Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Autonomous Zone Radical Support Group

What up New Orleans!

Trystereo / New Orleans Harm Reduction Network is starting a 12-Step alternative group for people who want to talk about and get radical support for issues related to drug-use.

It will be a free-form communal conversation about recovery & healing, drug-use and sobriety in New Orleans, deconstructing drug-user stigma, and whatever else is on people's minds.

This is for people coping with drug-use in their own lives. We ask for allies to step back here, unless specifically invited by a group member.

The meetings will be on Sundays at 7pm at Byrdie's (2422 St. Claude Ave.) Who Dat Cafe (2401 Burgundy).

Please forward this information to anyone who might be interested in coming!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the night: Why we all must confront violence against Black people

I biked up to Helen Gillet's concert at the St. Louis Cathedral tonight, not expecting to walk in on a live opening performance of "A Change Is Gonna Come," sung by approximately 20 individuals dispersed throughout the pews.

The act - staged similarly to October's Requiem for Mike Brown in a St. Louis, Missouri concert hall - seemed to surprise most attendees, including the Louisiana Tourism Bureau host, who stood smiling blankly on the altar throughout. Indeed, the group of singer-activists had planted themselves in the crowd in order to conduct a political intervention to the otherwise blandly styled "Christmas in New Orleans" event series.

"Know what else is happening in New Orleans?" the group asked through song: Black people are getting killed by police.

I didn't remember all the lyrics to Sam Cooke's civil rights classic, but I stood near a friend whom I'd spotted, and chimed in during the chorus:

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come
Oh yes it will

The 95% white audience didn't seem to know what to do. Some people clapped, not so much in appreciation as polite communication to the singers to wrap up and get out. I wondered why more people didn't stand in solidarity with the message, which was to confront passivity in the face of horrendous social violence.

I was glad when a singer remained standing during the applause and the host's meek microphone-based attempts to get the concert underway. She - and we - began to shout "Black lives matter!" as most of the activists filed out of the Cathedral.

The concert proceeded with nary a mention of the opening act, even when Ms. Gillet referenced Pete Seeger and Joan Baez as musical inspirations for one of her French folk song renditions.

I suppose I could have expected such a muted response - after all, Christmas time unfortunately functions as the season of consumerist banality - but I also embrace feeling charged by such a bold interruption to the status quo. Yes, Black lives matter, and yes we should sing and shout that at all times. It is always appropriate to affirm the value of Black lives.

I recognized several Jewish people in the singing group, and I was so proud. The Jewish collective conscience demands solidarity with people of color, and anyone who is also unjustly targeted for violence in our society. We Jews must stand up for Black lives: We must stand up, we must confront injustice, and we must sing about the change we hope to make in the world.

Merry Christmas, New Orleans. Are we able to carry on?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Badass people I know [and what they're up to]: Carolyn Rodgers

This week in "Badass People I Know [And What They're Up To]":
Carolyn Natalie Rodgers!

Carolyn and I met during AmeriCorps training in 2010, and have been long-distance friends ever since. She recently finished a two-year PeaceCorps term teaching English in Armenia, where I visited her last fall.

In this interview, Carolyn and I discuss the important things in life, like globalization, bathtime, and why it’s important to maintain a strong Long Island accent.

Shtetl Chic: Hi Carolyn! How are you? Have you done anything nice for yourself today?

Carolyn: Hey lady! I'm doing alright, pretty pumped to see you in the flesh soon. I started my morning by reading a new book - "We Are Not Ourselves" - in my parents' hot tub, so I feel positively about that.

Shtetl Chic: I never understood how people read in a bathtub. Don't the pages get all wet?

Carolyn: You definitely have to be careful. As long as you keep your hands dry, you're all set.

Shtetl Chic: Oh. Well, okay. I've been looking forward to your visit to New Orleans. I've been telling all my friends about you, and how we know each other.

I remember meeting you because we were at that AmeriCorps training conference and it was super fucking bogus, like "Cultural competency in a community that doesn't really want you there, or didn't ask you to be there, and you're probably taking jobs from the people who live there, and here's a PowerPoint on that!"

And I remember we were at lunch or something - this was in Seattle, so everyone was from California and Alaska and places like that, so I'm thinking, Why am I here? - and I hear this really brash Long Island accent from across the room, and I was like, "I need to find that person, because everything here is awful except for that person…Who is she?" And then we just hung out.

Carolyn: [Laughs] No, dude, this is what happened: You may have heard my accent, but I remember being across the room from you, and I was trying to be polite, which is fucking painful for me -

Shtetl Chic: Like with icebreakers…

Carolyn: Yeah, I think it's the worst thing ever.

Shtetl Chic: That AmeriCorps job has ruined high-fives for me. I can’t give them. I have trauma.

Carolyn: Yeah. So anyways [at AmeriCorps training], I’m like, "Oh yeah, I’m from New York." Because someone had decided to approach The Sullen Girl Against The Wall, you know? And they’re like, "That girl’s from New York too, over there." And I’m like, "Oh really? I’m gonna go over there." I actually remember sitting down next to you, and I was like, "So I’m from New York, and I heard you’re from New York, and I figured we could probably be friends."

Shtetl Chic: [Laughs] Yeah, and I was like, "Well, I don’t see why not." Anyway, I'm really excited to see you soon. Have you been cooking Armenian food since you've been home? Are you going to cook me Armenian food?

Carolyn: I'm so excited to see you too! I don't know if I'll be cooking you any Armenian dishes, though.

Shtetl Chic: Aren't you a tomato/eggplant master by now? Don't lie. 

Carolyn: I am! I am! But [since I've been back] I haven't really made any [Armenian] dishes per se, but some side vegetables here and there. The way I prepare food has been forever changed though. We didn't have large kitchen knives, and instead used the hilariously named "Fuxwell's," which were these palm-sized, extremely sharp and serrated ones. I miss those guys, because as a short person with small hands, I'm much more efficient with them. Also, I almost never use a cutting board anymore.

Shtetl Chic: Do you throw food in the air and hack at it? I used to play machete-ball with my friends that way, using rotted cantaloupe.

Carolyn: No, I'm mostly holding the fruit or vegetable in one hand, palm-sized knife in the other.

Shtetl Chic: Oh.

Carolyn in Sevan, Armenia, 2013

As part of her PeaceCorps term, Carolyn organized a national poetry recitation contest for young students.

Carolyn: [This year's] contest went swimmingly! It was easily my proudest moment in service, as well as the most successful. All the planning came together seamlessly, and it was an enjoyable event for not only the children but everyone involved, including me.

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia came. And this guy’s a ham! At the time, those viral videos of Pharrell's "Happy" song were coming out, with different cities doing it. There’s “New York Happy,” “New Orleans Happy”…So the embassy did a "Happy Yerevan" [for the Armenian capital city].

Shtetl Chic: Are you serious?

Carolyn: Yeah the ambassador's in it two, three different times. He came to our conference, and requested that he be introduced via his music video, "Happy Yerevan."

Shtetl Chic: Wow.

Carolyn: Yeah. But back to the poetry contest, which was a really great opportunity to spend unstructured learning time with my students. It allowed us to have a less formal relationship.

Working with the girls was particularly special for me because I was able to connect with them in a way I had not previously. They felt safe to be their goofy 14-year-old selves, and I could be myself. It was a source of hope to see them push themselves past their own expectations.

Last year, one of the girls was too nervous to say her poem. She practiced and she prepared, and she got to town and she never said it. This year she said her poem, and I was so happy. I was really proud of her. It was a huge moment. I'm still in touch with those girls, and that's a great reward for me.

Shtetl Chic: As an educator, what would you say is the advantage to introducing English - literary English - to Armenian children?

Carolyn: We open the door to the contest at seventh form, which is the year that many kids really begin to slack off. That’s when you can see a great difference between a seventh grader and a sixth grader. A lot of the value is in the contest itself. The result is that the students are encouraged and they can like their poem, and like English. I think that it’s a really smart thing to get them at that age where they’re on the cusp of giving a shit or not.

Shtetl Chic: I remember being in your village and all these little kids popping up out of nowhere and being like, "Hello Miss Carolyn! English!" Or they’d be like, "How are you?" and you’d be like, "I’m fine, thank you," and then they’d run away. And you’d say, "I taught them!" And that was cool because they wanted to show off to you, even though they were too shy to have a conversation.

Carolyn: Ha, yeah.

She got my mail!

Shtetl Chic: What would you say is the difference between the Carolyn who started PeaceCorps, and the Carolyn who finished PeaceCorps?

