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Mon

17

Sep

2007

LS Symphony #1: Third Movement Anger Leads to Action
Monday, 17 September 2007 19:30
by Rod Amis

I was asked to join the promotional team for the documentary film DESERT BAYOU on the same morning that I had decided it was time that I cut back from all the work I do. I told myself I had to learn to say "No." I have too many projects on my plate as it is. I need to scale back and do more quality work and not worry so much about quantity or exposure. Let's face it, I'm one of the most exposed writers on the Web. But I could not say no to "Desert Bayou." The devastation of New Orleans, the loss of a city I had loved and hated, was too close to my heart. This is a project I must do.

Once again, I must return to New Orleans. This time, I go as a flak for a film I consider both important and historic. This time, I go for the pre-release screening being done in partnership with the Film Buff Institute of Loyola University on 28 September, prior to our theatrical release on 5 October at the Village East theatre in New York City simultaneous to the opening in New Orleans on the same date.

Here's the back-story: Master P., one of the people featured in this documentary, had his family among the six hundred (600) New Orleans evacuees who found themselves at a desert National Guard training facility outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, immediately after the storm.

Still shocked from the aftermath of the storm, after spending days on the street in front of the Ernest Morial Convention Center, being herded into buses and driven to a plane, these people had no idea where they were being taken. After disembarking in the desert, they and their belongings were immediately searched — even though they were tired and hungry and had traveled to this undisclosed location for hours. Then they were subjected to not one, but three, criminal background checks. Three!

Then the realization kicked in: they were in the desert in Utah. Utah, considered one of the whitest states in the nation (approximate African-American population: 1%). One African-American resident of Salt Lake City featured in the film states that, before the arrival of the New Orleans evacuees, she only knew of nine other African-Americans in the whole city. This is where the story begins.

It is not the story you expect.. Master P calls the tale historic. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, syndicated columnist, radio personality and host of The Learning Channel's "Shalom in the Home," calls the events in this documentary a defining commentary on America as a nation.

Rabbi Boteach lost his radio program at the Salt Lake City station that carried it in his efforts to bring healing to the situation and was instrumental in moving these African-Americans into a dialogue with the nearby Mormon community who had put up bureaucratic barriers into integrating them into the community.

I encourage you to give this film serious consideration. It opens in New Orleans and New York City in early October, 2007. Please go to http://desertbayoumovie.com and leave your comments. Please join our community and take action on the issues of housing, electricity, health care, mental health care and water — basic human needs — that still challenge the people of New Orleans. Share this information and this URL with your friends and colleagues.

Having written about New Orleans for almost a decade now, I am either moved to tears or sardonic laughter. It's that kind of city.

What I feel now is despair because I "talk" — via e-mail or on the telephone — with someone I know or love in New Orleans just about every day. That's the kind of people we are, us former and present New Orleanians. As my friend and colleague, Katy Rechdahl, who was at the Gambit Weekly and wrote about my wrongful imprisonment at Orleans Parish Prison and now writes for the New Orleans Times-Picayune commented for my book about our city, "There is just something sweet about the people here." That isn't said much in the national press.

Katy had her baby during the height of Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to the good offices of a nurse who evacuated her out of town, she was able to take the child to her sister's home in Arizona.

So many of us were spread so far. Katy to Arizona, me to North Carolina, my friend Tim Farley and his family to Ohio, Scott and his lady Tierney to Minnesota, and those six hundred (600) people to Utah. There is not a state in the Union — other than perhaps Alaska or Hawaii — where we were not sent or fled toward.

The word "Diaspora" certainly comes to mind. I certainly feel displaced and I have run into lots of people where I now reside, in Austin, Texas, from New Orleans who feel the same way.

So this sense of anger on our part — a sense of anger that was palpable to me from everyone I spoke with when I tried to return to New Orleans the first year after Katrina — abides with us. All I can remember from my last visit to New Orleans, in August of 2006, was the eerie feeling I had driving through once-thriving neighborhoods and asking myself, "Where are the people?" I might as well have been driving on some landscape on the surface of the moon…

The anger was there, the sadness, for those who had already returned, and it was so overwhelming, so all-encompassing, that I knew I did not have the strength to endure it.

Now, another year later, I plan to return — but with trepidation. While I know my mission is important, I also know that I am tearing the scab from an old wound. I return because the producers of the film have committed to establish a grant program to provide funds directly to people already rebuilding in New Orleans or people who plan to return home. We are doing this through the Sweet Home New Orleans Foundation. In addition, when you'll visit desertbayoumovie.com, you'll see there's a very strong community action component to what we are doing. I hope you'll take part. I'm proud to return under those circumstances. I am doing my part to rebuild the city I loved and hated.

I want to see the Mardi Gras Indians, a part of history, back in New Orleans and thriving. I want to see my old neighborhood, the Ninth Ward, rebuilt. I want some of what we have lost to be reclaimed. I don't want the blatant racism back, though, the thuggery or over-the-top level of violent deaths. That's where my hate of that city comes in.

So I guess what I saw in "Desert Bayou," while parts of it brought tears to my eyes, was so important. There is a message of hope and healing in this film that I want to share with everyone I know. I don't agree with Curtis and Clifford — the heads of the two families in this film — that we cannot return to New Orleans. I do agree that their stories are important American stories that everyone should see, discover, discuss and then decide what actions need to be taken.

My own personal action is to help bring artists and musicians back to the Crescent City. You have to decide what action you need to take — on housing, potable water, mental health care. It's your call. This is our chance to define ourselves as Americans.

 
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a guest said:

0
Thank you
My partner and I fled before the Federal Flooding of New Orleans. For six months we were away from our beloved city, but at least we were with friends. I can't imagine being thrust into an alien culture as the folks carried to Utah... been there. No New Orleanian could understand the culture shock that awaited them there. (I know Utah.)

Thank you for the work you are doing on this. It helps immensely, and as you very well know, folks down here never forget, especially when it comes to acts of kindness.

We will be there for the movie's opening. It is important for America to start to understand what really happened on August 29, 2005, and what we have had to go through.

Namaste!
 
September 17, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

a guest said:

0
Thanks for taking the time to comment
I'll be back in New Orleans next week for the film preview.

RA
 
September 20, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

a guest said:

0
Thanks for taking the time to comment
I'll be back in New Orleans next week for the film preview.

RA
 
September 20, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

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