory still trying to go to Waveland?" "Yeah." "Well, we're leaving in10minutes, if you want to come with us, you gotta be ready."
What? Ah! No. Um. Fuck. I look at Cory and he nods, yeah we should take it.
I know he's right. That's been our plan. We're heading to Waveland, Mississippi as soon as we can find a ride. But this was so sudden. I'd gotten it into my head that it'd be a while before we found a ride, so I was running ahead with this kids' space idea.

Now I'm running around trying to pack up my tent and everything to be ready in under ten minutes. Which, the New Yorker in me, took literally. I was done and ready to go in under 10, and of course, ended up waiting another half hour. I talked to Sharon, she told me to stop being upset about leaving. I'm leaving to do good work. I can come back.

The tension at this place is palpable. Cory and I are even being affected by it, and starting to pass along the negativity, too. Bad energy spreads so easily. It's probably good that we are leaving now. We're told that we're going to be stopping by Mama D's house in the 7th Ward first to drop off some supplies.

We barely cross the bridge, and I can already feel the difference. The air quality went from pretty bad, to much worse. I don't know what the mixture that I'm breathing in is, but I don't think the oxygen content is very high. There are so many decrepit buildings. This isn't just from Katrina. They've been like this.

I'd heard Mama D's name dropped here and there, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of this woman.

I wasn't planning on getting out of the bus, but I started to overhear pieces of what she was saying and was drawn over.

"He was down by the water looking for his son's body and had a gun held to his forehead 'for looting.' They said he was hiding things under his hat. Whoops, turns out it was his dreadlocks. He was looking for his boy. His baby! And he gets a gun held to his head." This is not an exception, or some isolated incident. Just one of many stories.

"The rage is building inside of us."
"They (the police and military) hold guns up to our faces. What do they want with me? I'm a 60 year old black lady."
"Poor people are not violent people."
"And what are they talking about? Where do they get these stories? New Orleans isn't known for the shit that they're saying."
"Something has to come from this. Some people have to come to their senses."
"We don't need another local civil war! What are they (police and military) trying to do?"
"My neighbor of 33 years. We didn't know each other before the storm. It's going to be different now."
"They (police and military) can't do this. They can't just take whatever they want from us. Just because you have the force, doesn't mean that you can come in and just claim whatever you want as your own."
"How you gonna make people leave a neighborhood they live in their whole life?"
"See that house down there? The woman there, she was part of Marcus Garvey's movement. She's still alive. She's in her 90's. She's been there all this time."

She tells us of being in the street in front of her home when military come up to her and say, "It's curfew"
She responds, "Bitch, this is America. Go find dead people. There's enough shit to be done, you don't need to come fuck with a few people."

"We don't want to be barbaric. One love. One love."
"I went to three funerals in less thana month. We're losing all our babies."

She has so much anger, and so much strength.

I see Jesse, Emma's friend from Philly, so I walk over to talk with him. He tells me that he's heard rumours from multiple types of people that there has been a plan since 1927 that in the event of a major flood, that they would bomb the levies to release pressure and keep the French Quarter from flooding. Of course there is no way of knowing whether this is true or not. But this clearly shows the level of distrust that people have of the government here.

Three nurses from the clinic arrive. Cory and I go over to talk with them. I follow one of the women over to their car to get supplies. "This is the second wave" she tells me. "Since the 70s, it's been a long dead zone, but the er-awakening is happening."

This middle-aged nurse tells me that two days after Katrina hit, Navy Seals were stationed on top of rooftops in the French Quarter and Downtown as snipers. 185 (all black) people were murdered. Not looting. If you were black and you were on the street, BAM! "I heard this from EMTs, not some radical activists. EMTs!"

