Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yom Kippur brings me to New Orleans, again

Yom Kippur brought me to New Orleans 11 years ago, and it brought me back again last Wednesday.

On August 29, 2005, I was a first-year college student at Bryn Mawr, watching the news come in about Hurricane Katrina. I had never been to the Gulf Coast, never knew anything about it, but was strangely moved by the unfolding events.

I took scholarship money I had won from my childhood synagogue, and bought a plane ticket, telling no one but a few new friends at school. I spent a week in Slidell, Louisiana, taking care of people's pets that were left behind during the haphazard evacuation of the region.

I was there over Yom Kippur, the holiest of days to Jewish people. It is a day of deep reflection, the culmination of Ten Days of Awe during which we recount our misdeeds and repent for our sins. We do not eat. We do nothing but pray. We remember our dead as we ask G-d to inscribe our names in the Book of Life for the coming year.

That Yom Kippur in 2005, I fasted in the hot Louisiana summer among strangers, anxious animals, and devastation. I went to no temple services, nor did I say any of the conventional prayers. I can't recall if I even mentioned it to anyone at the volunteer site. I felt more meaning in the holiday than I ever had.

At that time, I fell deeply in love with the Gulf Coast. I became committed to contributing to a more secure future for the delicate city that welcomed me.

I spent over six years living there, working in the social service sector and building community with spirited, loving, and creative people. I learned American Sign Language because it opened worlds of understanding to me. I was able to develop relationships with individuals I never would have been able to communicate with before. Elderly Deaf congregants of my neighborhood's Catholic church welcomed me to their homes. A Deaf-Blind woman showed me how she trained her own service dog. Young hard-of-hearing students invited me to their sports games. ASL interpreters gave me criticism and feedback so I could improve my language skills.

One of these generous people was Keith Blamble, a bright-eyed Deaf man from rural Maryland who came to New Orleans to teach ASL at the community college. Keith was a total hippie, in the best sense of the word. He was animated about the possibilities of universal love and peace. He got excited about hanging with his friends, eating vegan food, and driving long distances just to see what was at the end of the road. He approached conflict with the hope of resolution. He was a beautiful, beautiful person.

Keith signing "Imagine," by John Lennon (via LadytVic)

Keith died 11 days ago, from suicide. It is a stunning loss to the New Orleans Deaf community, to my world, to his family, and to anyone who was ever touched by his sunshiney smile and big brown eyes.

Last week - back at Bryn Mawr College, this time in a premedical graduate program - I found myself planning another trip to New Orleans over Yom Kippur in the midst of tragedy, this time, for my friend's memorial.

I found out about Keith's death while I was visiting the medical school in Rochester, New York. A main part of my interest in Rochester is that it offers a Deaf Health education pathway for students to volunteer in clinics that serve the Deaf community there. I was excited to FaceTime Keith after my visit to tell him how it went. He had always been a huge cheerleader for my ambitions, and a steady comforting presence in stressful moments.

Whenever I complained that my coursework was difficult, Keith told me to hurry up and get through it so I could become his signing doctor. He told me he'd move to Rochester if that's where I ended up, and he'd even bring an extra sweatshirt for me, knowing I am a big baby about the cold. In one of our last conversations, he said he never doubted my ability to get through all the hurdles of medical school, because he'd seen how stubborn I am. That was Keith - calling it like he saw it, and showing love through it all.

Keith struggled with loneliness and feeling misunderstood. I regularly apologized for my slow, error-prone signing, knowing how difficult it could be for him to discern meaning from my stories. I worried about my ability to converse with him in a way that was authentic, friendly, and in keeping with the conventions of Deaf cultural etiquette. Through it all, he was always very supportive, teaching me new signs or better ways of phrasing ideas. With me, he signed just as fast as he would for another Deaf person, believing that I could pick most of it up if I paid attention.

Keith told the longest stories of anyone I've ever met. It was a good thing he repeated himself a lot because he signed so fast sometimes I would catch maybe 60% of what he was saying. If I tried to retell his tales of woe to others, I often could say only that the gist of it was that "He was frustrated because somebody else did something that wasn't considerate."

And now - in his absence - it's hard to say if I ever really knew Keith, or I just knew my impression of Keith. Grief clouds my memory. He told me early in our friendship that he could tell I had a good heart. I could tell that about him too. He trusted me with a lot of personal stories, and now I'm pressed to remember specific details of any of them:

Did he really say what I recall, or did I just piece it together from context clues of the conversation? Did he really communicate a particular story so emphatically, or was that just his baseline exuberance that I wrongly ascribed to his tone? It's hard to know, and now I can't ask him.

