Features from New Orleans
* denotes most recent updates
"This is day nine for me. I've talked with at least 250 people in my capacity as counselor." - Baruch
Frontline Counseling in New Orleans
Sunday 2 October 2005, 7:50pm
The night before my departure for New Orleans, I'm in San Francisco at the city house of the person on whose ranch I am currently yoming. Everyone is out at the Castro Street Faire and I am eating chicken and rice and beans and guacamole from the place on the corner.
I just spent the last week taking the natural building course mentioned in previous blog entries. It came to an end yesterday, and this is the first workshop type thing I've ever been to (and I've participated and taught in many many) where I didn't want to leave. The people are the wonderful sweet gift. Mostly, not only, people from their late teens to mid 20's, a few my age or so, a few in between, but the majority are 18 - 25. They are bright, engaged, living outside the box, creative and committed. They have the exuberance of youth, have rejected significant aspects of the cultural indoctrination, and see ways to support things getting better on Earth. It's the old hippie stuff many of us did in the 60's and/or 70's; back to the land, learning to live sustainably, doing the work of building community. It's the stuff that always made me the happiest, before I went into debt and got on the hampster wheel.
There is a difference, though, between my generation and this one. These young people are growing up in a time far more brutal than I did. Not that there wasn't mondo brutality, there was, but now it is glorified in the culture so much more, and the scale of destruction that people accept their government inflicting on human beings is far greater. People are more innured to it all than when I was a kid. These young people are engaging in "Yes!" things, not just "No!" things, as their way of moving energy to help shift the direction of human culture. They're living on next to no money, many of them, some as nomads. They work as they are moved to, and they are inspired a lot so they all seem to be doing lots of things and learnign lots of skills. There is a lot of environmental awareness and belief in preservation and protection of the land. Anyway the main point is how moved I felt and feel connectting with these people. I knows there are so many more out there too; people of all ages who are seeing through the illusory veil of America to a real sustainable life in the real world, the world of Earth.
So, off to New Orleans I go, feeling inspired and equipped with what I have, hoping it's what's needed.
Monday 3 October 2005, 8:19 PM
I'm at the Common Ground Clinic in Algiers, New Orleans. I flew in with a friend this afternoon, and was met at the airport with more friends in their veggie oil bus.
I am just arriving, but from what I see so far, the folks at the clinic are working their asses off. Some folks have been here for weeks, others for days. The immediate sense is one of overwhelm.
It looks like I'll be helping to set up a Recovery Center in the lower 9 district, and then training local community folks in leading effective peer support groups, and helping a 12 step group to form.
Today I received innoculations for Hep A and Tetanus.
P.S. It's just past midnight, I just witnessed the arrest of a young african american man on a bicycle outside the clinic by at least 6 white police officers, most not wearing badges but shirts identifying them as State Police. There was no violence. The police were questioning the young man with no attorney present. No weapons were drawn.
Wednesday 5 October 2005, 3:33 AM
Algiers, New Orleans - I got here on Monday afternoon, and spent Tuesday at the Common Ground Collective working with some of the volunteers there. The usual cohort of inspired, disenfranchised, enthused activist youth are working their butts off tarping roofs, gathering and distributing supplies (food, cleaning stuff, clothes, linens, etc.) along with the usual cohort of middle-aged activists. It's a beautiful example of human cooperation in a situation that is surreal. Military helicopters fly overhead with their doors open, a soldier with a machine gun visible from the ground. Hummers drive around with an automatic weapon toting soldier on the roof. Big white SUVs and pickup trucks drive around with various "private contractors."
Houses in flood affected areas are now being marked with a green or a red dot indicating whether or not it has been condemned, so people are returning to their houses to find that they are not allowed in. How these dots are applied, who decided which houses go and which stay, is not clear to me. It is clear, however, that this is commonly regarded as part of the land grab. Casinos, formerly allowed only on boats in the river, have hurriedly been given permission by the Louisiana legislature to exist on land, and at least one gated community nearby is the expected home to one of these "new" casinos.
