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We Are Not OK

As a result of the whole Carlos Mencia flap, I posted this in my journal last night. Please repost it, forward it, and disseminate it. Please feel free to correct and update as needed. I've already found from comments and e-mails I received that plenty of people living elsewhere have no idea of the conditions here, and I think they need to.


Occasionally I'm asked by friends Not From Here, "New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!" or "Are you doing OK?" or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they're contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it's very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker's dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.

1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.

2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.

3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.

4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.

5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.

6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.

7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, a freelancer, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.

8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.

9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.

10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)

11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."

12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing.

13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.


( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 31st, 2006 01:25 pm (UTC)
I know recycling is probably the least of the city's concerns, but when I called a few months ago to ask about it, I was surprised that it was "suspended indefinitely"--and probably as good as gone.

Good read. Thanks.
Mar. 31st, 2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
I hesitated before putting in the recycling bit, but then I thought about all the recent talk of "saving the wetlands," and all the potential recyclables that will instead go into landfills, and I decided to leave it.
(no subject) - selphish - Mar. 31st, 2006 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - docbrite - Mar. 31st, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - selphish - Mar. 31st, 2006 01:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nolagurl - Mar. 31st, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - selphish - Mar. 31st, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - linzzzz - Apr. 2nd, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 31st, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC)
Any objections to my cut-and-pasting this entire thing (with appropriate credit) in my journal? You've got it under a cut here because that's the community regs, but I'd prefer to rub people's noses in it over in my joint. Cuts are too easy to scroll past, plus I have a lot of 'jdquintette-specific' traffic, either crosslinked with the column I do on Vancouverjazz.com, or because of my low-grade 'celebrity' status as a jazz musician.
Mar. 31st, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
I just cut it here because of the community rules. Please repost it in your journal and anywhere else you like. I don't even care if I get credit; I just want people to know these things.
(no subject) - jdquintette - Mar. 31st, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - gothiksiren - Mar. 31st, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - andyredrum - Mar. 31st, 2006 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
This is a very good point. - cka3n - Mar. 31st, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - congogirl - Mar. 31st, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mizliz - Mar. 31st, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 31st, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
Great post...I'm glad you still have the energy to try and explain. As the months go by, I'm starting to take the stance of "they don't understand it, they don't want to understand it, and they never will." It's a defeatist mindset and one I should try to avoid. Even if we only manage to convince a few people of what's going on here, we could use all the folks on our side we can get.

Regarding the whole Mencia/and half the country blaming us or thinking of us as stupid...Mainly, I think the blame-the-victim game just makes it easier for people to get through their days...If they don't blame us for Katrina, then they have to face some seriously unpleasant truths about their country and the fact that if something bad happened to them, they might get hung out to dry too.

On a brief and possibly unrelated tangent, I was watching North Country recently (the decent Charlize Theron movie where she plays a mine worker who won the 1st successful sexual harassment case), and it got me thinking that tendencies to blaming victims is more common than I thought. Sexual harassment victims and rape victims get blamed for their misfortune and labeled as "asking for it"...Schools tolerate bullying far more than they should...and now, Katrina survivors are similarly "asking for it" because we had the nerve to leave near water. Could be just me, I've been noticing this pattern about society in general lately.
Apr. 1st, 2006 10:23 am (UTC)
If they don't blame us for Katrina, then they have to face some seriously unpleasant truths about their country and the fact that if something bad happened to them, they might get hung out to dry too


Mar. 31st, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
this is a wonderful assesment of the negative. which is important to point out. Personally I try to convey the hardships alongside the tremendous growth that has occured since the storm, particularly from local entrepreneurs and passionate local . We've helped ourselves. And - sadly - that's probably just the way it is. No big outside help has come, or likely will come.

I attribute the evolution that has been made to the unshakable optimism and devotion that's been displayed from some of the residents who have been hardest hit.
Mar. 31st, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)

Thank you for this. I am not from New Orleans, but have visited numerous times, and your city is one of my favorite places on earth (only Dublin, Ireland is equal to the Crescent City in my heart), and seeing what has happened to it makes me sad, sick, and angry.

You're right---New Orleans is not alright. It's a disaster---and we all know the worst of it was not caused by Katrina, it was caused by politicians who could not give a damn, and bureaucrats and government functionaries who are inept. As a critic said a number of years ago in to Detroit, New Orleans was demolished by design.

Thank you again.
Mar. 31st, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
we're not "ok" but things are getting better.
Mar. 31st, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
Well said, thanks.

Most of the dead still being dug out of the ruins are in the Lower 9th, but this month there have also been discoveries in Lakeview, Desire, and New Orleans East.

I recently took a trip to Florida. I had ready in my head as a possible reply to the question "How are things in New Orleans?" to say "They found more corpses in three different parts of town the day before I left for here".

I never used it, though once I wished I had.
Mar. 31st, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
Great post! Thanks for that. I plan to share it as much as possible.

Sadly, the situation for many animals hasn't changed, either. The news from rescue groups is now a trickle of updates here and there, but there are still people working hard to feed, water and spay/neuter the countless animals orphaned by Katrina. Spring is here and there is going to be an explosion of puppies and kittens.