Here is what I am now converting to memories that were, until this past week, images of our friendship in my mind's eye:
  • Keith teaching everyone - including children - how to curse in ASL
  • Keith deciding his students should come play Taboo at the bar for "office hours"
  • Keith ordering Black and Tans in sign language from the initially bewildered waitstaff at Bayou Beer Garden. They later trained him as a barback and hosted a memorial when he died. Keith, who lovingly nicknamed one of the workers a "tall-ass clown"
  • Keith "helping" me do my ASL homework by laughing at how hearing people never understand Deaf humor
  • Keith running over a squirrel on the way back from Jean Lafitte Park, in the middle of a conversation we were having about why we don't eat meat
  • Keith humoring me by staying in instead of going out, because I wanted to spend time with my cat
  • Keith asking me why I feel sad working with homeless people, and if maybe that's not a bad thing, because it shows I care
  • Keith describing light rain as "cute"
  • Keith offering to sneak me into Jazz Fest for free, as his "disabled person support staff"
  • Keith running into my house in his underwear after going to Jazz Fest during a thunderstorm and drenching all of his clothes; Keith and me drinking and shooting the shit while waiting for his clothes to be done in the dryer
  • Keith and me chainsmoking cigarettes on my porch, commiserating about failed romantic relationships, and deciding if we should go get Thai food and beer somewhere 
  • Keith helping me pack for my move to Pennsylvania. He was the only person who could roll up my camping tent without the zippers getting caught.
  • Keith rolling up with a crew to my going-away party; Keith smiling and watching as I sang old-timey labor protest songs with another friend. When I apologized for excluding him from the music, Keith told me he didn't mind not knowing what the lyrics were; he could tell they were important to me
  • Keith texting me a bunch when I was on the road from New Orleans, knowing I was already homesick
  • Keith sending me an eagle postcard from Alaska, thanking me for being his friend
Keith was an enormous part of my New Orleans story, my growth in sign language and Deaf culture, and my path to becoming a doctor. I am shocked that I have to miss him. I am sad that all my accomplishments will have to be shared with him in memory.

Now I'm scouring Facebook for photos of Keith, which have become so precious and limited. Now I'm trying desperately to remember everything about him. Now I'm staring out the window at orange and red trees in a blue, blue sky, feeling sad for Keith, who will never see this again. Or maybe this is all he sees now.

A prayer for the dead, said on Yom Kippur:
נֵר יְהוָה, נִשְׁמַת אָדָם;    חֹפֵשׂ, כָּל-חַדְרֵי-בָטֶן
The human soul is the light of the eternal

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Anti-oppression / Anti-bullshit voting guide for New Orleans elections, Nov. 8, 2016

Greetings, friends and fellow travelers, and welcome to the collaborative Anti-Oppression / Anti-Bullshit Voting Guide for the New Orleans election on November 8, 2016!

This guide is also published in Antigravity
Magazine, and will be updated here.


Voter Registration and Official Election Information
Voter Registration in Louisiana is now closed. You can register before November 10 to vote in the December 10 run-off.
 If you are registered and don’t care, please find someone who is currently incarcerated or on parole but wants their opinions heard. You can vote for their interests.

Early Voting is a great option if you’re the type to forget, or if you hate lines, or if the pressure of voting within one specific day is ultimately too much. Early voting is a whole week, and you can go in-and-out without a wait time.

October 25, 2016 through November 1, 2016
8:30 am to 4:30 pm

•Registrar's Office, City Hall, RM 1W23; 1300 Perdido St.
•Registrar's Office, Algiers Courthouse, RM 105; 225 Morgan St.
•Voting Machine Warehouse; 8870 Chef Menteur Hwy.
•Lake Vista Community Center; 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd. (2nd floor meeting room)

Depending on where you live, your ballot may differ from this guide. Visit to view your ballot by your name or address.


For some back story, these guides have been produced lovingly and carefully since 2014 by a group of individuals who wish to confront the existing lack of accountability in the branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally. We did a lot of research and talked with our neighbors, friends, and allies. We tried to cut through the opaque language of the Constitutional amendments so people feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about voting either way (or not voting). We agreed on the following guidelines to make — or in some cases, decline to make—our recommendations:

•Promote justice and advancement for people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, people most affected by environmental degradation, and other marginalized populations in our communities; prioritize the needs of these people above others.

•Favor the judicial candidates least destructive to the lives of the poor and others caught in the dragnet of our punitive legal system.

•Be strategic about New Orleanians' specific needs being adequately addressed on the state and federal levels, especially with regard to environmental, economic, and healthcare concerns.

•Reject the influence of post-Katrina opportunism at all levels of government.

We approach this work with a harm reduction ethos—that is, we understand we cannot easily nor quickly move the mountains of inequality, prejudice, (bureaucracy!), and oppression that keep people down. We considered the view that deliberating on “Who is going to harm us?” is actually not a form of harm reduction at all. Ultimately, we believe we can work to ease the suffering and trauma that exist in our communities. In this way, we advance towards a visionary society in which everyone's needs are met, and our values are reflected in our system of governance.

These guides start as working drafts, so expect updates as we continue to do research. Feel free to submit your contributions!


On November 8, Louisianans vote for a new president, choose among 24 candidates to replace Senator David Vitter, select from numerous candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, and decide on six amendments to the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. Then there's local elections: New Orleanians choose two judges and decide on one parishwide proposition; some of us are choosing members for the Orleans Parish School Board.

