Mahatma Gandhi and MLK would both be proud of what they've done in the Ninth Ward. Not the government - the people standing in front of bulldozers.
When I 've taught introductory composition to community college students, I often insisted on either beginning or ending with an examination of Martin Luther King's "Three Ways of Meeting Oppression." It was in the text as an example of structured argument, one that examined both acquiescence and violence before asserting
The third way open to oppressed people in their quest for freedom is the way of nonviolent resistance. Like the synthesis in Hegelian philosophy, the principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites acquiescence and violence while avoiding the extremes and immoralities of both. The nonviolent resister agrees with the person who acquiesces that one should not be physically aggressive toward his opponent; but he balances the equation by agreeing with the person of violence that evil must be resisted. He avoids the nonresistance of the former and the violent resistance of the latter. With nonviolent resistance, no individual or group need submit to any wrong, nor need anyone resort to violence in order to right a wrong.
I was then often tasked with explaining what King (and I) meant by "nonviolent resistance." Did he mean boycotts? Walking around with a sign? I sometimes, even before they hit the news, cited "peace teams" like the Christian Peacemaker Teams, who place their physical bodies between armies and civilians; much of the coverage, since four CPT workerx were taken hostage, has the same kind of incomprehension as my students expressed about King. And talking about Gandhi and satyagraha, actual resistance in this country, about civil rights workers battered by police in Montgomery, just felt like a history lesson.
If I were teaching this spring, I'd start with that essay, and I would have this example to point to: Ninth Ward residents putting their bodies between their homes and the bulldozers.
Some property owners argue that they've been allowed only to look at their homes since the city reopened the 9th Ward December 1 and that there hasn't been adequate time to look for possessions or make big decisions.
Shana Griffin, a community activist, called the city's plans "unfair, illegal and immoral."
"These decisions are being made in our name but without our input," she said at the news conference. "We need to make sure our rights are not further eroded by those who seek to profit from our loss."
These guys are practicing a Cajun version of satyagraha, the same kind of angry joyful energy with which Buddhist monks, at the turn of the millenium, were tying themselves to sacred trees against the chainsaw. I bet they read King aloud at the rallies too.
I understand that there are public safety concerns, and that the city has been working with one-fifth the federal assistance doled out to Mississippi, thanks to Bush crony Haley Barbour. These folks also read the papers, and no doubt have a sense of what the big ol' boys in Washington have planned for their city. Emphasis mine:
[Congressman] Baker's proposed Louisiana Recovery Corporation would spend as much as $80 billion to pay off lenders, restore public works, buy huge ruined chunks of the city, clean them up and then sell them back to developers.
But the heroic journos at the Times-Picayune, who have since day one of the disaster carried on their own nonviolent resistance, are keeping it up, speaking of a new kind of red-lining:
City council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis suggested that parts of the city east of the main downtown boulevard are treated differently.
"Canal Street is not the Mason-Dixon line. We are one city, one people," Willard-Lewis said.
The city has come under fire since Greg Meffert, a city official who oversees safety and permits, said two weeks ago that the city has the power to demolish homes without an owner's consent if the structure poses an imminent danger to the public.
Inspectors used a color code as they looked at 128,000 homes and businesses on New Orleans' east bank of the Mississippi River. Red stickers designated that a building was unsafe and may need to be razed.
A lawsuit has been filed to prevent the demolitions and several of the homeowners involved contend that their buildings were mistakenly marked by red tags.
You'd think someone would have at least thought about the color-coding.
One of the things they mention over and over in journalism school is how an impassioned press, an impassioned and ethical public, is crucial to the success of social movements. Who would have attended to Gandhi? Who would have given a s*&&^t about black people and weird Jewy leftys getting their skulls knocked out in Albany, Georgia, without the press showing their faces?That's how all that fine talk about the fourth estate, about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as ever said with a straight face.
Which brings me to the press' role in all this "Disneyfication" of New Orleans.
I saw Brian Williams at Columbia, in September, say what he says here in the WaPo , and promise not to take his eye off the ball. As I asked Lindsay, who inspired this post: Will he make the connections that need to be made between post-Katrina betrayals and current stories, like "We won't rebuild Iraq" or the mine disaster? Will anyone in the larger media organizations realize NOLA is never not breaking news? And will they refuse to be taken in by the idea that "selling to developers" is a way to hand a city back to those who made it go?
Godspeed to those willing to stand in front of bulldozers, and caution to all of us who take the easy way out. I'll leave it to the experts, or another post, to do what this sensible Times letter writer did, and castigate those covering the mine disaster for not asking a simple question: why were those guys in the mine on a federal holiday? Will enough journalists question the sanctity of the big--developer solution to the death of a city?