The week leading up to Bush's visit, a small area in New Orleans was cleared by the National Guard. They were literally just pushing back waters on these streets. They built a fake backdrop, a movie set, behind Bush for the cameras. Oh look everyone, everything is fine. Look, see, it's not so bad. We've got everything taken care of. It's all better now. Don't worry about it here. Everything's fine. http://www.archive.org/download/EthanMillerInTimesofWar/everythingsfine.mp3
==
I head back over to Mama D.
"We don't want no 501c3. If you want to donate to us, great. But we just neighbors. We do what neighbors do."

There are reports of people from Mexico being trucked in and paid $2/hr to do cleanup. Given a gallon of water for the truckload of men to share while working in the sun all day. Forced to work 12 hour days. And the National Guard "protects" them. Two companies were named. Balfour (sp?) from Texas, and Graystone Contruction of Alabama. FEMA pays for it, and these companies then subcontract the work out to these undocumented Mexicans they can abuse.

We're leaving, having already spent an hour longer here for this drop off than planned. So much for getting to Waveland before curfew (dusk). I walk over and hug Mama D.
"Thank you child. You all come in and give me love right when I need it. When he comes by and tells me that he has to go down for DNA testing to see if it's his child, I almost went apeshit. Why do we have to make these sacrifices of our young people? For waht? Greed. Insanity."

If I come back to New Orleans, I'm staying at her place.

Playing with kids, and human connections

What this place needs is a kids' play space. Across the street from Sharon and Malik's, is an empty yard. Cory says that he has connections to the person who owns it, maybe we can work something out with him. It's incredibly overgrown, but we can take care of that. He'll try to make the connection later that day. I head over to the other Common Ground Collective project, the free medical clinic, which is about ten blocks away. I trek over there with a Food Not Bombs kid from Philly. Next thing I know, I'm working the front desk, filing charts, and checking in people. There are two kids sitting in chairs in the "waiting area" in front of me.

It doesn't take long for me to be away from the desk (someone else is there as well) and showing the kids my contact juggling ball (which I'm quickly improving at, might I add). There's a 5 yr-old girl, Jessica, and her 2 yr-old brother Marlin. She has such an incredible smile. Her whole face shines so brightly. He's definitely starting out on the shy side. I continue to play while they watch, then Jessica's reaching for the ball. She tosses it up in the air about one-foot, catches it, giggles excitedly and hands it back to me. Marlin reaches towards me. I hand him the ball. He takes it from me, draws it in towards his chest, and immediately thrusts it back into my hand. We start to play more and more. Looking at the air bubbles inside of the ball. Looking at each other thru the ball. Laughing and jumping around, making faces at each other, playing a version of peek-a-boo. Getting scolded by their mom(?) every now and then and told that we need to calm down and that we're getting out of control (ok, so she wasn't actually directing these comments at me, just the kids, but in effect, wasn't it?). We had a great time.

I told their mom(?) about my kids' play space idea, and asked her for her thoughts. Would she be interested in something like that? Would she bring the kids by? I spoke with numerous folks in the area throughout the day about this idea. The response was always very positive. I even happened to coincidentally talk to a man who, it turns out, ran a preschool out of his home before Katrina. He seemed very interested in the idea, and would hopefully be a good person to keep it going after I left. I spoke with another woman who was at the distribution center with her one-year old son. She wrote down her phone number and told me that she has a car so if we do this, we just need to get her fliers and she can drive around the neighborhood putting them up on poles. Really, the response that I've gotten has been incredibly positive.

On the way back to the distribution center from the clinic, I see two older men sitting outside of their home talking away, so I go over and start chatting with them. A few minutes later, an elderly woman comes out of the house in her wheelchair. She then slowly starts to lift herself up onto a pair of crutches that have definitely seen better days. I notice that the crutches don't have any cushions on them.
"Hey, how are those crutches working for you? Do they hurt you at all?"
"Oh yes, child. They hurt." And she gestures towards her armpits.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. I should be able to get you new crutches."