Hillary Clinton, Timothy Kaine (Democrat)
Jill Stein, Ajamu Baraka (Green)
Gary Johnson, Bill Weld (Libertarian)
Donald Trump, Michael Pence (Republican)
Darrell Castle, Scott Bradley (Constitution Party)
Evan McMullin, Nathan Johnson (Courage Character Service)
Laurence Kotlikoff, Edward Lea (It's Our Children)
Tom Hoefling, Steve Schulin (Life, Family, Constitution)
Princess Jacob, Milton Fambro (Loyal Trustworthy Compassion)
Gloria La Riva, Eugene Puryear (Socialism and Liberation)
Jerry White, Niles Niemuth (Socialism Equality Anti-War)
Alyson Kennedy, Osborne Hart (Socialist Workers Party)
Chris Keniston, Deacon Taylor (Veterans Party)

Let’s be real: The two main candidates are going to be on the spectrum of destructive-to-nightmarish for Louisiana, the country, and geopolitics at large. To everyone who feels like there isn't really a choice in this election, there are actually 13 people running for president who made it to the Louisiana ballot this year. Maybe you've heard of Jill Stein (Green Party) or Gary Johnson (Libertarian); maybe you haven't. Maybe you're a diehard Socialist Workers Party member, bless your heart.

The point is, the obscene amounts of money involved in this election—as well as the entrenched Party machinery in collusion with the mainstream media—keep people from knowing that there are options other than the big D or R. So-called pundits will tell you that Louisiana is already bought and sold as a "Red State," which means you have the opportunity to register your objection to this nonsense by voting for a non-Red candidate, or not voting at all.

Don’t let people shame you into voting for Hillary just because she has lady parts. I tried voting with my vagina one time, and they threw me out of the polling location. True, she might let you get an abortion, but she’s also responsible for violence against women around the world in the form of war, coups, the War on Drugs, and detainment of immigrants. Our struggles are related, friends. She would be less awful than Trump in many ways, but that’s not very inspiring. Personally, I want a dyke for president.

We encourage voters to focus their political passion on the more local elections, which offer a greater opportunity to get your voice heard.

Vote: Vote your conscience

U.S. SENATE (forecast)
Beryl Billiot (No Party-Kentwood)
Charles Boustany (Republican-Lafayette)
Foster Campbell (Democrat-Bossier City)
"Joseph" Cao (Republican-Harvey)
Thomas P. Clements (Libertarian-Lafayette)
Donald "Crawdaddy" Crawford (Republican-Covington)
David Duke (Republican-Mandeville)
Derrick Edwards (Democrat-Harvey)
Caroline Fayard (Democrat-Baton Rouge)
John Fleming (Republican-Minden)
Le Roy Gillam (Libertarian-Washington)
Troy Hebert (No Party-Jeanerette)
John Kennedy (Republican-Baton Rouge)
Gary Landrieu (Democrat-New Orleans)
William Robert "Bob" Lang Jr. (No Party-Natchitoches)
"Rob" Maness (Republican-Madisonville)
Kaitlin Marone (No Party-New Orleans)
Charles Marsala (Republican-Metairie)
MV "Vinny" Mendoza (Democrat-Ponchatoula)
Abhay Patel (Republican-New Orleans)
Joshua Pellerin (Democrat-Lafayette)
Gregory Taylor, Jr. (No Party-New Orleans)
Arden Wells (No Party-Ponchatoula)
Peter Williams (Democrat-Lettsworth)

Labor Day is the traditional kick-off of campaign season, but in Louisiana, candidates and voters were thinking about something else entirely: the recent Louisiana floods. This is actually a great time to remind the country that the Gulf Coast is the canary in the climate change coal mine. Remember us down here? We’re suffering because of the predatory oil and gas industry, decades of indifferent and opportunistic politicians, degraded infrastructure, and brutally underfunded social services like education, workforce development, healthcare, and housing. We need political representatives who understand the threats to our well-being and will work doggedly to protect us, investing in the sustainability of our communities.

Meanwhile, only one of our major candidates (Foster Campbell, endorsed by the Sierra Club's Delta Chapter) for U.S. Senate admits he believes—because the Pope said so—that global warming is a real threat caused by human activity. We’ll let the others speak for themselves:

Caroline Fayard: “I’m not a scientist"*
Troy Hebert: “I’m not a scientist.”
John Fleming (who is a physician and should know more about science): “It’s very unscientific to say we had a big rain so it was caused by global warming.”
John Kennedy: “Global temperatures are rising but the evidence does not clearly explain why."
Rob Maness: "Humans are partly responsible for warming temperatures but it doesn’t represent a major threat."
Charles Boustany: "Pushing the narrative that climate change caused the flooding in Louisiana has significant flaws.”
David Duke: Actually, we don’t care what he has to say.

OMG, y’all need to SIT DOWN.

*Updated position platform from Caroline Fayard: "Anthropogenic climate change is perhaps the number one challenge facing the future of Louisiana." Okay, then! Fayard ultra-recently released a three-page plan to fight climate change and coastal erosion throughout Louisiana. Though she opposes suing oil companies- largely because she's in their pocket - she is the only Senate candidate with a written public plan to address climate change. Is this person for actual environmental justice, or opportunistic privatization of the public sector? It's hard to tell here. She is endorsed by the Landrieus, if that gives you any idea of her commitment to The People.

