How to Remove Your Town’s Racist Monuments (VICE. August 2017).

At the risk of sounding pretentious: New Orleans began removing our Confederates monuments months before it became fashionable. Following South Carolina’s lead after the 2015 Dylan Roof shootings, Mayor Mitch Landrieu—whose policies have otherwise done more to burden local African Americans than to help them—boosted his stock by leading the charge against General Robert E. Lee. Today, the Confederate leader’s bronze likeness no longer looms high above Lee Circle, his eyes no longer fixed on his enemies to the north.

But it wasn’t easy to reach that point, as anyone who lived here during the months-long debate can attest. Much can be learned from New Orleans’s painful, protracted battle to boot all its remaining Confederates. If your city plans to confront this problem soon—which it should—then let me offer some advice:

Don’t list the contractor’s name in the paper

The Landrieu administration made the mistake of announcing the name of the first company hired to ax General Lee. Of course, extra-passionate “history buffs” set fire to the contractor’s car (a Lamborghini no less)After that contractor quit out of fear, it took a long time to find a replacement. While that hunt dragged on, the pro-monument Monumental Task Committee began suing the city, further gumming up the process.

Do it fast

New Orleans did not have many examples to follow, and so came out the gate clumsy. Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh must have been watching our struggle, because she had four of her city’s monuments to racists removed under cover of night less than 48 hours after the decision was made to get rid of them. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at VICE…

Or watch this mini-documentary about Nazis visiting New Orleans to protect the monuments (they failed).

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S&WB drowns residents in lies following August flood (LA Weekly. August 2017).

Robin Grisaffe and a friend were caught on the I-10 bridge in creeping traffic and increasing rain as the waters rose around the city.

“Traffic was so bad my friend wanted to exit sooner than we otherwise would have,” says Grisaffe. The rain soon began falling in hard sheets. “When we started to exit, I could see ahead of me that the street was flooded and unsafe to drive through, so I decided it would be safer to get back up on the bridge. By the time I got back on I-10, the traffic was even slower. So, I tried to exit again at Esplanade Avenue, where it was flooded seemingly much worse. I drove through super deep water and decided to go up under the bridge and just sit.”

Water soon began to rise under the overpass, around her car. “And by now the area under the bridge was filled to capacity with other vehicles, so there was no getting out at that point,” she explained. Grisaffe and her friend sat in the car for three hours waiting for the rain to calm, and then another three for the floodwaters to begin subsiding.

This was not a scene from Hurricane Katrina, but rather from last Saturday afternoon, when a so-called “rain bomb” dumped eight to 10 inches of water on New Orleans in just a few short hours. Social media exploded with photos of flooded cars. What seemed like just an unusually heavy rainstorm ended up flooding homes and businesses. Even the French Quarter found itself shin-deep this time.

Businesses took water, from The Always Lounge on St. Claude, to The Saenger Theatre on Canal Street, to the The Broad Theatre and Zulu clubhouse, both a stone’s throw from the street’s pumping stations.

“I believed it was a typical flood where the water would blow in and blow out, but the water stayed in the building for well over 10 hours. At midnight it was still 2.5 feet,” attests Zulu President Naaman Stewart of the now ruined Zulu clubhouse. “We still have a mark on the wall where the Katrina water was, and this wasn’t too far under Katrina levels. We lost appliances, furniture, memorabilia across the street in the store; everything on the first level was destroyed. Most of our 2018 throws, all of those things were damaged. We closed the club and cancelled all our activities for now. We have to gut out everything that’s four feet high and under, take out insulation, remove a sculpture that was installed –and we are scared to start the process cause we don’t know if it’s gonna flood in the middle of it. And every day we can’t do that is a day we can’t operate and make money.”

Many assumed the pumps simply had not been turned on. As such, it was later terrifying to hear Sewerage and Water Board representatives claim the pumps had been running at full capacity. The S&WB’s Cedric Grant blamed the rain bomb on global warming. “There is no pumping system in the world that could handle that amount of water in that amount of time,” he said.

The next day Grant announced he’d be retiring earlier than planned, at the end of this hurricane season, with full pension of over $170,000 a year for the rest of his life. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this story at Louisiana Weekly…

Or else watch this YouTube footage from New Orleans’s most recent flood:

 

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No Genre, No Peers: Egg Yolk Jubilee Celebrates 20 Years

For 20 years now, the members of Egg Yolk Jubilee have practiced in the “Jefferson Orleans North” ballroom in Metairie, performing their songs for what looks like an empty senior prom. The seven current band members set up their gear on the dancefloor. Long white drapes frame the vast main room. In the hall’s center a glimmering chandelier hangs near a spiral staircase that rises to the white heavens. The sound of horns warming up fills the vast space. Behind the band, at every single practice for 20 years, has loomed a full bar. This alone would have killed a lesser band long ago.