Carolyn: Oh, Lawd. Carolyn who started was not as confident or certain of herself. I've learned to trust my gut in a real way. Another big change is my acceptance of other folks, but I feel that comes hand-in-hand with acceptance of self. There are so many gifts that I've been given through this experience.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah for sure! What do you mean by acceptance of other folks - like, culturally? Linguistically?

Carolyn: Both, and then some. For example, many English-speaking Americans have a very "Learn my language!" attitude; that wouldn't have been helpful in my role as a teacher in Armenia. During interactions with others, I try to see things more compassionately, because ultimately we all need kindness and patience.

Shtetl Chic: Still doing yoga? 

Carolyn: Yes. Yoga has been a gift to me, and it has helped. It’s totally been a part of my healing process. I feel very like myself, in the purest sense of the word. It centers me, it’s important to me, and I want to elevate my practice. I'm pretty excited to experience the yoga community near you.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, I don't know much about it. I used to be into yoga classes, like daily. Now it makes me feel bored. I think you really have to be in the right mindset for it, or have a practice/instructor that matches what you need.

Carolyn: We can practice together if you like! We'll get real fucking connected.

Shtetl Chic: What else would you recommend for the angsty 20-something white female to do about feeling out-of-sorts with the world?

Carolyn: Wow, that's difficult especially since I essentially am one. Not nearly at the level that I used to experience, but angsty nonetheless. My suggestion to young females is that they get out of their comfort zone. Do not be content with discontent. Figure out what in fact you are not okay with, realize it's okay to not be okay, then take the necessary steps to put change in motion. Do not stop searching for your place in this world.

I have the pleasure of knowing many people working through their shit and finding their path. I have the great honor of sharing hopes and fears with people like yourself, who gave me permission to be exactly who I was.

Shtetl Chic: I like that part about not being content with discontent. While acceptance is good in general, it can stymie real growth. Do you think everyone has a specific place in the world to make a contribution, or is that a more fluid concept of feeling good in your life?

Carolyn: I see life as this awesome experience and opportunity to seek happiness and fulfillment. A lot of people are completely numb, sleep-walking through life. It's the greatest tragedy of all.

If you do not like where you are - spiritually, physically, or emotionally - the expectation that one day it'll simply be better, with no effort on your part, is most likely not going to get you out of that stagnant place. Oftentimes your location and the people that surround you are obstacles to a peaceful life.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah. Maybe that sleepiness is a defense mechanism, 'cause you know the world is hard.

Carolyn: Sure is, kid.

During her return to the United States, Carolyn managed to import a pet cat she cared for in Armenia.

Carolyn: Francis Scott [Cat] is a majestic prince. I can't imagine having left him. His presence in my second year of service was a great source of comfort.

Shtetl Chic: Did he need a special visa?

Carolyn: He had a kitty passport that was handwritten in Russian, as well as an Armenian government-certified document confirming his vaccinations. All I'll say is that it's incredibly easy to bring domestic animals from Armenia into New York... maybe easier than it should be.

Shtetl Chic: I love you desperately. Don’t ever change, unless it’s for the better.

Carolyn: Alright.

Come meet Carolyn when she visits me in New Orleans for Thanksgiving!

Thank you, Carolyn, for who you are and all that you do!

Interview has been condensed and edited.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another collaborative anti-oppression / anti-bullshit voting guide, for New Orleans' runoff elections, December 6th!

Oh, you thought you voted enough this year?

Well, you got another chance coming up, friend!

On December 6th (or November 22nd-29th if you're time-management savvy / disenfranchised like that), you can vote on a whole new crop of candidates who ran for election just a few weeks ago! Also, a "school mill" thing.

Here's our take:

U.S. Senate

"Bill" Cassidy - Republican
Mary Landrieu - Democrat

Like we said before, both of these people are totally unacceptable representatives. They have deep ties to the oil and gas industries, which translates to a total lack of accountability to Louisiana's fragile ecosystems and the economies that rely on their sustenance. Landrieu recently exhausted herself  - unsuccessfully, thank Jesus - trying to get the Senate to pass the Keystone Pipeline. One's got a good record on things like reproductive rights and other social issues (that would be Mary), and the other (this would be Bill Cassidy), well, the best thing about him is that the Tea Party doesn't think he's conservative enough. Honestly, voting for the "lesser of two evils" is kinda a hard choice here. Vote or not.

Public Service Commission

Eric Skrmetta - Republican
Forest Bradley Wright - Republican

Skrmetta. Say it out loud. Skrrrrrmetta. Grrrrr. He's the current Commissioner, and served four years on the Natural Gas Committee and two years on the Electricity Committee. He's also a card-carrying lifetime member of the NRA and the Safari Club (Safari Club?). He has a few thoughts to share with the people of Louisiana:

  • One of his main goals is "giving companies the opportunity to be profitable";
  • Renewable energy resources (such as energy efficiency, solar and wind) "have failed" and "are unworkable in Louisiana";
  • "The free market usually handles the consumer wants." AAAAHHHHHHHHH TAKE IT BACK
This guy...We don't like him.

On the other hand, Forest Wright is a board member of Louisiana Green Corp, which provides construction job skills training for youth in our city. Wright says, "it is through engaged civic associations that the public can ensure the accountability essential to good governance," meaning he might provide more transparent leadership than Skrmetta. He's a supporter of solar energy investment, and thinks "the most important thing with natural gas pipelines is public safety." We kinda like this guy! Also, for some reason this commission is in charge of setting prices for towing cars in the city. Forest Wright wants to implement payment plans to help low-income folks pay for getting their cars back from the pound. Okay! Also, listen to this interview with the candidate himself. Vote for Forest Wright.

Domestic Judge, Division 2

Janet Ahern
Monique Barial

Janet Ahern has been working in family law for a long time. She says she'll make interpreter access a priority in her courtroom, for the non-English speakers among us. That's good.

But...we already said we like Monique Barial. She wants to set up systems that make it easier for low-income folks to get lawyers and pursue mediation for their disputes. She's hip to the fact that some people are scared to come to court, especially when they are confronting an abuser. Vote for Monique Barial.

Judge Juvenile Court, Section E

Ernest "Freddie" Charbonnet
Desiree Cook-Calvin

Notttt really impressed with either. They both have insinuated that parents and teachers are to blame for juvenile criminality. Neither disputes that incarceration is a good idea for youth.

Charbonnet points to his five-month interim stint on City Council as evidence of his civic experience; he's also run unsuccessfully for several judgeships (including Traffic Court). We couldn't really find much information on this guy, but he says reasonable - if not patently obvious - things like, “The children that come in contact with the juvenile justice system here are not necessarily leaving better off than when they first came in.” He's also interested in a fiscal makeover of the court, which could be wonderful or terrible, depending.

Cook-Calvin says "the sorts of programs we need include educational, job training, job placement, mental health counseling, drug counseling, and other family support programs for both the young person and the family. We need to look at all the factors involved in a case and address the case holistically, and we need programs that keep children and families from coming back to court." Sounds better. Vote for Cook-Calvin, we guess?

Shall the Orleans Parish School Board (the "School Board") levy a tax of four and ninety-seven hundredths (4.97) mills on the dollar of the assessed valuation of property within the City of New Orleans assessed for City Taxation, (an estimated $15,540,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of ten (10) years, beginning in 2015, for the purpose of preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all existing public school facilities, to be levied and collected in the same manner as is set forth in Article VIII, Section 13(C)(Second) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974; provided that said tax is to be levied each calendar year at a millage rate not in excess of the difference between 4.97 mills and any millage levied in such calendar year for any outstanding general obligation bonds of the School Board?

This would basically allot extra tax money for the long-term physical maintenance - think roofs, HVAC repair, etc. - of some schools in Orleans Parish.

You wish that we would just say, "Vote FOR this proposition," and leave it at that, because it is true that our schools need to be taken care of.

But we just can't leave it at that. We need to give you the dirty-on-the-dirty on what our well-meaning votes will do. Here it is:

Three of the seven Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) members voted AGAINST sending this millage to vote. Why? Tensions having to do with the Recovery School District (RSD).

RSD is one of the nastiest examples of opportunism following Katrina from which New Orleans became the nation's testing dish for widespread privatization of public education. Basically the state (as RSD) took over all the Orleans public schools following Katrina, and sold a lot of them to charter agencies to "fix" or "improve." RSD is controversially playing a long-term governance role, without being administered locally or by elected officials. 

Schools newly eligible to return to the control of the OPSB have been choosing to stick with RSD (via charter agencies) instead, which means the spending of this millage - aka taxpayers' money - would increasingly be under the control of the non-elected, non-local representatives at RSD.