We are not completely rah-rah about Campbell either. Sources say he has been a reliable advocate for the working class during his decades-long career in public service, but if he's been doing that for decades and we're still in this state of affairs...well shit. To illustrate the point, he paid for a table at a recent Louisiana NAACP conference but didn't show up with his staff, leaving the table completely empty. Also, given the historical Southeastern vs. Northern Louisiana tension, will Campbell advocate for us on the national stage as we get washed away into the Gulf?

On another note, U.S. senators play an essential role in the nomination and selection of judges for federal court benches, including the Supreme Court. However, our current lineup of senators—prime example, outgoing Sen. David Vitter—have not been doing their job, leaving many vacancies unfilled for years. This has prevented initiatives to racially diversify the Judiciary, as two Latino judges nominated by President Obama (Dax Lopez and Gonzalo Curiel) have been blocked by the inaction in the Senate. In the lower courts alone, more than 70,000 cases have been missed, creating a judicial logjam. We need to elect senators who are committed to getting our judicial vacancies filled in a timely fashion. In other words, #DoYourJob.

This is the reality of Louisiana having lost a lot of seniority and clout in the Senate and House over the years, not to mention the millions of dollars the Koch brothers are funneling into Republican Senate campaigns. This is an important race, kids. There will be a run-off on December 10th for sure.

VOTE: We’re with the Pope and Foster Campbell, even though they’re both pretty reactionary on reproductive rights. We also still LOVE Vinny Mendoza, the Air Force veteran and organic farmer who ran against Scalise in the House race of 2014. His Facebook page is a fount of hope and change. Here's a snippet of his fundraising tactic: "
If you are able to spare $27 dollars, go to the Burger King near St. Charles and Earhart, and buy lunch for 5 homeless people sitting under the bypass."

Suggested Resources: Louisiana Senate candidates begin attacks by The Associated Press, August 07, 2016 Louisiana’s political derby: the race to replace David Vitter by Clancy DuBos, from The Gambit, August 1, 2016. While most U.S. Senate candidates back their party's presidential nominee, one Louisiana candidate won't talk about it  and 24 U.S. Senate candidates still largely unknown to Louisiana voters, but that could soon change by Tyler Bridges, from The New Orleans Advocate 2016 Louisiana Senate race: Who's in? Who can win? the 2016 Louisiana Senate race is poised to kick into high gear, with a crowded field battling in the shadow of Donald Trump's popularity in the Pelican State. by  Richard Rainey, | The Times-Picayune, September 02, 2016 Sick of reading? Listen in on this podcast Introducing The CenLamar Podcast: Episode 1: Caroline Fayard from Lamar White, Jr. on September 2, 2016. U.S. Senate Candidate Panel, 1h46min video from Louisiana Hometown, Louisiana Chemical Association 2016 Annual Legislative Conference, May 6, 2016 2016 U.S. Senate Candidates Forum 1h video from Louisiana Hometown, Louisiana Municipal Association 2016 Annual Convention, August 4, 2016. Sierra Club Senate Forum Louisiana Senate Debate sponsored by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, 1h video from C-Span, October 18, 2016

Eliot Barron (Green Party-New Orleans)
Lee Ann Dugas (Democrat-Kenner)
Daniel Ezekiel Faust (Democrat-New Orleans)
Howard Kearney (Libertarian-Mandeville)
Steve Scalise (Republican-Jefferson)
Joseph "Joe" Swider (Democrat-New Orleans)
Chuemai Yang (No Party-Kenner)

Speaking of politicians in the pocket of oil and gas, incumbent Scalise says FRACKING is safe. For those of you in the dark, suffice it to say that fracking will probably end the world as we know it. Scalise occupies the dangerous territory of Congress known as U.S. House Majority Whip, which means that this guy, who has referred to his politics as “David Duke without the baggage,” threatens members of the GOP to stay in line with his anti-environment, anti-people, pro-corporate agenda. But Scalise has a million dollars to spend on his campaign, and his challengers have neither money to spend nor plans to win.

VOTE: Wait and see who poses the most credible threat to Scalise’s re-election. Dugas or Barron are our top contenders.

Suggested Resource: In our first ever Anti-BS voting guide from 2014, we explained why Scalise should not be reelected. Mendoza was a unicorn of a challenger, running on a climate change platform in Louisiana no less, but Mendoza and Dugas split the opposing vote, while Scalise won by a hundred thousand votes. "David Duke Without the Baggage": Will Top GOPer Steve Scales Resign over Speech to Racist Group? from Democracy NOW! January 6, 2015.

Kenneth Cutno (Democrat-New Orleans)
Melvin L. "Kip" Holden (Democrat-Baton Rouge)
Cedric Richmond (Democrat-New Orleans)

After Holden’s negligent behavior all summer long, it's a joke to see him on the ballot. This is the man who “left to go eat a Kip Burger” after surveying the flooding damage earlier in the summer, and claimed, “I’m not a showboat politician” upon being asked for comment on the police murder of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Re-electing Cedric Richmond is to the benefit of Southeastern Louisiana: Richmond is empowered by the House's Democratic whip and a bipartisan congressional working group on law enforcement and community relations. Richmond showed up for reals this summer, as a speaker at the ceremony to celebrate the life of Alton Sterling.