Curfew is in effect, dusk to dawn, but white people tend to experience a less hostile response to curfew violation. The New Orleans police, notorious for brutality, have said within my hearing that they can "demand to see ID for no reason at all" and they expect compliance.
Sitting on the levy this evening, looking at the lit city towers across the river with the poverty and disarray of Algiers behind me, the disparity that is New Orleans shines as brightly as the city lights.
I have rarely been as acutely aware of the privilege of my "white" skin, or the economic and educational advantages it has brought me.
Anyone who wants an experience of community, of contributing and seeing the direct effect of their participation, or who would like to show their kids some amazing resilience in the face of oppression, come on down to New Orleans and stand with the people here who fear that their disenfranchisement is about to take a profound turn for the worse.
Wednesday 5 October 2005, 10:47 PM
I'd like to recount one story from my day.
I drove a 58 yr old woman to the FEMA help center around 3 PM. She'd returned from Houston where she'd received one check from FEMA, but another had been sent which she had not received and she wanted to find out where it was.
The FEMA center was in a school gym. We went in, she was seen by the intake worker immediately; a firefighter from New Mexico. He gave her a case number or some such and sent her to speak with someone else. They gave her a FEMA phone number to call and directed her to the phone bank. She then asked me to help her since she was finding the recorded message on the phone to be confusing. I called the number, listened to the message, held for assistance, and spoke with a woman who told me that this woman needed to call the Help Line by using prompt 3 after the recorded message, this was the Intake Line. I told her that there was no prompt 3 in the message and she told me that must be because the Help Line was too backed up. The woman would have to call back after 10 PM. I asked if we could use one of the computers to find the information online and was told that I could try but it probably wouldn't work. So I used one of the computers there and went to the FEMA site and found that we would not be able to get any information from the website. At this point a FEMA employee, a woman in her 50's, came over to us and said to me "You can't help this person. We don't accept volunteers." I told her that I was there helping my friend and she told me "I was told that you are helping people and you can't do that." I assured her that I was only helping this one person and she reluctantly agreed that was OK.
"You're not allowed to help people."
What's wrong with this picture?
This fit into the picture I'm developing in my mind. I have heard many stories about FEMA and the Red Cross turning away help, volunteers, supplies, trained medical personnel. The Red Cross, a for-profit corporation, accepts donations and then keeps the majority of those funds for administrative costs and...profit?
What's wrong with this picture?
I am continually amazed at the way "Americans" are numb, innured to the massive deceptions that are perpetrated on tham constantly by the government, the corporations, even the so-called service agencies. Beaurocracy has as it's primary purpose it's own perpetuation. No matter what kind of altruistic front is presented, it's just more lies.
Thursday 7 October 2005, 12:12 AM
It's been a long busy day; hot, humid, and filled with people and their stories. I spent the day mostly at the clinic in the entryway talking with people, and listening. I encountered hope, despair, huge heartedness, fractured spirits. I heard tales of absolute horror and tales of people discovering compassion and kindness.
A woman spent five days on her roof with her 3 small children with no food and water in 90+ temperatures and 90%+ humidity before they were finally rescued.
A nursing home created a morgue for the living, stacking living old people and leaving them to die.
A group of white vigilantes caught and murdered some black people, tying one to a fence "as an example." They are still at large, in fact no one is even looking for them.
I did a home visit for a woman who is mentally ill. She told me about the man she saw shot across the street from her, prior to Katrina, and the two other murders in the neighborhood this summer.
Two people told me about hearing explosions at the levy before it broke. The levy broke AFTER the hurricane. Apparently in 1965 with hurricane Betsy it is well known that one levy was dynamited, flooding poor areas, to protect the expensive homes on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It looks like that has happened again.
I find myself absorbing more of this than is good for me. I have a headache, my startle response is slightly enhanced, and can just tell I'm taking in stuff that is toxic. However, in this environment and this situation, I think I'm actually doing a good job of not being way too porous psychically. In other words I could be really way fucked up, and I'm not.
