i watched part I of spike lee’s return to new orleans, “if god is willing and da creek don’t rise” on hbo last night. and if i learned one thing, it’s that five years later, it still sucks to be poor in america.
between the imagery, the interviews and the soundtrack, i was choked up most of the time. the times i wasn’t, i was angry. angry at the politicians and developers and all those who saw opportunity in the ruins to make a clean slate (whether to demolish the low income housing or the only functioning hospital providing mental health assistance) and make way for huge, money making projects. if it weren’t for katrina, those developers would never have been able to so quickly get their mitts on the land, clear out the city’s poorest families from the projects and in their place erect neat and tidy townhouses for “mixed” income families. the 1400 units demolished were replaced with 900 or so of these townhouses with a 30% public housing/30% subsidized/30% market rate … so the final tally would be a loss of nearly 1000 units of affordable housing, right? good job, city council (they voted unanimously for demolition).
at the opposite end of the spectrum, brad pitt and his “make it right” foundation really did do it right. our boyfriend brought pro bono architects and the members of the community together to build a sustainable, sensible neighborhood (solar panels, energy efficient appliances, no family pays more than 30% of their income towards mortgages and most importantly, access to the roof)…
spike lee’s documentary begins with the joyous saints super bowl victory celebration (who dat?!?), but beyond the glitter of bourbon street, we quickly see that things are still the same – if not worse (if that’s even imaginable). for those brave enough and strong enough to have returned to new orleans, very little good news awaits them. and without charity hospital, the mental demons of loss and disbelief claim many of those who survived the initial disaster. people are slowly being poisoned by formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers, families are still ripped apart, people struggle for work (they can’t even be hired to erect the fence that keeps them out of their apartments in the projects). it goes on and on and makes me wonder if more of us need to run for political office, as michael moore urged us to do so long ago…how else will things really change?
i don’t want to give too much away, but i urge you to see this film. i won’t even go into the politics, seeing bush’s stupid smirk and the army corps of engineers. part II airs tonight and is going to deal with the BP spill (spike lee had already wrapped shooting when the well started gushing), i’m sure i will feel sad and angry all over again. but if we don’t stand witness, new orleans will become some sanitized, disneyland version of itself – without the heart, soul and struggle of those who built the city.
while some say they still feel blessed to live there, it ain’t easy livin’ in the big easy.
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