We definitely don't want to create an opportunity for school budget looting. The Times-Picayune and the Urban League are for this millage. I guess we are too. Vote FOR this proposition. But then we read this article that explains that if this proposition passes, "the non-elected RSD would receive 90% of the funding ($13,986,000) of property tax revenue" without any requirement for transparency or accountability as to how the funds are disbursed.

Furthermore, RSD doesn't actually provide oversight for any OPSB schools anymore: "RSD has relinquished oversight of all schools in Orleans Parish schools that were once under its auspices to independent charter organizations, and does not educate children in Orleans Parish."

We just cannot be down with this foolishness. Don't let deceptive politics pirate our schools - Vote NO on this proposition.

Where to donate money in New Orleans

Hey you! Over there, with the disposable income!

Feeling generous? Feeling guilty? Want the tax write-off?

Just in time for this holiday season, here's a list of places to give money in New Orleans where your dollars are going to be put to actual work, and not just to pay bureaucrats with nonprofit management degrees. Instead of buying your sister some crap at Bed Bath & Beyond for Christmas, make a donation in her name to one of these fine organizations. We got a lot of good shit going on here!

In no particular order, with an emphasis on groups that address health, education, advocacy, housing, immigration, youth, food justice, etc.:

Trystereo / New Orleans Harm Reduction Network
Provides health supplies, wellness education, wound-care consultations, toiletries, and clothing to drug-users in southeastern Louisiana. Facilitates workshops on safer drug-use, first aid practices, and overdose prevention. Self-funded (no overhead!). Also working on a 12-Step Alternative support group for people who feel kinda judged or unwelcome at AA/NA/etc meetings.

Apex Youth Center
Originally run by a couple out of their living room, this organization does an awesome job of providing free afterschool care for youth in the city. Kids get snacks, clothes, tutoring, whatever. The older kids are the "mentors." The center is often open to the neighborhood for barbecues and other parties. The founders even negotiated with the police to extend the nighttime youth curfew to kids leaving the Center late at night.

Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools / The Rethinkers
A participatory education group of New Orleans students who reject the school-to-prison pipeline, and the teach-to-the-test pedagogical approach. Instead, they work to make their schools supportive environments for learning and leadership development.

Cornerstone Builders
Free buses to prisons around Louisiana. Help a mama visit her son while he's locked up!

Books 2 Prisoners
Sends free books to people in the South's jails and prisons.

Voice of the Ex-Offender
Helps formerly incarcerated individuals re-acclimate to society. Provides legal resources, financial management education, and leadership development opportunities. Promotes community education and collaboration around voting rights and interaction with law enforcement.

Resurrection After Exoneration
Say you spent a lot of time in prison for a crime you didn't commit. Then you get released, but you have nowhere to go. This organization will let you live in their house for free! They'll also hook you up with clothing, legal resources, and whatever else you might need.

Common Ground Health Clinic
"Solidarity, not Charity" is the motto of this Algiers community-based clinic that focuses care on low-income residents of New Orleans. They also publish and distribute a free (and extremely useful) guide to mental and physical health resources in the GNO area.

Survivors Village
Stands up for people whose housing was seized after Katrina for "abandonment," "blight," or other political reasons, when really they just didn't have enough money to come home.

New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, specifically:

Congreso de Jornaleros / Congress of Day Laborers
One of the bravest groups around - a union of undocumented workers. These people rebuilt New Orleans after Katrina; now they're being deported. Fuck that. Give them money to access healthcare, education, labor rights, housing, and stable legal standing.

Stand with Dignity
Tirelessly advocates to improve the housing, employment, and educational opportunities for low-income residents of New Orleans. These people were left in deplorable conditions during Katrina, and stood up to (successfully) demand radical changes to the city's shelter and evacuation protocols.

Asserts the rights and needs of Spanish-speaking populations in New Orleans. They do stuff like: help clinics translate health flyers; advocate to get interpreters wherever they're needed; link families to information about schools and housing; and hold businesses and social services accountable for working with Spanish-speakers.

Crescent City Childcare Collective
Provides free babysitting for kids while their primary guardians are at community development meetings and events. A super-crucial solidarity effort.

Sex Workers Outreach Project
This anti-violence network provides health, legal, and safety information to people engaged in sex work (stripping, escorting, etc)  in New Orleans. It is an important support in an industry where many laborers experience stigma and alienation.

Women with a Vision
Facilitates the empowerment of low-income women of color through legislative advocacy, educational programming, and other initiatives that nobody else is taking up. They do a lot of important work around harm reduction for drug-users and sex workers; they're currently running domestic violence support groups as well. Someone fucking burned their office down the other year, so let's not stand for that.

Break Out
Organizes against police profiling and brutality of queer and transgender youth of color. A totally self-determined group of badass visionary young people.

Youth Rebuilding New Orleans
Founded by two New Orleans-born brothers in their 20s, this agency engages youth to build houses for public school teachers. They also make room to train and mentor young people doing court-mandated community service.

Supporting Urban Agriculture
Grows food in the Lower 9th Ward and gives it to the neighbors, sells it to the people who can pay. Kinda evens things out, and promotes healthy eating for everybody.

Community Kitchen
Makes and serves free meals (including vegan and gluten-free options!) for anyone who's hungry. Caters events for other radical groups in the city.

If you're interested in supporting the arts scene, here are a few other recommendations for groups that have a social justice orientation:

Ashe Cultural Arts Center
Promotes African, Caribbean, and African-American art and artists. Hosts community groups about health and fatherhood, among other themes.

The successor of the Free Southern Theater, this organization produces and encourages social justice-driven art. Recent productions have concerned the privatization of New Orleans schools, and the experience of displacement in the environmentally fragile Gulf Coast.

A film festival that spotlights the struggles and triumphs of marginalized populations.

Mondo Bizarro
A multidisciplinary arts group that produces works around ecological and other civic concerns. Their stellar outdoor "Cry You One" show was performed last year on the canals and swamps of St. Bernard Parish, highlighting the human consequences of environmental degradation.

A multidisciplinary performance arts group that uses theatre as a tool of healing and recovery. Runs a theatre group at Louisiana's St. Gabriel prison for women.

* * * *
Hit up the comments section if you want another group included! Thanks to everyone who helped me compile this list by doing the work / shouting out others who do the work.

Readers' Choice Awards

Youth Agenda's Kwanzaa Freedom School
The youth organizing arm of People's Institute for Justice and Beyond: "Part of a people’s movement for social transformation, led by people of color, with the understanding that undoing racism is liberation for all people." Yes.

Rebuilds people's houses in the Lower 9th Ward. Pretty simple. The homeowners just pay for the construction materials; volunteers do the rest. On a side note, it's pretty ridiculous that we're still relying on volunteers and donations to rebuild people's houses in the Lower 9th Ward. Let's get it done already.

DiscoveryFEST Afterschool and Summer Enrichment
Arts, sports, foreign language, yoga, drama, dance, culinary, etc. classes for youth in New Orleans. This program - formerly called CP3 Afterschool Zone - used to be funded by Chase Bank, but Chase Bank no longer cares about the children of New Orleans. Somehow the program has to fund itself now. You can help!

Operation ZipZap
This fundraising campaign supports a low-income transgender woman of color who wants to learn electrolysis in order to provide it to other trans folks, on a sliding pay scale. She's based in Florida, but has important connections to New Orleans trans advocates.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Collaborative anti-oppression / anti-bullshit voting guide for New Orleans mid-term elections 2014

The following is a New Orleans voters guide for the upcoming November 4th, 2014 elections. It was compiled by a group of individuals who wish to confront the existing lack of accountability in the executive and judicial branches of Louisiana government, and in the election process more generally. We are disgusted by the opaque language of the proposed state constitutional amendments, rendering confused even the most well-educated voter. We did a lot of research, and we did a lot of talking with our neighbors, friends, and allies. We found out that a lot of this stuff matters, and a lot of it prolly doesn't. We agreed on the following guidelines to make - or in some cases, decline to make - our recommendations:

• Commit to an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist agenda;

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

• Favor the judicial candidates (especially the incumbents) less destructively inclined towards the lives of the poor and others caught in the dragnet of our punitive 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.

This is a working draft, so expect updates as we continue to do research. Feel free to submit your contributions! Also, no one paid us to do this. We just care like that.

Sorry we didn't get this done before early voting. Vote early and vote often!

Check out some other voting guides on http://nolavoting.info/ if ya dare!

