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Labor Day Is for the Workers (the 99%)

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Labor-day-1-AT-8-27“Labor Creates All Wealth”

“Our labor movement has no system to crush. It has nothing to overturn. It purposes to build up, to develop, to rejuvenate humanity.

“It stands for the right. It is the greatest protestant against wrong. It is the defender of the weak.

“Its members make the sacrifices and bear the brunt of battle to obtain more equitable and humane conditions in the everyday lives of all the people.”

Samuel Gompers, president, American Federation of Labor, “The Significance of Labor Day,” in The New York Times, Sept. 4, 1910

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We are delighted to see that, yes, there actually are still parades on Labor Day. New York City’s will be Saturday, Sept. 6. New Orleans, on the other hand, is in the throes of Southern Decadence—not quite the same, but, still, a celebration.

A special day to celebrate the worker was first proposed in 1882, and was made a national holiday by Congress in 1894. The first Monday of September was chosen as an appropriate midway point between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving; it would include elements of each holiday: patriotism and gratitude.

The first labor day celebration was proposed by Peter J. McGuire, a leading official of the American Federation of Labor and founder of the carpenters’ union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. (Credit for the idea has also been given to another Maguire, one Matthew Maguire of the Knights of Labor.) In any case, a celebration of labor, including a picnic and speeches and a big parade, was organized for September 5, 1882. It was a great success, with some 10,000 workers parading on Broadway past City Hall and Union Square, carrying signs reading “Labor Creates All Wealth” and “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation.” (The eight-hour workday was not yet legally protected—and in too many cases it still isn’t.)

1st Labor Day parade NYC 1882

Oregon declared the first statewide holiday for Labor Day in 1887, followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Thirty-two states had established the holiday by the time President Grover Cleveland signed a bill on June 28, 1894, making Labor Day a national holiday. Cleveland, a Democrat but no friend of labor, had just called out thousands of federal troops to suppress the turbulent Pullman railcar workers’ strike (1894) near Chicago that had paralyzed the nation’s rail system. [See “Behind the Pullman Strike” in Further Reading below.] Cleveland’s signature, however, did not placate labor, and he was not nominated for reelection in 1896 (the Democratic candidate would be William Jennings Bryan).

How Labor Unions Strengthened America

With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men. —Clarence Darrow

In the national bestseller Who Stole the American Dream? (2013), Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith explains what labor unions did for the nation’s middle class before a systematic dismantling of the New Deal and Great Society safety net shredded Middle America:

. . . the anchor of middle class-power during the long postwar period and its most consistent and effective advocate was the American labor movement. Union power played a central role in creating the world’s largest middle class by pushing Corporate America to share the economic gains from rising industrial productivity and efficiency with average Americans. Shared labor-management power delivered shared prosperity.

Organized labor’s impact extended far beyond bread-and-butter gains for its own members. The trade union movement fought for and won the eight-hour day, the five-day week, child labor laws, and labor safety laws. Not only did unions bargain with America’s biggest corporations for a better middle-class standard of living, but the AFL-CIO, the labor federation, vigorously supported consumer activists, environmentalists, and the drive to strengthen regulatory agencies. It backed political candidates—mostly Democrats, but some moderate and liberal Republicans, too—who voted in Congress for a more level economic playing field. What’s more, by establishing a social contract and economic benchmarks that many non-union employers felt compelled to match, labor’s tough bargaining with big business gained higher pay levels and better benefits for non-union workers as well as union members.

WPAWith strong governmental support during the New Deal period, labor had become a force to be reckoned with during the era of middle-class prosperity. Trade union strength had tripled in size, reaching 35 percent of the private sector workforce by the mid-1950s. By the late 1970s, unionization of public as well as private sector employees had tapered off to 27 percent of the total workforce. But that was still an army of twenty-one million, by far the largest organized body of middle-class Americans. Every big industry—autos, steel, construction, food, trucking, textiles, garment making—had big, muscular unions pressing for a better standard of living for average Americans. (p. 38)

Legislative limitations and rollbacks of union power, beginning with the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), shifted into higher gear during the Carter administration (1977–81)—more by Congress than by Jimmy Carter—and into overdrive under Ronald Reagan (1981–89), and continue in the Obama years through the blunt-instrument tactics of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other Republican governors. Still, in 2011 the median yearly earnings of union members were $47,684, and of non-union members, $37,284.

“In the past 20 years,” reports Mother Jones, “the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it’s also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent. . . . Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.” (“Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil,” Mother Jones, July/August 2011.)

“$15 and a Union”

On a more positive note, a movement to raise the minimum wage, stymied by a paralyzed U.S. Congress, has sparked a push for wage hikes in cities and states around the nation. Seattle recently approved a $15 per hour minimum wage, and San Francisco and Chicago are considering a similar raise.