I don't live in New Orleans, but it is dear to my heart. You are all in my thoughts daily and in my conversations as frequently as possible. People give me that look that says "Would you STOP talking about the Hurricane for f*ck's sake?!". But, no, I won't stop talking about it. If it makes them uncomfortable - good. Maybe, just maybe that discomfort will spur them to do something positive instead of just wishing it would all go away.
Apr. 3rd, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
discomfort will spur them to do something positive instead of just wishing it would all go away
Yes, me too.
Mar. 31st, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
when I talk to people here (Austin, TX) about conditions in NOLA, they're just shocked. I keep trying to explain how bad off the city is, how they haven't seen anything this bad, ever. Good job.
Apr. 1st, 2006 12:06 am (UTC)
I just wish I could quit getting either bronchitis or a sinus infection. I've been to the doctor 3 times since the storm, and I might have to go again in another month if this clicking in my ear doesn't quit >_
Apr. 1st, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)
Whoa, me too.
I lived in NOLA till a year and a half ago, when I moved to NYC for grad school. I've visited 3 times since the storm--New Year's, Mardi Gras, and my spring break, right around St. Patty's Day. Each time I developed: nausea, a feeling like I had to sneeze for days on end, sinus pressure, and that clicking/popping ear thing. The first time I was back, my tongue also turned white and furry.

Just thought it was an interesting coincidence. Is there a name for it?
Re: Whoa, me too. - everyinchofme - Apr. 1st, 2006 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 1st, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)
Don't suppose you'd want to help put the word out about getting the MRGO closed? I've been trying for a while now and can't even motivate the people on my own friends list to spread the word; not even the "activists." I've made the following posts, written my local media, and tried an e-mail chain and I get no where. I have no "name." I'm a girl who moved nearly 9 years ago because of a lack of job opportunities and thus, I no longer count for an opinion it seems.

Apr. 1st, 2006 10:53 am (UTC)
I encourage every journaler and blogger to take up this theme
Here's an email, and a technorati tag, I sent out to the dozen or so active NOLA bloggers for whom I have emails:

A further suggestion: if you post on this topic, or have in the past, consider using this tag:

----- Original Message -----
From: Mark Folse
Sent: Saturday, April 01, 2006 6:55 AM
Subject: We Are Not Ok

I am working on a WBG post linked to author and blogger Poppy Z. Brite's summary We Are Not Ok, and it occurs to me to suggest another posting/linking campaign: one to write on this topic and with this tagline embedded in the story, perhaps even in the title. Dangle has made in the theme of his blog, and most people have posted in this vein in the past (although I have not).

I want to suggest everyone consider taking up this theme soon, using this particular tag phrase, and think about ways to make this visible to the world. Send your post out to your entire email list, start a Google Bombing campaign to tie We Are Not Ok pages to the word/tag Katrina, hell maybe start a letter writing campaign telling everyone we know in the diaspora to take an hour to write a letter to the editor of the paper where they have landed, telling the people there We Are Not Ok.

I keep trying to think of things we can do as people with a talent for and a drive to communicate, to help. If Go write up a post. If you have an idea of how to virally spread this tag, let us hear it. It is exactly the opposite of the message the local leadership wants to send, because they worry about the tourism/convention business. And I guess, if I were still wearing my old PR guy Bostonians, I'd tell them the same thing. But it's wrong.

Apr. 3rd, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
Re: I encourage every journaler and blogger to take up this theme
I can tell you that I get a lot of hits to my site regarding Katrina, though the majority of those are because of the Barry Cowsill piece.

I also have made many regular, public posts about it on my LJ.
Apr. 1st, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
I spent last week in Boston at the Public Library Association, soliciting donations of anything and everything for the New Orleans Public Library. The American Library Association is having their conference here in June (20,000 librarians strong most years), so everyone was especially quick to ask, "How is it down there in New Orleans?" I was trying to be very careful in explaining -- wanting to be positive and encouraging to those that are coming (and especially to those that are still only considering coming) for ALA, but also not gloss over the realities. I ended up saying this mostly: "The parts that didn't flood are almost ok, although there are still collapsed and burnt down buildings here and there; the parts of the city that did flood look almost exactly the same as they did when the flood waters first went down."
It was hard to be the object of everyone's sympathies.

But the worst part of being gone was realizing how un-normal my/our "normal" is. I got to Boston and marveled at being in a city that isn't crippled... where businesses are open when they say they'll be open, and restaurants not only have full menus, but take credit cards, too! And when I got back into town and headed directly to Decatur to meet a friend, the first spray-painted X I saw on a house on Esplanade made me start crying.
I didn't realize how really bad it is -- how really wrong it is that after all this time, this is still very much a broken city. Nor did I truly realize how much it drags you down.

I love it here; I can't imagine living anywhere else. But it's not an easy place to be. And we should all fight against our "new normal" being acceptable.
Apr. 2nd, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)
But the worst part of being gone was realizing how un-normal my/our "normal" is.

You hit it on the head. And it's not just Orleans parish but places like Metairie and the Westbank, where they are functioning better. Trees, phone poles, and lightpoles are still askew. Street signs are either missing or bent the wrong way. Business signs are still in all sorts of disarray. Plenty of homes don't have new fences, or still sport (tattered and worthless) blue roofs. Entire apartment complexes are ruined and desolate... and on and on. It's so widespread, you can't help but notice when things are off-kilter. I just fear people will become complacent and stop looking at the details.
(no subject) - the_automatik - Apr. 3rd, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 2nd, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
Did my little bit
Because you said we can, I posted a link to, and a chuck of excerpts from, this excellent post on my blog. That means that two or three more people at least may learn what things are like for you all.
Apr. 2nd, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
I knew it was bad. I didn't know it was that bad.
I linked to this post on my blog, and quoted the whole thing. I lived in New Orleans for thirteen years, and still have friends there with whom I talk almost weekly. Even I didn't know it was this bad. I knew the Ninth Ward was being left pretty much to its fate, which I can't help thinking is being done with malice aforethought. I guess we've officially achieved banana republic status with this: total incompetence, corruption at the top, and abandoning our own.
Apr. 2nd, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC)
Re: I knew it was bad. I didn't know it was that bad.
(Sorry, my username doesn't seem to link to my blog, like I thought it did. My copy of your post is here.)
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