I am 100% clear, though, in my belief that there is a focused and well planned conspiracy on the part of certain large corporations, with support from the fascist motherfucker hateful government, to clear out New Orleans of poor black people so it can be gentrified and turned into a playground for the wealthy.
There are still soldiers in the street with their AK47s. I've spoken to a few, mostly nice young men who probably joined the service out of a sense that it would be a good thing to do. I heard about soldiers who drove past the Food Not Bombs people (they are mostly young people who come to actions and disasters and feed people) and pointing their machine guns at these kids, just for the heck of it.
I want to say to anyone and everyone reading this, please please look beneath the veneer and deceptions of America, and see what is happening. The media lies constantly. The government is corrupt 100% to the core, run by hateful selfish mean greedy fucks who care only for their own enrichment, and who do not value life. The idea that these people consider themselves to be religious and good Christians makes me want to spit. I am not a Christian, but I know enough to know that "Love thy neighbor" and "Turn the other cheek" and all those good Jesus quotes are in no way part of the hearts and minds of the people running the US.
My disgust and sadness get all mixed up together.
I also see the potential for great good to come of all this. Some black and white people here are really loving being with how much we are the same, how much we need each other, how wholeness can only exist for some of us if it exists for all of us.
We can really help make a better world for the children (and I mean all the children, not just the white ones or the moneyed ones or whatever) if we are willing to share what we have, live lives of service, and be peacemakers.
Working for money to have more stuff when children are being murdered actively and by the deliberate neglect of our government, is obscene. If we have more than we need and we aren't sharing the surplus, we are facing a spiritual void from which our only rescue is to give what we have to those who have less. Call me a bleeding heart, but if you have more than you need and you're not sharing it with those who have less, how can you justify that in any mature way? "I want what I want" is the way a 3 year old experiences the world, and rightly so, but once we are grownups that is no way to live if we really care, and if we take personal responsibility for our world that we share.
We need to give give give not 'till it hurts but 'till it makes us whole.
Strong words, I know, but the longer I live and the more I see the more I am convinced that our only hope of survival and of reaching towards our potential is drastic change, reconnection with Earth, and abandonment of the greed/fear/violence driven poolicies of the current world governments.
Thursday 7 October 2005, 7:05 PM
Each day here is a lifetime, and they are each very different. Last night's blog entry, early this morning really, was coming from a place of being overfull from the intensity of the day. Today was a lot mellower, and I am feeling much less stressed.
The issue about blowing up the levy...here are corrections. It was in the 1920's that this happened during a hurricane, so I am told today, not during hurricane Betsy in 1965.
People are returning to the city, many to find that they have lost everything, and I mean every thing. These tend to be older foilks since that's who has a house, so the losses are so wrenching.
We saw more children in the clinic today. I kept on handing out bottles of water with vitamin fizzy stuff in it to the kids especially, but also to parents.
The shock, the love, the camaraderie here at the clinic, the support of the pagan cluster, are all feeding me.
I used to "own" a home and land, run a private practice, have tons of stuff, debt up the wazoo, "security" etc. and it didn't bring me the sense of overall congruity and joy that this life is. There are many many MANY people in this country who are not enrolled in the american nightmare, and they are are happier and less anxious than most of the people I know who "own" and work and have debt etc. As scary as it may look, I encourage people to at least consider letting go of their place in the american death machine, stop feeding the fascist government, let go of materialism, and find real joy. I know that may sound just too far out to some folks but for those who know me and know what I'm about, what I'm made of, you know that I am speaking from my heart.
That's it for now...
Oh, one more thing. Today at the Red Cross encampment a purge was planned of migrant workers. All workers were going to have to show their documents, and any illegals were to be purged from the camp. The mayor of New Orleans, who has clearly been co-opted since Katrina (his change of tone and position on the whole series of events appears to have been coerced) said publicly that "the city is experiencing an influx of Mexicans" as if it were a bad thing. I feel sorry for him. I wonder what leverage was used to force him into line.