The CEOs of McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, each earn more than $10 million a year—more than twice as much in a day as many of their employees earn in a year. 

FASTFOOD-master675Fast-food workers, who are often paid from about $7.35 to $8 or $9 per hour—work part-time, irregular hours, often with no benefits—have been campaigning in recent years for a $15 per hour minimum wage. One worker, a single mother in Charleston who earns $7.35 an hour after ten years as a McDonald’s cashier, told a New York Times reporter, “If we win $15, that would change my life. I get paid so little money that it’s hard to make ends meet, and I’ve had to move back in with my mother.” Mother Jones notes that one year’s earnings at the minimum wage amounts to only $15,080, while the income required for a single worker to have real economic security would be $30,000 per year.

In November 2012 in New York, 200 workers went on a one-day strike at 60 fast-food restaurants, and in May this year, restaurant workers walked off the job in 150 cities around the U.S. The movement’s motto has become “$15 and a union.” In July, 1,200 fast-food employees, with backing from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), gathered near Chicago for a two-day convention about raising low-wage workers’ pay and fighting income inequality. One of the speakers, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, told the audience:

“You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality. When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”

The New York Times explains that SEIU has been trying to unionize the fast food workers, and has “brought several cases before the National Labor Relations Board, asking its general counsel to declare McDonald’s a joint employer of the restaurants run by its franchisees. If the labor board agrees, that would open the door for the S.E.I.U. to try to unionize not just three or five McDonald’s at a time, but dozens and perhaps hundreds.”

In this midterm congressional election year we want to see Democrats standing with the low-wage workers. And, even more, we want to see them standing with the workers after the election.

“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned—this is the sum of good government.” —Thomas Jefferson

“Splendid as has been the progress in organization and federation within the recent past, yet there is much to do to convince the yet unorganized workers that their duty to themselves, their wives and children, their fellow-workers, their fellow-men is to organize and help in the great cause. We must win or regain the confidence of the indifferent, negligent, or ignorant non-unionists, to impress on his mind that he who will not stand with his brother for the right is equally responsible with the wrongdoer for any wrong done.” Samuel Gompers, “The Significance of Labor Day”

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Further Reading about Labor Day and the American Worker

History of Labor Day  (U.S. Department of Labor)

The Origins and Traditions of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

The Meaning of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

Behind the Pullman Strike of 1894: The True Story of How One Man Shut Down American Commerce to Avoid Paying His Workers a Fair Wage  (Think Progress)

“Living Wage” Effort Eclipsed By Minimum-Pay Battles  (NPR)

Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil  (Mother Jones, July/August 2011)

The Truth About the 40-Hour Workweek: It’s Actually 47 Hours Long  (Think Progress)

Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class  (2010)

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001)

Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker  (2009)

Simon Head, The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age  (2005)

George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America  (2013)

David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004)

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class (LNW, 10/6/11)

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OccupyChicago

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First Labor Day 1882 image from U.S. Department of Labor website; worker with Raise Up for $15 button by Nathan Weber for The New York Times. Bottom flag / 99% image from Occupy Chicago, 2011. • Thanks to Stephen in NYC for suggesting the quotations by Clarence Darrow and Thomas Jefferson.

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Pete Seeger, 1919–2014: A Life of “Defiant Optimism”

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

SUB-SEEGER-OBIT-superJumbo

“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. . . . there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.”Pete Seeger, on Democracy Now

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Let Us Now Praise Him and Thank Him

There is so much to admire about Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, that one hardly knows where to begin. “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—there are so many great songs he wrote, or refreshed and arranged for popular use, always inviting the audience to sing along, that it is difficult, and not at all cheering, to imagine what a different and poorer world this would have been without Pete Seeger and his music (the two are indistinguishable). Think of all the protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, and celebrations those songs and others have accompanied.

We admire Pete Seeger for his activism, generosity, his indomitable optimism, his ever-open mind, and sheer energy. For many of us, he was an old man (and a very accomplished, legendary one) for so many years that we could be forgiven for asking, upon hearing of his death, Oh, was he still alive?

ToshiSeege-obit-popupHe was indeed, and he performed as recently as 2009 at Barack Obama’s first inaugural celebrations, singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo below), and at an Occupy Wall Street concert in 2011 when he was a young man of 92. His wife, Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. (The picture at right shows the Seegers in 1992.)