Louisiana Legislators

U. S. Senator

Wayne Ables #1 Democrat
“Bill” Cassidy #3 Republican
Thomas Clements #4 Republican
Mary L. Landrieu #5 Democrat
“Rob” Maness #6 Republican
Brannon Lee McMorris #7 Libertarian
Vallian Senegal #8 Democrat
William P. Waymire, Jr. #9 Democrat

The urge to recommend Mary L. Landrieu comes from a place of solidarity with those working in reproductive justice. A candidate like Bill Cassidy deeply risks access to self-actualizing tools for the people of Louisiana, such as the right to reproductive choice. And recommending Mary Landrieu recognizes her support of her common sense policies, such as ending the federal ban on syringe access funding. However, Landrieu’s position as Chair of the Senate's Oil and Gas Committee is deeply problematic. We must recognize that every Louisiana politician is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. As such, they should not be in positions of influence over oil and gas legislation - related to fracking, Tar Sands, the Keystone Pipeline, etc - at the federal level. You can use your vote this election to unseat Landrieu and protect Louisiana land from the oil and gas industries’ harms, as administered by her. But we're not sure there's a better alternative.

No Recommendation: We’re UNDECIDED.

U. S. Representative 1st Congressional District


The “keywords” field for Mendoza’s website is as follows: “Scalise wants U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria and I dont, Scalise says FRACKING is safe. I say is not--it produces cancer, Scalise blows over $64 000 for dinners for volunteers at Ruth Chris and Acadiana Restaurants when at the 1st CD we have more than 64 000 umployed and homeless!” [sic] This passionate Ponchatoula planter, Ph.D, USAF (Ret.) is the organic herbal antidote to toxic incumbent Steve Scalise. Vote FOR Vinny Mendoza.

U. S. Representative 2nd Congressional District

David Brooks #14 No Party
Samuel Davenport #15 Libertarian
Gary Landrieu #17 Democrat
Cedric Richmond #18 Democrat

Re-electing Cedric Richmond is to the benefit of Southeastern Louisiana. He is currently a key member of the Congressional Black Caucus and on his way to a spot on the House Ways and Means Committee. Vote FOR Cedric Richmond, incumbent.

Orleans Parish Court Seats

Recommended Reading:
Candidates line up for Orleans Parish court seats” The Advocate
November 4 Contested Offices and Candidates” The League of Women’s Voters New Orleans

Judge Civil District Court, Division D

Nakisha Ervin-Knott #59 Democrat
Lloyd J. Medley, Jr. #60 Democrat

The challenger Nakisha Ervin-Knott won the endorsement of the majority of New Orleans lawyers in the New Orleans Bar Association Poll, was named a 2014 Leader in Law by New Orleans City Business Magazine, and is an important community leader with involvement in the Independent Women’s Organization, ProBono Project, and ASI Federal Credit Union. Not to mention that unseating those in power is great, especially when our incumbent Lloyd Medley, Jr. used all CAPS in his personal responses and can’t spell “plethora.” Vote FOR Nakisha Ervin-Knott.

Recommended Reading:
Judge Civil District Court, Division D” The League of Women Voters
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Lloyd Medley, Jr. to run for re-election” Nola.com

Judge Civil District Court, Division F

“Chris” Bruno #61 Democrat
Ruth Ramsey #62 Democrat

Unseat the incumbent. Vote FOR Ruth Ramsey. Why not.

Recommended Reading:
Judge Civil District Court, Division F” The League of Women Voters

Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 1

Bernadette D’Souza #63 Democrat
Taetrece Harrison #64 Democrat

For Family Court, you want a judge who understands that sometimes families have unmet needs, or are unconventionally structured. You don't want a judge who throws every kid into foster care, or forces parents/guardians into culturally insensitive & surveillance-oriented "programs." D'Souza has been pretty hip to mediation and other court interventions that streamline cases. Harrison is a single mom who used to be on government assistance, so presumably her experience would make her compassionate about the struggles of court-involved New Orleans families. D'Souza's done well; Harrison would probably do well too.

Recommended Reading
Orleans Parish Family Court race pits Bernadette D’Souza against Taetrece Harrison" Nola.com
Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 1” The League of Women Voters

Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 2 For Reg. and Unexp. Term

Janet Ahern #65 Democrat
Monique Barial #66 Democrat
Michelle Scott-Bennett #67 Democrat

Based on her interview with the Lens, it sounds like Monique Barial will do the most good in this spot.

Recommended Reading:
"Monique Barial would encourage mediation if elected domestic judge" Lens
Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 1” The League of Women Voters

Judge Criminal District Court, Section D

Graham Bosworth #73 Democrat
Frank A. Marullo, Jr. #76 Democrat
Marie Williams #77 Democrat

Bosworth - whose family has influence over the public health industry in the city - wants to streamline/internetize the court, which sounds good, except you never know what young upstarters will do to prove themselves in positions of power. Judge Marullo frequently lets accused criminals go free, because the NOPD and the District Attorney are too lazy and stupid to file cases correctly. We agree with this policy. When possible, use the masters' tools. Marullo was CARJACKED recently at gunpoint, and he basically laughed it off, saying “It’s just part of the scene.” This is the least blood-thirsty judge you can imagine. Does that mean he sometimes makes bad calls? Certainly. Also, he's been known to be shitty to victims of domestic violence. But until we have a justice system that isn't a for-profit engine of racism, and a jail that isn't a banana-republic version of Abu Ghraib, we need judges like Marullo. Vote FOR Frank Marullo.

Recommended Reading
Orleans Parish judge after carjacking: 'It's just part of the scene' Nola.com
Judge Criminal District Court, Section D” The League of Women Voters

Judge Criminal District Court, Section G

Paul N. Sens #78 Democrat
Byron C. Williams #79 Democrat

Just a cute story here (please read sarcasm): Paul Sens’ hired Gusman’s wife around the same time Sheriff Gusman hired Sens’ wife! And, I won’t even tell you about his brother. We couldn't really find anything magnetic about Williams, either. He's kinda a committed go-to-jail-for-weed-possession prosecutor type. Vote or not.

Recommended Reading
Judge, Criminal District Court G” League of Women Voters
Orleans Parish Judge - Criminal District Court, Section G: Meet the candidates” Nola.com

Judge Juvenile Court, Section E

Jacqueline Carroll-Gilds #84 Democrat
Ernest “Freddie” Charbonnet #85 Democrat
Desiree Cook-Calvin #86 Democrat
Yolanda King #88 Democrat
“Niki” Roberts #89 Democrat
Cynthia D. Samuel #90 Democrat

Cynthia Samuel lost to Yolanda King last year, but made an impression on one of our contributors during a debate in which she discussed the importance of not "chipping away at the right not to have cruel and unusual punishment.” Is there a candidate that is 1. less awkward, and 2. would address the racist, classist court system, rather than blame youth themselves and their parents and teachers? We wish. Otherwise, vote FOR Cynthia Samuel, though she's recently made some flip-floppy remarks about harsher punishments for first-time law-breakers. Cook-Calvin might be alright. Really, who knows about this crew - largely a mix of prosecutors and others who want to lock up our city's youth -?  Also, Yolanda King doesn't know what "domicile" means. It means "home," dear. "Home."

Recommended Reading
Meet the Candidates” Nola.com
"Judge Juvenile Court, Section E” League of Women Voters
Indicted Judge Yolanda King, accused of lying about her residency, lists three different addresses during qualifying” Nola.com

Amendments, State

Recommended Reading
Guide to the 2014 Constitutional Amendments, an Independent, Non-Partisan Review by Public Affairs Research Council, Louisiana

CA NO. 1 (Act 439 – HB 533) – Medical Assistance Trust Fund

Do you support an amendment to authorize the legislature to create the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund, for the payment of Medicaid reimbursement to the health care provider groups paying fees into the fund? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.14)

The Gambit editorial board supports this amendment, and suggests that it would protect the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund - which contains funding for nursing homes, group homes, and pharmacies - from executive branch plundering. The Advocacy Center's assessment of this amendment's consequences is different: The amendment will constrain the state healthcare budget, leave unprotected "most of the services that affect the 45,000 people with chronic and long-term disabilities who are on a waiting list to receive health and related services in their home rather than in institutions. If passed, CA #1 will leave the following important services vulnerable to additional budget cuts: Home and community based waiver services that assist seniors and people with disabilities to remain in their own homes; Individual and family support services for people with disabilities; Mental health services; Hospice; Services provided by Councils on Aging; Primary care; Early Intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities; and Employment supports for people with disabilities." The Advocacy Center is wise to highlight the relatively influential lobbies for nursing homes, group homes, and pharmacies that support this amendment. However, we are not certain if we have enough information to take a definitive stance on this amendment, which appears to be a double-sided coin. UNDECIDED, leaning AGAINST