VOTE: We’re with Cedric Richmond, incumbent.

Suggested resource: Live on Facebook with Cedric Richmond, Kip Holden, and Kenneth Cutno Part 1 and Part Two, short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook Page, September-October, 2016.

Regina Bartholomew-Woods (Democrat-New Orleans)
Laurie White (Democrat-New Orleans)

Bartholomew-Woods is Civil Court judge, darling of local Democrats and labor organizations with endorsements up the wazoo, and the pick of D.A. Leon Cannizzaro, who applauds her “judicial demeanor.” FYI, possible conflict of interest for endorsements: Her hubbie holds one of the city’s largest contracts as owner of Metro Disposal Inc. Overall, she’s well-rounded and well-connected.

White is Chief Judge of Criminal Court, a frequent adversary of Cannizzaro - he does not evaluate her “judicial demeanor” positively - and kind of a rock star! Here are a couple of Louisiana firsts she is responsible for: White served as co-counsel to the New York Innocence Project in the first exoneration case based on DNA science. She launched a recidivism prevention program for people re-entering society from prisons. She and other judges order nonviolent offenders with relatively short sentences to earn their GEDs and attend “life skills” classes under the mentorship of older inmates at Angola.

VOTE: Bartholomew-Woods. Laurie White is effective in Criminal Court, where she should continue confronting Cannizzaro's zealous prosecution of poor people of color. Moreover, White is reportedly a supporter of capital punishment; she would be dangerous in the Court of Appeals.

Suggested resources: Judicial Forum for candidates of 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, 25min video from Court Watch NOLA. Short on time? You can skip to their summaries at 20 minutes, which is where the drama comes in! Live on Facebook with Laurie White and Regina Bartholomew-Woods, short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook page, September 2016. What's the deal with the White and Cannizzaro beef? Oldies, but interesting: Some judges who were challenged by DA say he gamed the system when he was on bench and D.A. Cannizzaro fires back by releasing Judge White's attendance record by Matt Davis, The Lens NOLA, March 2011; Judge Laurie White airs enmity for DA Cannizzaro during home invasion hearing by Ken Daley, | The Times-Picayune, June 23, 2016 What went down between Regina Bartholomew-Woods and Ellen Hazeur? New Orleans judicial candidates clash over contentious ad by Frank Donze, The Times-Picayune, October 21, 2011


Paul A. Bonin (Democrat-New Orleans)
Kevin Guillory (Democrat-New Orleans)
Dennis W. Moore (Democrat-New Orleans)

Frank Marullo, the longest-running judge in Louisiana with the worst ratings from Court Watch NOLA, retired this year. Whoever takes this election serves the remainder of Marullo’s vacated seat until 2020. Moore is a former software engineer-turned-defense lawyer with Orleans Public Defenders, whose campaign promises to streamline court processes by incorporating the Internet. Bonin is an old hat, who is choosing to take the perceived “step down” to Criminal Court because he says he is sick of seeing bad cases go through appeals.

VOTE: This one is a toss up: We want Moore to get on the bench sometime soon, but Bonin would do well here too.

Suggested resources: PART 1: Judicial Forum for candidates of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Section D office, three-part video from Court Watch NOLA. Live on Facebook with Dennis MoorePaul Bonin, and Kevin Guillory short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook page, September 2016.

* * *
Next up, folks in the French Quarter, Algiers, Marigny, and Bywater (District 4), in the Uptown/Carrollton area (District 6), and in Gentilly (District 7) are electing board members to serve for the next four years on the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

The future holds a brand new experiment in public education: OPSB will be governing a never-before-seen public school system of mostly charter schools. Act 91, signed by the Governor this May, provides for the “unification” of New Orleans’ schools by limiting the School Board’s abilities. OPSB can open or close a school. It can evaluate the quality of education at schools. If the quality of education passes the check, but the charter network is paying their CEO $200K, OPSB can’t do anything about it. Charter networks will have unprecedented autonomy over their financial matters, which is expected to exacerbate inequity between schools. This is the new reality of public education in New Orleans.

As OPSB’s role moves into this unchartered (ha!) territory, how will these candidates operate? Do they support the collective bargaining and the organized labor of teachers? How do they engage community voices in decision-making about how charter schools are managed? Are they reacting to crises in schools or building a community feedback tool to foster community dialogue about issues earlier on? How will they address the drastic differences between school environments? Incumbent OPSB members have only minimally engaged community voices. Further, they have not been proactive about equity in the few schools they're managing now. Many school board members won their seats by default, with no challengers, but that doesn't mean they aren't still collecting a bunch of campaign contributions.

Suggested Resources: $310,000 in for sleepy Orleans Parish School Board race by Danielle Dreilinger, | The Times-Picayune on October 14, 2016.  6 key facts about the New Orleans school unification plan (and 5 for geeks)New Orleans school unification is spelled M-O-N-E-Y, and 'We are ready': School Board OKs unification plan. And School districts outline next steps for reunification by Kari Dequine Harden from The Louisiana Weekly, May 31, 2016 and Educate Now! presents OPSB Approves School Unification Plan from The New Orleans Agenda, September 14, 2016.