But here we are, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of Egg Yolk Jubilee, and the hard-to-describe yet consummately New Orleans band’s closing set at the Lagniappe Stage (5:30 to 6:30) at Jazz Fest on May 4.

I made the sacrifice and drove out to Metry just to listen to them practice their upcoming set. This year will represent only the third time EYJ has performed at Jazz Fest. “I think the last time was in 2008,” sax man and guitarist Paul Grass struggles to recall. “I can’t speak for anyone else in the band, but I can’t remember anything about it. Not even because I was fucked up. It was just so great! I just remember I couldn’t believe I was playing at the fricking Jazz Fest! I remember we pleaded with drummer Charlie Kohlmeyer to play that gig with us and he learned all our songs in two weeks.”

Since then, much has changed for the band, mostly for the better.

In their beginnings, you might have described Egg Yolk as what Zappa woulda sounded like had he procured a wicked New Orleans horn section and concerned himself a bit more with making people dance. They were fast, and they were funny. But EYJ has also always had what they call their “roast beef set” down pat. “The roast beef part of the set list is all the old-sounding stuff, our old originals, like Paul’s ‘Candy Store’ from [1999’s] Champions of Breakfast,” says bassist Mike Hogan. “When you’re playing events, like weddings or Mardi Gras corporate events, there is always the ‘roast beef’ collection of music you’d play while everyone is at the carving table, eating, before they get liquored up. The more trad stuff gets pushed to the roast beef part. Then when they get liquored up you can push into the more experimental territory.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at OffBeat.com…

OR CLICK HERE check out this video of Egg Yolk playing at VooDooFest in 2010! 

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A Rare Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle tag-team set in New Orleans (Paste Magazine. March 2017).

I grew up in Ft. Myers, Florida, a retirement town at that time, though the gorgeous beaches and bountiful fishing there might’ve tricked you into thinking Florida was America’s greatest state. The area was also bountiful with professional wrestling, which as a kid I loved. On its tours, the then-peaking WWF almost always filmed in Ft. Myers, and only on TV were belts lost, friends transformed into foes and new alliances forged, officially, for the world to see. And so, I was lucky to see Hulk Hogan himself fight in steel cages at least twice. I witnessed all two minutes and 30 seconds of the first-ever televised match by The Ultimate Warrior. I saw the Iron Sheik vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan main event where, directly afterwards, police famously caught the two driving around, blackout drunk, snorting coke.

I offer this reminiscence as the only comparison I can make to the surprises that unfolded Saturday night at the first of three New Orleans shows on comedian Chris Rock’s Total Blackouttour.

Emotions had already been running high for Rock’s return. He hadn’t toured a new standup act in almost a decade. His new set reportedly detailed his divorce from his wife of 15 years—I say was, because I still haven’t really seen it, despite buying tickets. News reports have described the new set as maintaining his usual levels of funny, despite being decidedly… different. For a true fan, it’s not fun to think of Rock getting a divorce—though true fans surely saw it coming, given jokes like, “Only people who are married know what it feels like to love someone and hate them at the same time.” I was certain, though, that one of my favorite comedians could deftly navigate this sad territory.

And so I found myself lost in my feelings, sitting in the balcony of the gorgeous Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, a constellation of fake stars above me. I laughed at half of Eric Andre’s opening jokes, anxious to finally see Rock for my first time ever.

A muffled voice finally, suspiciously announced Rock’s name as if reading the title of some quiet storm slow jam. A giant set of letters blazed across a digital screen—”CR”—-and out onto the stage strode…

Dave fucking Chappelle!

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at PASTE MAGAZINE! 

OR CLICK HERE to listen to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle talk on Q-Tip’s podcast! 

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Protests escalate over Louisiana pipeline by company behind Dakota Access (The Guardian UK. Jan. 2017).

“This is like 50 times the amount of people we have at most of these meetings,” said Eustis, adding that the proposed pipeline was “the biggest and baddest I’ve seen in my career”.

The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), had seemed to turn its attention to Louisiana just one day after Native American protesters thwarted the company’s Dakota Access project last month.

A spokeswoman for ETP, Vicki Granado, said the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension was announced in June 2015. If approved, the project will run though 11 parishes and cross around 600 acres of wetlands and 700 bodies of water, including wellsthat reportedly provide drinking water for some 300,000 families.

At the public hearing in Baton Rouge on Thursday, the first speaker, Cory Farber, project manager of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, said it was expected to create 2,500 temporary jobs. When Farber then said the project would produce 12 permanent jobs, the crowd laughed heartily.

“Those who have airboat companies and equipment companies that specialize in putting in equipment, they’re not opposed to pipelines because of the short-term jobs,” said Jody Meche, president of the state Crawfish Producers’ Association, one of dozens who spoke at the hearing.