Saturday 8 October 2005, 6:38 PM
Today I went to the 7th Ward which is on the other side of the river where destruction was greatest. Ward 9 was the worst, I haven't been there yet. Today I helped staff a clinic under a highway overpass. The folks were receiving tetanus and hep A shots, food, and counseling from yours truly. We were seeing people who had either just gotten back to new Orleans and were on their way to see their house for the first time, or had just seen it. Most people had lost everything. We saw a number of families. I must have spoken with at least 25 or 30 people.
I also finally met Mama Di, one of the pillars of the community. She's a rasta woman who, it turns out, knew my mother years ago during the times when the panthers lived in our house in Connecticut. She told me that she heard the three levys being blown up after Katrina, and that she knew for a fact that the levy was blown in 1965. So, I hear a lot of stuff, but firsthand knowledge is pretty conclusive. We discussed the idea of me training community folks to lead peer support groups, and that this would begin to be feasible in a few weeks.
I am in the process of arranging to stay here longer than previously planned. I'm not sure how that'll work yet but I am working on it.
I listen all day to amazing stories and I try to remember thyem to share here, but there are so many and it's all so intense that I forget. Forgetting is healthy, too, because I can't carry all that around with me. That would not be healthy for me.
Right now I feel as if I'd had 10 cups of coffee. I haven't. Most of the clinic staff has gone to play soccer with the folks from the collective house on Atlantic Ave. which will afford me time for a shower and time to do this writing.
Emotionally this is one of the most intense and fulfilling experiences I've ever had. I feel a lot, generally, but in this situation I am having to be pretty contained, which is good. I am not being too porous. Other volunteers have told me that they see me taking the people's stuff, and I know I do that, but I then transform it through my own process. I ground and release. I cry. I rant to the folks who are my support. I continue to be amazed at how clear it is that the people here have been literally soild down the river by the government. Really, there should be revolution in the streets of the US. If people realized how hoodwinked they are, and would wake from their consumer stupor, it would happen. One can only hope, and live as one sees fit, and communicate to the best of one's ability.
Sunday 9 October 2005, 10:50 PM
Another day in Algiers, New Orleans. Today the clinic hosted a block party with food, clothes to give away, art stuff, barbecue, and socializing. People hanging out in this city which some say is dead and others say is coming back to life as the people return.
I counseled a few people, and then took the afternoon to enjoy the party, which did me a world of good. I feel about 1/3 full instead of 4/3 full now at the end of the day as I prepare for sleep. This is my third night sleeping in my tent in the back yard of a neighbor. I had been sleeping in the clinic, in the room where all the treatment happened; steeping in the energy of the clinic. I feel much better sleeping out here.
George W. Bush, the rotten fuck, will be in New Orleans tomorrow, continuing to support the removal of the poor (mostly black) folks so Donald Trump can build his new casino. Trump is also in town, I have heard. It's obscene. One of the first things the Louisiana legislature did after Katrina was to change the law to allow casinos to exist on land. Previously they had only been allowed on Mississippi river boats. Think about it. One of the first things lawmakers in this state did was to change the law in favor of a rich casino owner. This, in the face of the destruction of people's lives, is just more evidence of the rotten core of the politicians, developers, and money worshippers. It's just disgusting.
The longer I'm here, the more people I spend time with, the more I feel this disgust for the american government corporate machine. Americans should be in the street resisting this fascism, but like the Germans in the 1930's and 1940's they believe what they are told by the corrupt commercial media because it's easier than realizing that they are responsible for the murder of their neighbors. Many Germans refused to believe in the concentration camps, but we now know they were real. Americans now accept the torture and concentration camps that their government perpetrates, so Americans are guity of the same hideous murderous denial that the Germans were guilty of. Wake up! Wake the fuck up! How can you sleep at night when your silence makes you complicit in the murder of children, women, men, old people, DAILY around the globe. It's sickening.