Leslie Ellison
Morris "Moe" Reed, Jr. (dropped out, but still appears on the ballot)
Walter Perique Umrani

Ellison, the incumbent, faces Umrani, a community organizer from the realm of criminal justice reform. We trust Umrani’s experience in grassroots-style work to prioritize community engagement in OPSB. However, his focus on the connection between juvenile incarceration and public education is unlikely to be relevant at this time. I know that’s harsh, but have you seen OPSB’s schedule? They’re strictly dealing with unification through its July 2018 deadline!

We thought Ellison might be an efficient, good-enough choice for this position - she wants to return charter school control to OPSB from the state - until someone sent us some intel on her straight-up saying "There is no such thing" as the separation of church and state (See comments section below). This was in the context of her support of a 2013 OPSB bill that would have allowed charter schools to willfully exclude gay students from enrollment. Um, welcome to humanity, Louisiana politicians!

Meanwhile, Moe Reed was caught up in some flak after he posted a Facebook message sympathetic to the man who killed the Dallas cops over the summer. He later apologized, writing "You can understand a black man waking up and being a little bit upset."He has since suspended his campaign, citing fortune cookie advice to "Keep your goals away from the trolls."

VOTE: Umrani all the way

Suggested Resources: Okay, so many of the candidates have their own campaign websites, but just Ellison has her own theme song: turn up the volume, then click the link! Live on Facebook with Walter Umrani , short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook page, September 2016.

David Alvarez
Woody Koppel

Koppel is generally not-well-liked as incumbent among concerned community members, mostly for being a landlord and business-first politician, who does not take a strong leadership position on equity. David Alvarez’s campaign materials call for increased transparency of charter school management, social justice and accountability, community engagement on education reform, and “restorative” methods to student discipline. Hey, I like his campaign materials!

VOTE: David Alvarez

Suggested resources: Live on Facebook with David Alvarez and Woody Koppel Part 1 and Part 2, short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook page, September 2016.

Alvin R. Crusto, Jr.
Nolan Marshall, Jr.
Kwame A. Smith

Incumbent Nolan is pleading to stay on OPSB because of a $1 million grant that he wants to continue working on. His challengers are both contenders for the position given their strong critiques of the status quo at OPSB and at charter schools. It’s nearly impossible to find information on Crusto except one hard-to-find video interview and his campaign finances (Ever been duped by the Carson Company realtors? They manage some of Crusto's real estate listings and contributed a whole lot to his campaign). Smith, on the other hand, is an outspoken challenger. His responses to the League of Women Voters questionnaire seem favorable: Collective bargaining and the organized labor of teachers? Check. Community voice in decision-making? Check. Equitable resources for teachers, students, and facilities? Check.

VOTE: Kwame Smith

Suggested resources: Live on Facebook with Kwame Smith, Alvin Crusto, Jr Part 1 and Part 2, and Nolan Marshall, short videos on The New Orleans Tribune Facebook page, September 2016.

Suggested resources: Analysis by League of Women Voters of Louisiana; Public Affairs Research Council Guide Legislative Services – Louisiana House Of Representatives Analysis OfAmendments

CA NO. 1 (ACT 677 - HB 459) - Registrar of Voters
Do you support an amendment to provide that the manner of appointment for the registrar of voters in each parish is as provided by law and to require the qualifications of the registrar to be provided by law?

In response to a more technically difficult system of voting, lawmakers want to increase the educational requirements of the Registrar of Voters staff. Opposition to this amendment centers on rural areas where that educational requirement would be hard to meet. Supporters want the voting process to be managed by people with qualifications, and they say this measure could curb nepotism.

All in all, there are no immediate consequences to this change: All the Registrar of Voters positions in the State are filled, and those currently holding this position who don't meet the new proposed educational requirements would be grandfathered in. Typically, the Registrar of Voters is hired from within the Registrar’s office already anyway, so what’s the point? This would make government neither more efficient nor transparent.

But wait, there's more! Representative Danahay (Dem - Lake Charles), who introduced this bill, is noteworthy for his past political work that limits people's voting rights: He voted to reduce the number of hours that polling locations remain open. He voted against a measure that would have expanded voting rights for people convicted of felonies. He also has supported the requirement for drug testing of welfare recipients, and co-sponsored a the 2014 bill that mandated abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, severely limited women's access to reproductive healthcare treatment. We do not trust this guy with our civil rights!

Vote NO

CA NO. 2 (ACT 680 - SB 80) - Establish Tuition without Legislative Approval
Do you support an amendment to authorize the postsecondary education management boards to establish the tuition and mandatory fee amounts charged by institutions under their supervision and management, without legislative approval?

This amendment proposes that control of tuition cost-setting for public universities and colleges move from the legislature to pre-existing “management boards.” These schools have traditionally been regulated by the State in order to provide low-cost options and greater accessibility to higher learning for the public. On principle, we are against the deregulation of public institutions with this kind of mission. This amendment smells like the largely unaccountable trend towards privatization that has been steadily encroaching on public schools here, and eroding public oversight of them.