CA NO. 2 (Act 438 – HB 532) – Hospital Stabilization Fund

Do you support an amendment to create the Hospital Stabilization Fund to stabilize and protect Medicaid reimbursements for health care services by depositing assessments paid by hospitals, as authorized by the legislature, into a fund to support Louisiana hospital reimbursement? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.13)

Most of what goes for the previous amendment holds true of this one. Scarily supercapitalist for-profit hospitals and their lobbyists are still less scary than the region’s dominant oil & gas & chemical-refinery death-industries or the Bosch-like world of the hospitality industry. The mega-hospital lobby is just trying to protect itself against Bobby Jindal. Wouldn’t you try and protect yourself against Bobby Jindal, if you could? *touches forehead of mega-hospital lobby* ...It’s afraid! ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKpIzlcV7QY )

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana's explanation of this proposal provides a fairly compelling argument against the amendment:"Creating constitutional protections for a certain class of health care providers – hospitals – will create problems for other programs without this special status. In particular, higher education and health care providers without this protection will be at greater risk for reductions because of the state’s limited discretionary spending authority. Constitutional provisions limiting the budgetary options of policymakers should be avoided. The financing system created by this amendment could be done without constitutional protection or an amendment. The same program could be created by statute, which would give the governor and Legislature more flexibility to tweak the law if necessary." In other words, this amendment may benefit hospitals - including those which treat the uninsured - but potentially at the expense of other healthcare spaces such as clinics, as well as institutions of higher education.

This amendment obviously does not do enough to improve the conditions of Louisiana's abysmal healthcare system, and may put education institutions at jeopardy. However, it is unclear whether the amendment will alleviate or deepen the vulnerability of social service resources that a "flexible budget" presents to executive branch pillaging. UNDECIDED.

CA NO. 3 (Act 871 – HB 488) – Tax Sale

Do you support an amendment allowing an authorized agent of a tax collector to assist in the tax sale process, including the sale of property for delinquent taxes and that the fee charged by the authorized agent be included within the costs that the collector can recover in the tax sale? (Amends Article VII, Section 25(A)(1) and (E))

This amendment seeks to allow local governments and tax collection departments to use outside contractors to collect back taxes and sell properties that have a tax backlog attached. We do not want more money going towards tax collector shakedowns of property owners, many of whom struggle to maintain their houses, let alone keep up with rising property tax rates. We agree with the Gambit's assessment here: "We think tax collectors should do their jobs themselves." Vote AGAINST this amendment.

CA NO. 4 (Act 873 – HB 628) – Investment of Public Funds

Do you support an amendment to authorize the investment of public funds to capitalize a state infrastructure bank and the loan, pledge, guarantee, or donation of public funds by a state infrastructure bank for eligible transportation projects? (Amends Article VII, Section 14(B))

Remember when Gov. Bobby Jindal refused federal transportation monies to applause of anti-Obama conservatives? It happened. The gist is that the state and non-profits are going to be the funders of local transportation projects such as road and infrastructure improvements, or even the fantasy of an Amtrak line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and this amendment opens a path to such funds. This would allow the State Treasurer to invest funds in a bank, if such a bank were created, and a vote for does not designate any tax revenue toward it yet. Vote FOR this amendment.

CA NO. 5 (Act 875 – HB 96) – Remove Mandatory Retirement Age of Judges

Do you support an amendment to remove the constitutional requirement that a judge retire upon attaining the age of seventy or, if his seventieth birthday occurs during his term, that he retire upon completion of that term? (Amends Article V, Section 23)

Do you ever have a depressing conversation with someone who just seems totally intractably ignorant, and the only way you can stop from feeling suicidally depressed by the interaction is telling yourself, “Whatever, they’ll probably be dead soon anyway” ? Come on, sure you do. This state tends to have very elderly people in positions of power. It’s not like the young people in power are any better, but at least they grew up in a time when interracial marriage wasn’t a felony. Our state’s relatively recent (and, it should be said, outrageously ageist) law against re-electing judges past 70 is anti-incumbent, so we’re for it. This amendment would change that law, so we recommend you vote AGAINST it.

CA NO. 6 (Act 870 – HB 111) – Fire and Police Protection Orleans Parish

Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of Orleans Parish to increase the annual millage rate levied for fire and police protection, to require that the revenue from the fire and police millages be used for fire and police protection service enhancements, and to require that any increase be approved by the voters of Orleans Parish? (Amends Article VI, Section 26(E))

This would give money to NOPD. If you want to give more money to NOPD, a violent and unaccountable institution so corrupt and unjust that even the federal government said so, you might be reading the wrong voter guide. The Fire Department’s funding is safe - - don’t be fooled. We strongly urge you to vote AGAINST this.

CA NO. 7 (Act 433 – SB 96) – Disabled Veterans

Do you support an amendment to provide that the homesteads of veterans with a service-connected disability rating of one hundred percent unemployability or totally disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and their surviving spouses, shall be exempt from ad valorem taxation for up to one hundred fifty thousand dollars, and that a parishwide vote shall not be required to implement this change in qualification for the exemption? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(K)(1) and (3))

This amendment will make it easier for disabled veterans to obtain and maintain their housing. We support any initiative to keep people housed without unnecessary bureaucratic surveillance. Vote FOR this amendment.

CA NO. 8 (Act 434 – SB 128) – Artificial Reef Development Fund

Do you support an amendment to establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund in the state treasury by depositing in to the fund monies that have been received by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in the form of grants, donations, or other assistance to provide funding for programs dedicated to managing an artificial reef system, the wild seafood certification program, and inshore fisheries habitat enhancement projects? (Adds Article VII, Section 10.11)

This fund was raided to balance the State’s budget, which is not okay. Funding dedicated to Southern Louisiana lands and wildlife needs to be protected from misuse of Executive power in the future. Vote FOR this amendment.

CA NO. 9 (Act 432 – SB 56) – Special Assessment Level – Disabled

Do you support an amendment to exclude owners who are permanently totally disabled from the requirement that they annually certify to the assessor the amount of their adjusted gross income in order to receive the Special Assessment Level on their residences for property tax purposes? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(iv))

This amendment will remove a layer of bureaucratic surveillance for the housing of permanently disabled persons under the age of 65. We believe an annual application in which people need to prove their disability is invasive, a waste of time, and an affront to the dignity of our differently abled neighbors. Vote FOR this amendment.

CA NO. 10 (Act 436 – HB 256) – Redemption Period, Abandoned Property

Do you support an amendment providing for an eighteen-month redemption period in any parish other than Orleans, for vacant property sold at tax sale which is blighted or abandoned? (Effective January 1, 2015) (Adds Article VII, Section 25(B)(3))

This would lower the “redemption period” for properties declared blighted. Eighteen months is already the law in Orleans Parish. We urge you to vote AGAINST this amendment, which has the potential to take more property out of the hands of the poor.

CA NO. 11 (Act 874 – HB 341) – Executive Branch Departments

Do you support an amendment to change the maximum number of departments in the executive branch of state government from twenty to twenty-one? (Amends Article IV, Section 1(B))

This is specifically up for vote to add a Department of Elderly Affairs - important, yes. Thing is, services to the elderly are already provided via appropriate and functional departments, and adding a department may not cost much now but bureaucracies tend to grow over time. Why increase bureaucracy? Vote AGAINST this amendment.

CA NO. 12 (Act 437 – HB 426) – Wildlife and Fisheries Commission

Do you support an amendment to require that two members of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission be electors from parishes located north of the parishes of Beauregard, Allen, Evangeline, Avoyelles, and Pointe Coupee? (Amends Article IX, Section 7(A))

This amendment will guarantee some more conservative Northern Louisiana parishes more seats on the state Wildlife & Fisheries Commission. (Apologies to any unicorn enlightened North Louisiana candidate scientists who may exist for this position). We think that Louisiana overall is too conservative on environmental matters as it is. We don't need Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioners who think climate change is a communist hoax. Also, North Louisiana doesn't have the oily Gulf lapping up on their city. Vote AGAINST this amendment.