It took me four hours before I actually returned with the crutches. It was some effort to track them down, plus I kept getting distracted with all these wonderful people I kept meeting. When I returned, I was greeted warmly by the men still out front. One of them goes inside and gets her. She is so grateful. They fit her perfectly. I ask her if I can have her old crutches. They are wooden, and I've met someone who can teach me to make stilts out of them (and to use them too, hopefully). One more toy to play with. She then goes on to introduce me to her whole family. This is why I'm here. This makes it worth it. Real human connections.

First Red Cross encounter

"We are the life growing between the cracks in the pavement." (patch on someone's hat).

"I have roots that break through concrete." (Shahid).

"Where are the Preachers?"
"Preachers may run, but God will deliever the righteous from the wicked" (Grafitti in Algiers)

I had my first Red Cross sighting today. A Red Cross van was driving through the streets blaring "Red Cross serves hot meals. Red Cross serves hot meals" over a loudspeaker. I'm on the street loading a pickup with medical equipment at the time. The van stops in front of us. "Hot meals?" asks this sweet mid-western woman from inside. "Yeah, sure, why not?" I take two of their 'hot meals' and bring them back to Common Ground and put them out with a sign that says, "Eat me" on them. I open one up and eat a little of it. Carrots, peas, and corn. And a rice, beans and hotdog mixture.

All I could think was, This is disaster relief? How much money has the Red Cross received? What the hell are they doing with it? Is this their idea of going out into the communities?

Sharon

"The hard part is that we should have been down here before Katrina." (written by someone next to the profile drawing Francisco sketched of him).

"Don't give people what they want. Give them what they never thought was possible."
==
The Common Ground Collective was started by Malik and Sharon. The distribution center where I've been staying is actually their backyard. I'd been hearing bits and pieces about Malik since I started hearing about Common Ground when I was still in San Francisco. He's a community leader and organizer. He's an ex-Black Panther. That kind of thing. I didn't hear anything about Sharon though.

The morning after I got to Algiers, Malik left to go off to other communities and see what he can learn to bring back. Damn, he seemed really interesting.

It seems that Sharon is upset about what's going on with the collective as well. During our 8am meeting, she tries calling it out. Something's changed, she says. The focus has been lost. Do you remember why you are even here? She walks away crying. It seems she's being completely blown off. I follow her. I'm cautious at first. I place my palm on her upper back. She stands with her back to me still crying. We start talking, and she begins to open up more and more.

"This is a tragedy. It's like a holocaust. We need cleaning supplies. Yes, we do. But that's not why we're here."

People around the country, they want to help, but in this materialistic country, the thought of how to help is let's send stuff. If we send them enough things, it'll be better.

"When they go to bed, they can't take that stuff with them."
"What you had is gone. What you have is an opportunity to start new. You've been wiped clean."
"A lot of people are materialistic. They've got eyes, but they can't see."

Spirituality and religion come up a few times. I tell her that we have some differences in our spiritual beliefs.
To which she responds, "We're just walking different paths honey, but we're heading to the same place. I'm Baptist, and Malik is Muslim. It doesn't matter. We're just walking different paths."

Why I'm writing, and The Commie

Why am I writing this? Real stories of what's going on down here need to get out into the world. The message that we're getting from the corporate media is, "You don't need to be down there, the government is taking care of it. There's not any problem anymore."
But everyone's just trying to cover their ass, not taking care of people's needs.
==
Rules. Rules everywhere. For example, urban planners make rules which we all have to live by. If you live your life outside of taht that, What are you doing? You can't do that! You aren't following the rules.
Rules? What rules? I didn't sign up for these rules.
==
Having fun is really important.
We need to set up a structure so that everyone feels that they have a voice, that they are listened to, and they can make decisions for themselves.
==
People sell out on their political beliefs because of hopelessness. You wouldn't end the strike (or whatever) to take a $2 raise if you really believed that you could get what you really want.
==
So many interesting and amazing people here. Steve, a late middle aged guy who does Cuba solidarity work. Check out his website: http://www.seeingred.com (I haven't yet, but he tells really great stories, so I'm sure his site is, at the very least, hella interesting.
Words from Steve:
The VietCong were hip to what was going on in the US. They posted flyers in the jungle aimed at black soldiers. What are you doing here killing us with what they're diong to you in the US? We have a common enemy.