But, to be sure, Louisiana’s public universities and colleges have been needlessly suffering the brunt of the State’s budget crisis. Since 2008, higher education budget cuts in Louisiana have been more brutal than in any other state. As such, Louisiana schools are pushing for greater autonomy: to raise tuition to cover costs in most cases, and in some cases, to become more competitive by lowering tuition for out-of-state students.

Vote NO because higher education needs more investment, but deregulation isn’t the answer. Or YES if you’re exasperated by how little Louisiana spends on its public universities and colleges.

Suggested Resource: Tuition-Setting Authority and Deregulation at State Colleges and Universities by Lesley McBain from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Higher Education Policy Brief, May 2010

CA NO. 3 (ACT 31 - HB 31) - Eliminate Deductibility of Federal Income Taxes
Do you support an amendment to eliminate the deductibility of federal income taxes paid in computing state corporate income taxes? (Effective January 1, 2017)

At this time, corporations can deduct their federal tax payments when preparing their state corporate income taxes. This is wrongfully letting corporations off the hook.

Vote YES so federal tax payments cannot be used as a deduction when calculating state corporate income taxes.

CA NO. 4 (ACT 678 - HB 505) - Homestead Exemption-Surviving Spouse
Do you support an amendment to authorize an exemption from ad valorem property tax for the total assessed value of the homestead of an unmarried surviving spouse of a person who died while on active duty as a member of the armed forces of the United States or the Louisiana National Guard, or while performing their duties as a state police, law enforcement, or fire protection officer? (Effective December 1, 2016)

Don’t let the headline fool you: it is not the homestead exemption but an exemption on all ad valorem property taxes. This is an amendment to a property tax exemption for widowed police/fire/military spouses that would allow them to keep their exemption if they move to a different house. What with flooding, hurricanes, fracking, and coastal erosion, housing displacement comes as no surprise to residents of this state. We support any effort to keep people housed affordably and safely.

So what’s the catch here? It seems Mike Johnson (Republican-Bossier City) introduced this amendment for political points. Remember him? The guy who introduced Indiana-style religious freedom, anti-LGBTQA legislation in 2015 with the support of ol' Bobby Jindal (it died in committee) and became the hero of nihilistic social conservatives? He is establishing himself as a professional politician (and Trump shill), and has bigger aims than state legislature. Johnson is likely trying to use this amendment to build his supportive voter base with military and law enforcement families. This amendment was co-sponsored by Rep. Danahay (see Constitutional Amendment #1, above), whom we also don't trust.

But we don't like dividing people this way. Where are the bills that protect, honor, and advantage the protesters who were attacked by police and National Guard in Baton Rouge this summer? Where's the ad valorem property tax exemption for the family of Alton Sterling (may he rest in peace)? We need better ways to support our heroes.

VOTE: YES, but let’s do more to promote housing justice.

CA NO. 5 (ACT 679 - HB 603) - Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund

Do you support an amendment to establish the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund for the deposit of recurring mineral and corporate tax revenues, to restrict the use of the fund to 10% of the balance when the balance reaches $5 billion, to restrict the use of the fund to construction projects and transportation infrastructure, and to allocate recurring mineral revenues to the payment of state employee retirement debt?

Louisiana’s budget is unsustainable, and the sponsor of this bill, Walt Leger III (Democrat-New Orleans), thinks this new trust fund will help steady it in the long term. Basically, some money will be deposited in this hands-off account, so there’s no spending when times are good only to cut when times are bad. Smart decision.


CA NO. 6 (ACT 681 - SB 201) - Use Funds to Eliminate Projected Deficits 
Do you support an amendment to authorize the use of up to five percent of current year appropriations or allocations from statutorily or certain constitutionally created funds or up to one percent of the current year's balances in certain constitutionally created funds to eliminate a projected deficit in the next fiscal year if the official forecast for the next fiscal year is less than the official forecast for the current fiscal year or if the official forecast has been reduced by at least one percent from the most recently adopted estimate for the ensuing fiscal year, and to exempt certain funds and mandates from being used to eliminate a projected deficit?

This proposed amendment reduces constitutional protection of funds in one year, with the purpose of funding gaps in the next year. The major drawback is that presently protected funds are made vulnerable to mid-year budget cuts. Makes sense if it were personal budgets, but when it is the State’s budget and we’ve elected some folks to be responsible for adequately funding public operations, then we’d prefer those legislators simply be responsible and do their jobs. This one had near unanimous support in House and Senate because they don’t care to work hard for us.


Lake Forest Estates Improvement District Proposition - $485 Parcel Fee - CC - 8 Yrs. an estimated $95,338.00 expected annually.

Lake Vista Crime Prevention District Proposition - $220 Parcel Fee - CC - 4 Yrs. an estimated $165,000 annually.

Lakeshore Crime Prevention District Proposition - $360 Parcel Fee - CC - 4 Yrs. an estimated $236,520 annually… this one’s a little bit different: City collection fee of 1%

Oak Island Neighborhood Improvement District Proposition - $150 Parcel Fee - CC - 10 Yrs. an expected $45,000.00 annually

A dangerous precedent is set by crowd-sourcing greater safety and security for people with expendable income, favoring the lives and livelihood of certain people and making those neighborhoods less affordable to live in. Invest those hundreds of thousands of dollars in something that benefits the vibrant, urban fabric of our city, like community organizations and schools.