CA NO. 13 (Act 872 – HB 489) – Lower Ninth Ward Property Sale

Do you support an amendment to authorize the governing authority of the city of New Orleans to sell at a price fixed by the legislature property located in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city of New Orleans? (Amends Article VII, Section (14)(B))

Since NORA (the state agency, not the person) is so dysfunctional it can’t sell off “abandoned” parcels of the Lower 9th Ward, we get a state amendment taking that authority from NORA. If this passes, the city will auction off lots at a low, low price set by the State Legislator - - maybe a dollar a lot! Wowee! Maybe not! Sure, the New Orleans Redevelopment Agency is a spider’s nest of bureaucratic do-nothings, but we’re suspicious of this plan’s outcome. We noncommitally suggest you vote AGAINST this amendment because hey, it actually could be worse.

CA NO. 14 (Act 435 – HB 131) – Tax Rebates, Incentives, Abatements

Do you support an amendment to provide that legislation relative to tax rebates, tax incentives, and tax abatements may not be introduced or considered by the legislature in a regular session held in an even-numbered year? (Amends Article III, Section 2(A)(3)(b) and (4)(b)(introductory paragraph))

Currently the split session system in which legislators can convene on fiscal matters in one year and general matters in another is being stymied by the appearance of these fiscal issues in general sessions. In support of greater accountability of legislators and clarity of process, vote FOR this amendment. On a sidebar, we encourage our legislative branch to hold general sessions only on even-numbered years when the moon is nigh, the crows are at rest, and the wind comes from the east. Whyyyyy are we spending time on this

Amendments, Municipal

PW Law Enf. Dist. – 2.9 Mills – Sheriff – 10 Yrs.

Shall the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana (the “District”), levy a special tax of not exceeding 2.9 mills on all property subject to taxation in the District (an estimated $9,073,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of 10 years, beginning with the year 2015 and ending with the year 2024, with said millage levied each year to be reduced by the millage rate levied that year for the District’s currently outstanding General Obligation Bonds, for the purpose of providing additional funding for the District and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, including the operation, maintenance and upkeep of jails and related facilities?

This mill is intended to pay for new jail construction, and pump money into jail operations and maintenance. Proponents claim that it will help Sheriff Gusman comply with the federal consent decree regarding the decrepit conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. Given Sheriff Gusman's stubborn recalcitrance to adhere to the consent decree, we do not believe this millage will be the tipping point for his compliance. More broadly, we do not want to spend more money on jails in this city, especially when so many public resources are in dire need of funding. Vote AGAINST.

New Orleans City Charter Amendment, Inauguration DatePW HRC Amendment Sec. 3 – CC – Sec. 3-102 & 4-201

Shall City Charter Sections 3-102 and 4-201 be amended, effective June 1, 2018, to read as follows: Section 3-102. Number and Terms of Councilmembers. The Council shall consist of seven members, of whom five shall be elected from districts, one from the City at-Large as Councilmember-at-Large, Division “1” and one from the City at-Large as Councilmember-at-Large, Division “2”, each to be voted on as separate offices. The terms of councilmembers shall be four years beginning the second Monday in January next following their election except that a councilmember elected to fill a vacancy shall serve only for the remainder of the unexpired term. The two Councilmember-at-Large offices shall not be considered to be new or different offices for purposes of Section 3-105(3) herein. Section 4-201. Election and Term. The electors of the City shall elect a Mayor at an election to be held in accordance with the election laws of the State. The Mayor shall take office on the second Monday in January and every four years thereafter following election. A person who has served as Mayor for more than one and one-half terms in two consecutive terms shall not be eligible for election as Mayor for the succeeding term?

This amendment would re-jigger the date at which the newly elected take power. In line with our distrust of the New Orleans government, we urge you to vote AGAINST this amendment. Mostly because we don't want underhanded lame-duck shit, and we certainly don't want underhanded new-duck shit.

New Orleans City Charter Amendment, ContractingPW HRC Amendment Sec. 6 – CC – Sec. 6-308(1) & 6-308(5)(b)

Shall Sections 6-308(1) and 6-308(5)(b) of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans relative to written contracts to which the City is a party beamended, effective January 1, 2015: (1) to require that the executive branch competitive selection process for professional services contracts involve a selection committee, composed of at least three (3) individuals from local government except the Mayor, possessing relevant subject matter expertise, to review and evaluate proposals and make selections in meetings noticed and open to the public, and that the committee’s records shall be public; (2) to allow the Mayor to authorize, by executive order, exceptions to such competitive selection process resulting from emergencies that pose a threat to public health, safety, and welfare, as authorized by law; (3) to require that the City establish and maintain a program to encourage disadvantaged business enterprises to participate in City contracts; and (4) to allow, with the Mayor’s authorization, the Chief Administrative Officer instead of the Director of Finance to sign such contracts on the City’s behalf?

There’s way too much executive power in these contracting rules (less than in previous rules). Worse, future administrations could still do away with the selection committees. Yeah, we want to support "disadvantaged businesses," but this seems like a sneaky maneuver to keep power hierarchies exactly how they are. Vote AGAINST this amendment.

Recommended Reading:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Badass people I know [and what they're up to]: Gaby Kappes

Professor Kappes
This week in Badass People I Know [And What They’re Up To]: Gabrielle Anastasia-Forrester Kappes!

Gaby and I have been friends since the sixth grade, when we met on the playground at school in New York. In our adult lives, we’ve kept in touch through postcards and other regular reminders of mutual support and admiration. We have the kind of sacred friendship that is nurturing and timeless, entirely devoid of judgment or drama. As Gaby says, “We can call each other up at whatever time of night and talk about our Pap smear results.”

Gaby is currently a doctoral candidate in English at the City University of New York, and teaches literature at Lehman College. She’s an accomplished poet and long-distance runner, and one of the most serious thinkers I’ve ever met. She’s also a total sassbag, which is why we get along.

On being a grownup:

Shtetl Chic: How’s your new apartment?

Gaby: Everyone who comes here is like, “This is an adult apartment.”

Shtetl Chic: It is grownup. You have curtains and things that match.

Gaby: Yeah, kind of. So, you have interview questions?

Shtetl Chic: Have you always been a cat lady?

Gaby: Ha! There was that article in the Times - Did you see that a couple weeks ago? - “Oh, it’s okay to be called a cat lady these days.” Like there’s not a stigma against it.

Shtetl Chic: Was there ever a stigma?

Gaby: Right, exactly. Like, thank you, New York Times, for validating my lifestyle.

On nature, the urban experience, and learning to teach:

Gaby: I love living across from [Van Cortlandt Park] and seeing this wide expanse of the Fair Grounds, the trees surrounding it, Cemetery Hill…but I miss seeing the Hudson River every day.

Bodies of moving water just have this very calming effect and are also restorative. You’re able to clean out negative energies. If you’re hiking in the woods and you sit at the base of a tree, it’s a grounding energy force to be able to connect with the energy of the tree. It’s a very different feeling when you’re next to a pond or a lake, or when you’re on rocks or big boulders, which have a different energy too. You feel some kind of reverberation going on there.

The city is a very draining place for me, even just walking, taking the subway. Maybe it’s because I can’t tune out. On the train, everyone has their headphones in, or is reading, or whatever. Everyone is constantly putting up these shields to tune out what’s going on around them. I want to be receptive to what’s going on around me, and take it all in, and engage with it, even just observationally.
"The Quarry" by Gabrielle Kappes

Shtetl Chic: Also when you go into the city these days, you’re going to work or you’re going to school, which enriches you, but it pulls from you at the same time. It’s challenging. You go to school near Grand Central -

Gaby: It’s tourist central.

Shtetl Chic: - which is a huge transit hub in Manhattan. Then you have to enter this space that’s this quiet institute of higher education, and sit around a table and talk about the meaning of texts. Just that disparity between the spaces…

Gaby: Yeah, it’s really interesting. Teaching at Lehman College never felt like something I could just easily walk into.The way I got over that was by trying to be myself and not put on an act, which is impossible because when I enter that institution, I’m in a role and my students are in a role. It’s best to not feel like it’s a static dynamic where I’m the teacher and they’re the students, but to also think that I’m not a knowledge-holder. I don’t hold some sort of information that needs to be disseminated to them, and that they need to be receptive to.

I tell my students that it’s a learning process as much for me as it is for them, and it’s important to get your own information on your own terms. That’s a hard thing for me to even say to them, because it seems to overturn the whole dynamic of what this institution is: that you’re coming to a classroom to learn information that I’ve designed, on a syllabus that I’ve chosen.

If they take anything away from that class, I hope that they’re receptive to getting information in a way that’s important to themselves. They’re the ones deciding what they want to learn in their lives.

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, you can look at schoolwork like a mandated thing, or you can look at it like, “How can this inform my fullness as a human being?”