You can always count on the establishment to do something stupid. They decided to punish anti-war protestors by drafting them. Now there are all these anti-war people in the military. The 'workers in uniform' refused to work. This is what ultimately ended the Vietnam war. The soldiers wouldn't fight. Many were even killing their officers, instead.

Fraternization of both sets of soldiers started to take place. US soldiers went on patrol blaring music so taht the VietCong could avoid thm. They didn't want to kill each other anymore.

Iraq is NOT Vietnam. Vietnam was a grassroots insurgency. That's not what is going on in Iraq. There is nothing progressive about the insurgency there. You don't want to identify with these people. There are certain similarities, but that's a big difference.

"You have to go to Venezuela!" he points at me, slapping my leg. There's a revolution underway. The constitution guarantees free health care, but there are no doctors. Capitalism. The doctors are rich and only work for the rich. So the government works it out with Cuba. Cuba has the most doctors per capita in the world. Cuba sends more doctors out of its borders into the rest of the world, than all other countries combined. A town in Venezuela will come together, discuss, and decide whether or not to bring in a Cuban doctor. This is a scary proposal to many people. Do we really want a Commie coming in here? But it's a free doctor, a really good doctor. OK, so wait, now we need a doctor's office. Someone steps forward, well, I have an extra room. And piece by piece the community works together and makes it happen. They now have a doctor who lives amongst them. They now have free healthcare, because they worked together and made it happen. Very empowering. The doctors are under strict orders to not discuss politics. They are there to provide their service only. They're very presence acts as the call for change. Cuba sets an example. Cuba has no money. It's a poor third world country. Yet, there is zero homelessness, and free healthcare and education for everyone. An example for poor countries of the world. You don't have to die. You just need to organize with people first.

If someone gets hit by a car in front of your house, you don't run out and say, "Hey, ya got $20? Give me $20 and I'll help you." No, of course not. You just help them.

The 20th century was the century of revolutions. Uprisings all over the world. Most all of them ended with the people being slaughtered. Lots of mistakes made. Learn from them!
==
Now, I can't verify the accuracy of all of this. I can say that he sure sounds like he knows what he's talking about, but of course that is no guarantee. I can say that I knew very little of this info that he was pouring forth.

As Cory put it, "Oral history is so important."

From Disempowerment to Inspiration

My first two days here were difficult. The environment didn't feel very inclusive. Quite the opposite in fact. Certain people were seizing power. Acting as though they were in charge, and most everyone just starts to act as though they are. We are so used to having authority figures. Those telling us how things work. What we should be doing. What we can and cannot do. It was as though they were managers and simply saw everyone else as laborers to do what they're told.

I really wasn't sure about this place. I don't feel right here. I know that I have talents that I could add to this collective. I didn't come down here to be a cog in a machine. I didn't come down here to provide manual labor in providing for people's "needs" while the system restructures itself so it can reabsorb these people.

What? Help them return to their lives of oppression, living at the bottom of American Capitalism? We can't just provide for people's needs. We have to help change things. If we aren't doing that, than we are just doing the State's job for them. Maybe slightly differently, but more or less with the same results. As it stands now, I feel that all we are doing is helping people get by until the government and corporations once again "have everything under control." Don't worry America, we have everything under control.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with manual labor. Manual labor feels great, and I think it's good for you on so many levels. But I can't just do that. The world has seen how these people are shit upon by America. If things are to change, it'll only be because people make things change. Let's do it.
==
But then things changed. Cory and I started talking. Brainstorming really. We decided that what this place needs is a little whip with a little furry end on it. Just to lighten things up. When the orders start to be barked, out comes the furry whip. Now, faster, work harder, furry whip, furry whip. We're not sure how other people would take it, but it cracked us up.