“But once that pipe is in there, the jobs are gone.”

Other attendees applauded in favor of the pipeline, and former US senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a supporter, was in attendance. But Native Americans also dotted the crowd, many of them fresh from Standing Rock.

“The Native Americans in North Dakota get a lot of credit for showing people their power,” Eustis said. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at The Guardian…

OR, CLICK HERE to take a beautiful video tour of the Atchafalaya Basin.

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Sex Workers Expect to Struggle After the Backpage Crackdown (VICE. Jan. 2017)

Sex workers across America were left scrambling on Monday after Backpage.com, an online advertising clearinghouse, closed its controversial “adult” section following years of intense US government and law enforcement pressure.

In my city of New Orleans, professional dominatrix and masseuse Mistress Genevieve needed a ride to an emergency meeting of local sex workers spooked about the news, so I picked her up at her tasteful Seventh Ward dungeon, appointed with a working stockade. “Before Backpage, there was no site for anyone who wasn’t a full-service provider,” she explained as we drove to the meeting Wednesday. “Backpage was the only place I was finding work as someone who doesn’t provide [traditional sex]. It gets so much traffic that you’d get guys who were  just looking for domination, or specific other stuff. The other sites don’t generate enough traffic for that.”

But according to a report released Monday by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations after a 20-month investigation, Backpage is also involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking reports that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives. The report also cited Backpage’s own estimates that it once edited up to 80 percent of its “Adult” ads to remove words that allude to sex trafficking. In the face of such intense scrutiny, the site acquiesced and shut down its Adult section.

It’s important to note, however, that none of the sex workers I spoke to for this article say they’ve ever seen evidence of human trafficking on the site, and Backpage’s official statement accompanying the “adult” shutdown was one of defiance. “For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics… have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content,” it read.

Either way, the mess leaves many consenting adults in the lurch, wondering how they’ll do business without taking on excess risk in one of America’s more dangerous black markets. Sex workers have endured in the face of many crackdowns over the years, of course, but rarely have they experienced a potential economic shockwave quite like this one.

Genevieve has worked as a dominatrix for 23 years, starting her BDSM career working from the backs of nightclubs. “This was already my only job before the internet even came along,” she recalled. “And I was one of the first mistresses with a website. I also did really well with print ads in the back of local magazines like  Gambit and  OffBeatand in turn, escort ads are what paid the bills for a lot of those magazines. Today, I was wondering if I shouldn’t try print ads again…” To read the rest of the article at VICE.COM CLICK HERE!

Or check out how this “Backpage.com pimp is living”

 

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My students write raps about the 2016 election (Vice. Nov 2016).

When I saw the election, I saw Drumpf winning /
And after that my head got to spinning.
Drumpf is bad / Drumpf is sad too
Drumpf look like Hitler from World War Two.
He won the election because he cheated /
It’s the only reason he didn’t get beated.
–Jaylon, fifth grade

At the Spanish-language immersion school where I currently teach kids to write rap songs, most of my students are black or Latino. The school’s staff is made up almost exclusively of immigrants from Mexico, Spain, Honduras, and other Spanish-speaking countries. And so I felt extra nauseous on Wednesday, the day after Election Day, going into work. They all must have been wondering who in their American midst could have possibly voted for that racist monster. I, the only white man, would be the only real possible suspect.

But instead of calling off work and sautéing myself in red wine and white tears, I got in my car. New Orleans’s unusually silent, lonely streets felt a lot like Ash Wednesday, the day after every Mardi Gras: like a bomb went off. Like the party was clearly over.

At school I was still greeted warmly. And after taking roll and passing out snacks and joking with the fifth graders about their very real election frustrations, I slowly began to realize… no other day would be better for writing raps. America’s Reagan years had worked like steroids on both hip-hop and punk rock. Rap was first forged specifically as a tool to express the kinds of feelings so many of us shared. Hip-hop was made for today.

As we sat down with our drum machine, paper, and pencils, I made a point not to tell the kids my own political opinions. I wanted the thoughts and words in their couplets to be wholly their own. But since not a lot of Drumpf voters send their kids to Spanish immersion schools, my students’ opinions weren’t very surprising or dynamic. Kids like Evin were as mad and let down and worried as any of us:

Tuesday was Election Day / On that day, I lost my way.
He dislikes the way I look / Sometimes I think he is a crook.
Donald Drumpf is a clown / I hope he doesn’t let us down.
Clinton is a great lady / We all know that Drumpf is shady.

Hillary Clinton should have won / After that election, I think I’m done.
I feel bad for my country / I thought this was the home of the free.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of my students’ raps about the election at Vice…

Or watch this cute music video my students made some years back during summer camp:

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