Gaby: I’m teaching English Lit this semester. When we were reading “Frankenstein,” I showed them a YouTube clip of Judith Butler talking about gender performance. We talked about Frankenstein’s creature - his monster - and discussed, “Is he performing his gender? Is he performing his disability? Is society constructing that?” We took it forward to the late Victorian era with “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and thought about performing disability, and whether society is constructing your physicality.

Shtetl Chic: Wow, that’s awesome!

Gaby: So we got to the point where I was like, “Why are we reading this?” And students were like, “Well, we have to.” And I’m like, “Haha…um…thank you. But why do we read literature? Why is this important as an art form in general?” It has to do with engaging with “the now.” It has to do with how to go forward with what’s been said or done politically and aesthetically in the past.

Shtetl Chic: When you’re saying that, I’m thinking about the people I work with who have documented, official diagnoses of disabilities, and who have to constantly answer to that and all the dynamics that result from that. They have to justify it and also fight against it in some spaces. Maybe these people have never read Victorian literature, but they certainly attach to that concept.

Gaby: Right. Also, there’s a burgeoning field of disability studies too, looking at literary texts and academic criticism. It’s very much engaged in the legalities of what rights do unable-bodied - or however you term them - people have, what communities are formed among them… Usually they don’t have a community, or their community is isolated and stigmatized. It’s not integrated into the everyday.

Gaby taught an urban contemporary writers course last fall in which she introduced texts from Amiri Baraka, Charles Olsen, and Sun Ra, among other unconventional thinkers:

Gaby: I was really trying to emphasize, “Let’s break out of what the canon is, and let’s read underrepresented, underexposed, marginalized writers.” And not only that, but, “Let’s go out and find a writer.”

We studied graffiti as a form of written word, art in expression. Students were going to bookstands on the streets where they lived and coming back: “Oh, here’s someone who grew up in East Harlem and wrote poetry about where he lived, and published it with a small press,” and we read that poetry. I called it the Lost and Found Project. That was really cool to try something out that’s very different and not traditional, versus assigning texts on a syllabus.

I didn’t know what we’d read; people would just bring things in and we’d read them. Then they wrote one-act plays, which were phenomenal, and we performed them. It was a really exciting class. Now with teaching the English lit class - that’s a survey course of 1,000 years - I did have to go by the books a bit there, but that’s been really fun too.

Shtetl Chic: That’s cool you can maintain your teaching philosophy for different subjects.

Gaby: I taught composition for two-and-a-half years at Lehman. That was a struggle on my end because many of these students are English as a Second Language students, and English is the language of the colonizer with all those power structures built into it. I say to them on Day One that there is no standard that I’m trying to hold everyone to, that this class is about everyone’s own personal journey through writing. Through constant revision, it’s important to find your own voice and use it as a process of self-discovery.

Otherwise people are always being told how we should think. Like the [NYC-sponsored subway art project] Poetry in Motion thing is about suppressing creativity. There’s this poem - I forget who it’s by; I think it’s on the 1 train - that’s “Be satisfied with your cup of coffee and your memory of a time when things were simpler.”

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, that is pretty much a deadening thing.

Gaby: Right, like they’re making sure there’s not going to be a riot that’s going to break out on the train.

I was at the Whitney Biennial, where they had guided tours through the art. It just seemed that because the art is obviously conceptual and difficult to describe, you have to have that immediate experience with it. A lot of it is based on your physical interaction with the space where the art is.

There’s something to be said for valuing your own self-knowledge. It’s a very personal thing, but there’s guided tours through this, which to me didn’t seem to fit. It seemed so counter to what this art was trying to promote, breaking free from certain constraints of thought patterns.

For the past few years, Gaby has been working on archival research related to the writer Kathy Acker, who is described by critics as a forerunner of the punk movement. Gaby's work will be published next year through the City University of New York's Center for the Humanities. 

Gaby: Kathy Acker was influenced by the Black Mountain poetry school and the Fluxus Network. She has a whole series of journals in the later years in which she’s reflecting on her writing process. She’s even writing about the British Romantic poets.

I got started on this research as part of a seminar project I was doing. I went to the New York Public Library Berg archives and Duke University, seeing what was there in her papers. I found these poems that she called “exercises,” which to my knowledge were never published.

I thought this was interesting because she’s not really known as being a poet. One of them was homage to Leroi Jones - Amiri Baraka - and that was mindblowing. Actually, when I was in Gloucester I asked Amiri about that. I was like, “So, Kathy Acker wrote an homage to you.” And he was like, “No shit, really?” 

Shtetl Chic: Haha you did? 

Gaby: Of course I did. And as for the fact that her poems were never published: What does it mean when the public sphere isn’t a viable vehicle for your political and aesthetic ideas? It speaks a lot to women writing in the zone of the unpublished. 

Shtetl Chic: What about your poems?

Gaby: I returned to writing poetry this past summer. I needed to do that in order to sustain the more critical writing I’ve been doing. I felt like I needed another mode to express myself creatively.

Postcards from Gaby through the years
Working in English programs at this level, people feel pigeonholed to a field or time period because on the job market, you’re going to promote yourself as an expert in one. That’s how the jobs are advertised: “We need a Victorianist.”

Shtetl Chic: To round out our collection of scholars.

Gaby: I’ve been thinking of poetry in terms of reconstructing memory and what that means…How your memory is like a cone in your mind, and what’s filtered down to you, and what’s inaccessible, and how you go back and sift through the past that you’re trying to make sense of, as it’s informing your future…

Shtetl Chic: That’s powerful stuff. Now, with new media, a lot of it is, “Here’s my ego on a page, on a webpage.” There’s very little thought, there’s very little editing, there’s very little collaboration. A lot of it is very atomized. Sitting at your computer and putting shit out there. Certainly it’s creative production, but it’s an interesting sociological concept that we’re so isolated and all we want is to seek community, but we’re doing it through these very isolated structures.

Gaby: I do think that the “social media poet” is an important thing that’s happening right now. I wrote a poem this past winter about “Missed Connections” because CraigsList is a fascinating platform. The world of reality that we’re passing through is so isolating, and you’re removing yourself once again to try to reach out to someone. I wrote a poem inhabiting a speaker who had seen someone and felt this incredible sense of isolation and loss.

Shtetl Chic: I remember one time I was dating F., and someone wrote a Missed Connection about him. He showed it to me, and I was furious, not because someone wrote that - because part of it was flattering, like, “Oh, this perfect stranger thought my partner was adorable” - but I was furious because he was looking at them. And I’m like, “You’re missing the connection with me, and I’m right in front of you!”

Gaby: Well that guy was no good. And what the posts are saying is, “There’s something about this person I just saw...I’m going to put it out there: “Did you see me too? Did you notice me too?” Every day, you come back to check to see if anyone noticed you too. There’s something very void. It’s like the want for human interaction and connection, but it’s almost doomed from the start.

Shtetl Chic: Which is maybe tragically romantic in its own way. Like, “I had this extremely fleeting experience with this person, and half of it is the potential of what it could have been,” which is not negative. There’s a certain element of bravery that goes into that, but it’s a different bravery than saying to someone on the street, “Hey, I find your presence very moving. I’d like to talk more.”

Gaby: That’s a good line.

Shtetl Chic: You can use it.

Gaby: I just recently learned the line “Have we met before?” I didn’t know that was a pickup line until the other day. I thought I had a doppelganger because I had heard it, like, once every two weeks for the past year. 

Shtetl Chic: No one’s ever said that to me. 

Gaby: Really?

Shtetl Chic: Well, not recently.

Gaby: I feel like New Orleans has their game a bit more together than the creepers here in New York.

Shtetl Chic: Well, it’s a smaller city, so the chances of you actually knowing someone are greater.

On friendship: 

Gaby: It’s really cool that even though we don’t live near each other anymore, when we do see each other, I know that it’s going to be a very nurturing and connecting experience. It’s something I always look forward to, no matter what. I really mean that. I’m always so proud and supportive of what you do.

Shtetl Chic: I’m honored that you agreed to be interviewed. You and I both get messages from different realms and different people that what we do is not important, and that’s a lie. Women often are dismissed - “You’re chatting, you’re gossiping” - but those are moments of real connection. We should lift each other up.

Gaby: When I tell people about you, I’m like, “Oh, Arielle, she’s the responsible one in our relationship.”

Shtetl Chic: I feel totally the opposite. I always think it’s hilarious when you ask me for relationship advice, because what the fuck do I know.

Gaby: Well, yeah.


Shtetl Chic: Okay.

Cheer for Gaby in the Yonkers marathon this fall, and check out more of her poetry on “Space for Breath,” a collaborative healing project pioneered by our badass high school friend Tabitha Silver.