What we need is a fire circle. A chance for us to come together and really connect on a level much deeper than simply taking care of 'necessary work.' Sit together in a circle, and go around answering questions such as these:
What's your story? What do you believe in or dream about?
Tell the story of what your purpose is here.
What are you called to do?
==
We have so many ideas of projects to work on. And only so much time. It's amazing how much we seem to inspire each other. "Who are the people of New Orleans?" going around and interviewing the people around town. Hearing their stories. Asking them those same questions we want to use for the fire circle. Who are the people of New Orleans? The corporate media tells us all sorts of things about "these people" in New Orleans. But really, who are they really? Let's put a real human face to it.If we follow thru on this at some point, I want to get Kevin's story out there.
==
Other pieces of my conversations with Cory:
The more you think about the oppressor, the more you are oppressed. The biggest chains are in your mind. Free Yourself. Do what you want! Dare to dream.
Dream BIG!

Kevin Vernon Donsereaux

Kevin, a young looking thin black local man is around a lot. He often seems annoyed, or angry even. All sorts of ideas go through my head. 'He doesn't want us here. Who the hell are you and what do you think you can do for my community? You don't know us. What? All of a sudden, you care now?'

I need to talk to him. Who is he really? What are his truths?
Hey Kevin, what are you doing now?
"Why?" he asks defensively.
"Do you have a minute to talk?"
"Whatsup?"
"How do you feel about all of this? How do you feel about us being here?"
"I live here."
"Yeah, I know, so how do you feel about us being here? Does it upset you? Are you angry about us being here?"
"Huh? No."
"Well, are you glad that we're here?"
"You are trying to help. That's good. No, no. I don't want you to think that I don't want you here. Don't think that. It's great that you're here. You're here to help."
"Ok, cool. You just seemed really pissed off back there when the truck arrived with all that stuff."
"Oh, don't mind that. I'm just like that. Sometimes I just wake up like that. Shit's hard. I live here. You're gonna be here, what? A week? Two weeks? Then what? You can go on back to your home, wherever that is. Me? My home was destroyed. I'm 47 years old and..."
"What?!? You're what?!?" I interrupt him, completely shocked at his age.
"47"
I am still looking at him, mouth agape. "I thought you were like my age, and I'm 27."
"What? I have a daughter your age. I have six kids and four grandkids."
"What?!?!?!" I just stare at him incredulously.
He doesn't seem to know what to make of my misjudgement.
"Look, I've spent 15 years in state prison. Any control you think you have in life, it's an illusion. You don't have any control."
I'm shaking my head. I can't even comprehend what is must be like to have lived his life. We sit down and continue chatting.
Kevin Vernon Donsereaux. He writes his full name in large letters in my journal. "How do you say that?" He asks me. I pronounce it to the best of my abilities.
"Yeah."
"Yeah, what? How do you pronounce it?"
"No, you got it. Most everyone gets it wrong. All those letters confuse them."
"Oh, well it's a French name."
"It is?" with a hint of doubt in his voice.
"Yeah, without a doubt. That's why it's spelled that way. It's definitely French."
He doesn't really say anything. Just seems a bit surprised.

My mind starts racing. Am I even capable of understanding what taht must be like? To have one's entire ancestral history stolen. To not even know that his surname is French. Which of course leads to the question, why the hell is his surname French? But of course there's only one answer to that. This last name isn't the name of his ancestors. It's the surname of his ancestor's master. He has this last name because his ancestors were kidnapped and shipped to another continent in chains, sold to a white man, whose name was Donsereaux.

What must that be like? Everytime you say your name, or write it down, having that reminder that the entire reason you are here is because of slavery. And that even now, some generations later, you and those who look like you, are still kept at the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.

Or as that David Rovics' song puts it, "What if no one you knew had ever been to college, but everyone had been to jail..."

And in the mean time, you are being told by much of mainstream white America that if you are poor, it's your own damn fault. You're just lazy. If you just worked harder, you wouldn't be in that position.

Yeah, I'd be angry. In fact, I am.