Let’s Talk Turkey about Race and Class

Community Organizing Personal Writings

September 5, 2005

Baton Rouge In many ways Marc Morial is still my mayor even though it has been almost four (4) years since he left office when term limited. Ray Nagin was elected with business and uptown support and a minority of support from African American voters and certainly the lower income wards.. Up until very recently when as he prepares for his own re-election campaign, he has been their mayor. Ray’s temper and tears saved him during the aftermath of the storm as the water was rising from the ineptness and incompetence that was glaringly obvious to everyone everywhere at all levels. There were no heroes at any level of government as the water was rising.

Marc clearly sees the high water as a chance for his own rehabilitation and standing as a voice for the City of New Orleans. On CNN this morning as he chatted on a first name basis, (Solidad this and Solidad that), he was diplomatic without being dramatic. He was smart without being passionate. Now that he works for corporate donors as head of the Urban League, he was quite frankly, not himself.

I wanted him to be Mayor of the New Orleans Diaspora. I wanted him to talk turkey about race and class, and he often did so well when he was Mayor of Old New Orleans.

Faces of the displaced, disposed, and dying men, women, and children of New Orleans will soon fade from the screens now that hundreds of thousands are sequestered in shelters in a dozen southwestern and southeastern states, but their plight and their deaths must not be in vain. We need to force there be a clear, loud, and public debate about race and class in the United States. There needs to be public meetings called in churches and union halls, libraries and coffee shops, that do not just talk about raising money for the material essentials of the dispossessed, but talk as well about raising money to deal with the bedrock values of all of our people and offer real sustenance to the displaced. We do not just need soldiers in the streets of my city. We need a volunteer army of organizers that can join us not only in organizing the New Orleans Diaspora so that they have a voice and a powerful place in the debate about the future, but who are able to go into the community in all of our cities and raise up the issues of race and class so that New Orleans will at least have paid a debt for all of us to have a better future.

We have allowed these issues to be kept underwater too, too long and that is part of the measure of this calamity.

Our children are trapped in the same floods with the opening of schools where the divide between public and private, urban and suburban schools is the same debate that government is running from quickly, and allowed to do so because the crushing weight of this inequity is not seen in a day or a week or all over CNN, but happends steadily and surely over years as barriers to the future are raised to insurmountable heights.

The poor elderly and their abandonment is on display in New Orleans at tragic levels as the skiffs go from house to house to find the dead trapped without help as the water rose. Aaron Broussard, the wild official from Jefferson Parish outside of New Orleans, told a story today of a man’s mother calling her son for help day after day until she drowned on Friday almost a week after the storm while trapped in a nursing home in St. Bernard, just below the City of New Orleans. But, this is not just a New Orleans problem, but one that is played out in every crisis we face around the country whether it be the death toll from a heat wave in Chicago or more recently Phoenix or the silent deaths behind closed doors every day in a society that has closed its eyes, mind, and heart to the poor.

Let’s talk again about race and class. Let’s join together and force the debate and bring it back to front and center. Let’s do something important for the spirit of New Orleans. It’s not about having a house anymore at the curve of the great river. It’s about people. New Orleans is now everywhere, and the scenes America could not avoid last week are right in front of the country’s face and under the country’s nose everywhere.

Let’s bring this whole, darned mess to the high ground, while we have a chance.

Let’s create the space for all of us to argue and demand. Let’s make it possible for the Marc Morial‘s and a lot of others to start talking about what really matters rather than just spouting stuff.

Marc Morial is still my mayor