Thank you, Gaby, for who you are and all of what you do!

Interview has been condensed and edited.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Badass people I know [and what they're up to]: Abigail D.

Not too shabby
Dear Readers, welcome to a NEW FEATURE showcasing Badass People I Know [And What They're Up To]!

Now, I haven't been great at following through on most of my NEW FEATURES, but this one is gonna be just grand.

I was telling Abigail D., the first interviewee on this segment, that I was inspired to do a project like this because I often find myself trying to break down other people's negative self-talk, and encourage them to elevate themselves instead.

This happens a lot with women, because we are pressured to behave with humility, modesty, and subservience. For example:

Me: "Hey, Female Friend, you're great at guitar!"
Female Friend: "Nah, I'm alright."
Female Friend: [nervously] "I am great at guitar...?"

So I thought I'd interview some interesting people I know, in an effort to give them praise for who they are, and also show other people that it's cool to be proud of whatcha do!

Without further ado, here's some wisdom from my friend Abigail.

Abigail and I met in college during a study-abroad semester in Cuba. I asked Abigail to tell me about a memory she has of our friendship, and I shared one with her too:

Shtetl Chic: This one time when I was visiting you in DC, there was a bunch of us and we were trying to get up on your roof to see the National Cathedral. We went up there and we were getting our little party on. I think there were four or five of us, and it was really beautiful because it was night and the Cathedral was all lit up. And the way you got up there was you had to climb this wrought iron security door and get up on the roof, and the door is kind of swinging. And I'm a little scared of heights  - and by a little, I mean I'm scared of heights -

Abigail: Oh my G-d, you starting freaking! Wait! Wait!

Shtetl Chic: So we're up there, and then we have to get down. And I was like, "Oh my G-d, I can't get down!" Like, I can't do it. I'm gonna be stuck up here forever; they're gonna have to call the fire department. And everyone who's climbed down is like, "Come on, Ari! Let's go!" And I'm in between you and Phil - remember Phil? - And I'm on the door, holding onto the gutter, like I can't get down.

I'm distraught. I'm hyperventilating. I'm losing my grip. Phil is grabbing my leg, you're on the top like, "Ari, you can do it! Just let go with your left hand! Don't worry - you can do it! We do it all the time!" and I finally did.

And I really appreciate that you did not make fun of me! You were just like, "Let's just get you down from here." And thank you for that, because I was really embarrassed after that, but in the moment I was really scared.

Abigail: Well, I knew that you could do it, and you did a great job.

Shtetl Chic: You totally helped me.

Abigail: Well, you did a great job and it was such a fun time. Ummm, I was trying to think of a memory from Cuba. I remember I was really glad when you got there because there were definitely no radical people with intersectional anti-capitalist analysis of the wackness of the world, which really surprised me because I was thinking, "Who's the kind of people who want to go to Cuba?" and there was no one there. So I was really relieved when you came. I was like, "I don't care that she's a socialist. At least she's a feminist and she gets it." And I was so glad that you were there.

Shtetl Chic: And I remember meeting you. You were telling us about some patriarchal bullshit that had interrupted the flow of your day, and everyone was like, "Come on, Abby, you know that stuff happens here," and I was like, "No, that is not acceptable!" And that's when we became friends.

Abigail: Word. 

On queer farming, "queer issues," and the power of collective organizing:

Shtetl Chic: Have you listened to any music today? I listened to a song to get in the mood to interview you.

Abigail: I haven't listened to any music today.

Shtetl Chic: Okay, well I'll tell you about my song, because it's really good. It's called "Limp Wrist and a Steady Hand" by My Gay Banjo.

Abigail: What do they talk about?
Abby & me

Shtetl Chic: They talk about how cool it is to be gay, pretty much.

Abigail: It is cool to be gay. It's like a club that we are lucky to be part of.

Shtetl Chic: I agree. So I actually went to their concert. They came to New Orleans like two months ago. And they had screened this movie about queer farmers before they played, which I thought was really interesting. I was just watching it, thinking, What's so queer about farming? And I thought, Oh, it's queer because not a lot of people farm, and our food sources - we're not connected to them - so it is a queer idea to get back to that. Like unusual, and out of the ordinary, so of course queer people would do that.

Abigail: And queer people are oftentimes forced to fend for themselves and take care of themselves and ensure their own sustainability and livelihood, and I feel like growing your own food is one way of doing that.

Shtetl Chic: When I think about how queer people are asked to justify their presence in spaces or in movements - to have to point that out, and insert queer people in that dialogue, to show that we also are thoughtful residents of the communities that we live in - that I see as the main struggle, you know, being at once apart and part of.

Abigail: That reminds me of a story I read about how in California they're thinking of building a prison just for trans people. Some people are like, "Oh yeah, that's great because they won't face harassment and violence in prison."

But of course the problem is that trans people - especially trans people of color - are criminalized just for being who they are. People and police see them as criminals, drug dealers, as sex workers. For poor people of color, the thinking is, "You really have to keep an eye on them; they're bound to do something wrong." That's what fills prisons up with queer people and trans people in the first place.

Building a prison just for trans people is not something we want to do, because we don't want people to be in prison in the first place. It's complicated to explain to people who don't already understand, because those people aren't going to be targeted from Day Zero as people who are going to have to end up in jail, like a lot of trans and queer people are.

And as for asking queer people to explain all that, and have to answer to "the queer experience," or "the trans experience," it's forcing people to justify their existence, which is totally wack. But we live in a world created for straight white dudes, and anyone who's not that, basically has to justify it, which is wack. Wack!

Shtetl Chic: So you're fighting the wackitude.

Abigail: Trying!

Shtetl Chic: Yeah, it's not a one-person struggle, so it's good you have people around you who are moving with you on that.

Abigail:  Yeah, totally! When I think about that, I think about all the projects I wouldn't have energy to do if I didn't do them with others. I have a wonderful partner, and friends, and a cool communal house. I feel really fortunate to have the people around me that I do.

In DC, I really have created a specific community of people who are really awesome and really wonderful. I can work on these cool projects with all kinds of different people, and we can bring our unique qualities to the work that we do. I am fortunate.

Abigail has been a member of Washington, DC's Latino Media Collective for the past seven years. She produces an audio-blog called La Palabra, in which she interviews people about issues that affect their communities.

Abigail: Radio and audio stories are really powerful for people. They can say whatever they believe. When you do video, people are totally worried about how they look, and that can affect the ways their interviews come out.

The purpose of La Palabra is to highlight and give a voice to stories of what's going on for DC residents. The news out of DC is a lot of political bullshit, but that is so far removed from the everyday lives of DC residents. A lot of the government doesn't listen to these people's stories anyway. It's really hard for a regular DC resident.

I try to highlight queer and transgender issues for the show. Queer and trans people are an important part of the fabric of DC. There are a lot of awesome queer people just doing what they do and being who they are. We try to highlight issues that are going on, and also important organizing that's going on in the trans community, like with Casa Ruby.

Abigail edits a fashion and style blog called Diva City, which showcases people in DC discussing their outfits and personal politics:

Abigail: I love Diva City, and I think it's important, but sometimes it really bums me out that any Diva City post I do will get a million more views than any hard-hitting journalism or crucial coverage of local issues that nobody else is covering. It shows that people are less interested in the sad stuff, which is a bummer, but a total reality.

Me & Abby in New Orleans (2011)
I do think that a fashion and style blog - having people talk about their own personal style experience with a queer perspective, highlighting people of color, highlighting people who are from DC and have DC style - is an important project because people love fashion. It's a great way to connect with people, and show your self-expression. Your own cultural background comes into your style.

A style blog can seem superficial, but you can get deep with people who have a really good analysis of their own personal style, of the fashion industry, of body-positivity, and dressing in ways that make you feel good.

Shtetl Chic: You're using that platform of your website to elevate people who are just people, and look like what they look like, and who are really snazzy dressers, and want to talk about how they picked out their outfit, and what's going on for them that day. I feel like that's actually really hard-hitting journalism in and of itself.

Abigail: It is cool because people do seem to find it pretty empowering. People love being a diva and working it for the camera. They really do open up. Especially people who put care into the way they look, and enjoy that, and view it as a form of self-expression. I think everyone has it in them to work it for the camera.

If you're in DC, check out Abigail's musical projects: the queer/trans punkrock band Gay Lover; the collaboratively DJ'd queer Latin dance party "Frikitona"; and the (currently on sabbatical) hip-hop duo Queer Pressure.

Thank you, Abigail, for who you are and all of what you do!

Interview has been condensed and edited.