City Charter Amendment - Financial and Operational Independence of the Office of Inspector General, Office of Independent Police Monitor, and Ethics Review Board Shall Sections 9-401 and 9-402 of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended and new Sections 9-403, 9-404 and 9-405 be enacted relative to the financial and operational independence of the Office of lnspector General, Office of lndependent Police Monitor, and Ethics Review Board, effective January 1, 2017: (1) to apportion funding among the three local ethics entities; (2) to establish each such local ethics entity as financially and operationally independent; and (3) to provide for annual independent external evaluation procedures for each such entity?

The New Orleans Independent Police Monitor (NOIPM) is an independent, civilian police oversight agency through which you can file complaints against NOPD (or commend an officer). In 2006, a coalition of community groups brought their concerns about New Orleans Police Department to the New Orleans City Council. By 2008, the city council supported the Police Monitor’s Office in a resolution. In 2008, the Police Monitor's Office, along with the Office of Inspector General, were voted into the city charter by over 70% of the New Orleans electorate.

Y’all remember last Fall when the epic battle between Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and Police Monitor Susan Hutson played out? He tried to gut her position; she called him racist/misogynist/vengeful/vindictive, etc. Then, City Council intervened.

City Council members introduced an ordinance to give the police monitor a set budget and increase its staff, but us voters have to give it our support. In the meantime, the temporary resolution (conditional that there be no more public trash talk) stipulated that NOIPM was to be guaranteed a percentage of funding from the Inspector General’s office, but it had to move out of its shared office in the Federal Reserve building. Well NOIPM is in its spot by Canal and Broad.

VOTE: Despite the ridiculous idea of having to vote to resolve a bureaucratic dispute, now is the time for us to vote YES to granting autonomy for NOIPM.

Suggested resources: When Independent Police Oversight Becomes Too Independent by Brentin Mock from City Lab, Sep 30, 2015, Truce between New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson a big win by James Gill from New Orleans Advocate, October 31, 2015, Inspector general, police monitor split backed by City Council by Greg LaRose, | The Times-Picayune, October 15, 2015,  Letters: Voters should support ethics proposition by David Marcello and Cornelius Tilton New Orleans Advocate October3, 2016,  On the Ballot from the Bureau of Governmental Research, October 12, 2016. BGR finds faults in New Orleans police monitor charter amendmentand A message from District D Councilmember Jared C. Brossett on the Nov. 8th ethics reform initiative from the New Orleans Agenda, October 21, 2016. 

  • League of Women Voters of New Orleans Candidate biographies and questionnaires. 
  • Court Watch NOLA Collected data and rankings on New Orleans criminal judges, including timeliness, transparency, and neutrality 
  • WBOK1230AM Committed to relevant, informative programming from an African American perspective, these locals cover elections a lot, and they sponsored the "Candidate Debate: OPSB" this year. 
  • The Louisiana Weekly Multicultural news medium 
  • The New Orleans Tribune The 1st Black daily newspaper in the United States 
  • Justice And Beyond  "Workable solutions [for New Orleans] through constructive dialogue" 
  • Unchain the Vote Formerly incarcerated people working to "have a place, and a voice, in the world" 
  • Alternative Election Coverage Frustrated that radio news is dominated by Trump and Clinton stories? Listen to Alternative Radio’s alternative election coverage. 
  • Democracy NOW! Daily independent news show includes election coverage

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Testament Project at Bryn Mawr College

"Jessica" by Kris Graves
Kris Graves' The Testament Project, currently on view at Bryn Mawr College, is a powerful engagement of the visual and emotional senses.

The artist presents carefully constructed photographs of Black people larger than life and sublimely doused in bright color. They are images of Black faces, some steadily holding the viewer's gaze, some looking beyond the reach of the camera. To a vision? To a dream deferred? The mystery is part of what is so affecting about this exhibit.

The colors confront the viewer's assumptions of what people of color are, what they look like, and how they negotiate the space they inhabit. The artist makes clear that his subjects collaborated with him on how they were presented in the portraits, lending an element of control that disrupts the traditional imbalanced relationship between the viewer and the object being viewed.

The Testament Project is installed in the Canaday Library's Rare Book Room, where Black faces keep sentinel over dusty medieval books, the canon of an ensconced tradition of White-conceived "humanities." The faces demand to know: "Who controls education? Who controls the values of our society? Who is allowed to be in here?"

They ask the nearby portrait of M. Carey Thomas, a revered administrator of Bryn Mawr College from 1894 to 1922, and a (reputedly) queer suffragist who opposed marriage on the principle that it led to loss of freedom for women. She also steadfastly refused admission to women of color into the school. "Who belongs here?" the faces ask, intently. "Who gets to read these books, write more books, be the faces of advancement and the future?" The faces - powerfully - insist on engagement on their own terms. "Here we are," they say. "We are exactly who we are."

By hosting such an exhibition, College invites the confrontation of these questions. It is an especially timely invitation, given several on-campus racial conflicts in recent years. The artist's wish to "create a space that is participatory and empowered" is possible here. We would be collectively improved to pursue it.