I was talkiing with some other volunteers here tonight about what we'd like to have for dinner, a wonderful complete meal, and it hit me how privileged I am. I get to eat what I want if I go out and get it. My money and my white skin grant me access to pretty much anything. I was talking with a man from texas who is here volunteering, a black man. I shared about the stories I was hearing and how awful that is. He, rightly so, said "Yeah well that's hard for you but everytime I go into a store I am followed around. I wear this brown suit (his skin) for life." I asked him how he deals with the pressure and he just laughed. High blood pressure is one of the major "illnesses" that black people suffer from. Duh! Talk about pressure! Hey Oprah, help the people instead of supporting Bush and protecting your billions.
I am aware that my blog entries are increasingly angry. I think my anger is an appropriate response to a completely inhuman situation. Anyone who isn't angry is asleep.
When you next hear about those troublesome anarchists protesting the government, the world bank, genetically modified (poisonous) food etc., sop and think about how the media engineers it's news to make you comply with the wishes of the corporate/government Nazis. Anarchism is not chaos, it's about taking personal responsibility instead of letting the government use your proxy to kill, oppress, destroy.
Wednesday 12 October 2005, 7:12 AM
Yesterday I didn't counsel people. I had an experience first thing in the morning that made me so angry, I had to take a break.
The CDC comes by everyday to collect data. They come accompanied by two police officers. Yesterday it was a white woman cop and a black man cop. I've met him before. While the two CDC people were in the clinic the cops were standing outside, armed of course. I was out there and the man said hi to me because we'd met before. The woman then said something to the effect of "There aren't any people out front waiting to get in, it's not too busy" to which I replied "Perhaps people feel intimidated seeing tw3o armed police out front." She then said to me "Well they'd only be intimidated if they'd done something wrong." That's the old "They're running because they're guilty of something" bullshit. It was all I could do not go off on her. I explained to her that the people here had lived generations under the fist of oppression and they had plenty of good reasons to fear police. Just two days ago three New Orleans cops were indicted for beating a man. They'd been videotaped by an Associated Press producer, who they also punched.
Racist ignorant white female cop. That put me over the top, so I spent the morning out with another volunteer doing a grocery run for the clinic. We're feeding around 30 doctors, nurses, and other volunteers every day.
I just took a shower which felt so good, and am about to have coffee and food and then start counseling. We open at 8 AM.
This is day nine for me here. I'm sure I've talked with at least 250 people in my capacity as counselor.
Thursday 13 October 2005, 8:44 PM
This is short and sweet. I am so grateful for all the support of family and friends for what is happening here, and for me personally. Thank you! I've received email, donations to me and to the clinic, and lots of love.
This clinic is giving me hope and inspiration.
A house has been donated to us for a year. Next door to it is a lot which can be made into a community garden. I spoke with some of the neighbors today and they are excited by the idea.
I've been putting out to the universe "I want community" and it's happening! I didn't expect it to be in New Orleans but it's true that we get what we ask for often in a different form than expected.
So, thanks from my heart to the people here in this neighborhood, this city, this clinic, and everywhere who are committed to being fully human.
Tuesday 18 October 2005, 7:15 AM
I am flying to California today. I don't even want to think about it, it makes me so sad. This place and the people here are so deep in my heart.
My second night here I dreamt that a huge beating heart was transplanted into my chest. I woke up feeling for the scar. It's true. A huge living heart is here and it is in me.
I plan to return here in a few weeks to continue with the collective, specifically the clinic and the radio station, and the community gardens. These are all my dreams coming true. My gratitude is boundless.
-- by Baruch
How You Can Help
Donations are urgently needed for all aspects of the rebuilding effort. You can donate directly to Reclaiming folks working in New Orleans via PayPal by clicking this link:
Donate to the Pagan Cluster's New Orleans work.
If you want to support a local New Orleans grassroots group with whom Reclaiming is working, you can donate to Common Ground at their website: www.commongroundrelief.org
For more information
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