Pete Seeger knew everyone and played with everyone, from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to Paul Robeson, and Bob Dylan, to Emmylou Harris and David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1930s he collected folk songs with Alan Lomax and traveled and sang with Woody Guthrie. He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 50s (including for Eleanor Roosevelt and others at a racially integrated party at a CIO hall in Washington in 1944), and sang for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1950s and 60s, and for environmental causes from the 1970s to the 2010s. He sang with the Almanac Singers (including Woody Guthrie) in the 1940s and the Weavers in the 50s. In the late 1950s he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and narrowly avoided being sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” —Pete Seeger, testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on Aug. 18, 1955

He was picketed by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, which boosted ticket sales, and for many years he was blacklisted from performing on TV because in the 1930s he had been a member of the Young Communist League. He did, however, eventually manage to perform his antiwar song “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, after it was initially censored by CBS. As the New York Times obituary explains:

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

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Dave Van Ronk, the Brooklyn-born folk and blues singer on whom the Coen brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis is (loosely) based, wrote of his admiration for Seeger in the late 1950s:

I think that the man is really great, in almost every sense of the word. . . . Artists of Seeger’s genre are hard to come by in this day and age. He is, in my opinion, taste and honesty personified, and a Seeger concert is a lesson which no singer of folksongs can afford to miss. When he speaks on the stage, his voice rarely rises above a conversational level, and yet he is heard. There is no phony upstaging at all. As a matter of fact, “stage presence” of the Broadway variety is entirely absent. Seeger does not act; he is.

I think that this is the key to his entire greatness. The man has no need to act in order to establish contact with his audience. He genuinely respects the people who are listening to him and refuses to insult their sensibilities with insincere theatrics. . . .

He is not “preserving” folklore but living it, and so are we, and he knows it. He neither sings up nor down to his material but with it. And there is no dichotomy between the performer and the content of his songs. . . . When he sings, all of him is involved. Which is another lesson that many singers of folksongs could profit by.

—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (pp. 67–68)

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For more about Pete Seeger’s exemplary life of “defiant optimism” in music and activism, we recommend the following • New York Times obituary, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” and “Pete Seeger, a Folk Revivalist Who Used His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s” • Democracy Now’s special report • Amy Goodman’s “Pete Seeger: Troubadour of Truth and Justice” • John Nichols’s obituary in The Nation, “Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced It to Surrender” • and this affectionate appreciation by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

The photograph below shows Seeger performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (left) and Bruce Springsteen in January 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Below that, Pete Seeger, 92, in 2011 joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle (photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times).

This Land

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Occupy

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Welcoming the New Year 2014

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

NewYear2Warm good wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous new year, inwardly and outwardly. We hope your prayers will be answered, especially your prayers for peace, for a stronger, more civil nation, for understanding and cooperation between persons, parties, and nations. Let the poor be better fed, the naked clothed, the shivering warmed . . . and let the forests and rivers grow thick with fishes and trees, turtles and birds, etc. Let humankind become a better steward of the planet that has been given to us to inhabit (but not to waste), more worthy and more considerate of the natural abundance around us.

We wish and pray for strength and persistence in abundance for those who work for the public good—health, education, employing the jobless and feeding the hungry—and for the reinforcement of the infrastructure (roads, levees, bridges) and the restoration of the environment we all need. Let the defenders of the public good prevail against those (especially the already highly privileged) who would weaken and diminish the benefits and liberties hard-won over many years of struggle for the common man and woman. And courage and abundance of cooperation for those who work to protect the earth and living things.

For those wearied by much toil and little pay, let there be better opportunities. For the discouraged, let there be rewards for their efforts, and renewed energy for further attempts. For the hungry parents of hungry children, and the idle, frustrated would-be workers, let there be well-paid labor, generosity of neighbors, and new chances to find and earn the bread of life. None should have to be hungry, nor without work.

For all these things, and more, we pray, and wish you and all your friends and family a much better new year, and stronger hope and energies, in 2014.

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Ready for Burlesque Fest, New Orleans?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

burlesqueTime for the 5th Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival, Sept. 19–21

Of course New Orleans is ready for another burlesque festival. A good warm-up for Halloween, perhaps. Or just a good warm-up for its own sake. If you’re ready—or might be ready, as we totally are—for Coco Lectric, Dinah Might, Honey Touche and the Touchettes, Cora Vette with Dames D’lish, Ray Gunn, Jett Adore as Zorro (yes, dudes too), Miss PetitCoquette, Trixie Little & Evil Hate Monkey, and the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue, then the Burlesque Festival has the shows for you.

Opening night features the Strut at Harrah’s: “Award-winning male burlesque stars deliver pure prime beef, emphasizing the masculine side of the tease with their sizzling surprise reveals, and tongue-in-cheek exploits! Starring world-renowned super troupe The Stage Door Johnnies!” You’ll want to come for the Siren of the South (“Athena, the Goddess of the Bodice”), Mondo Burlesque (“A variety of burlesque entertainers perform acts that have driven audiences wild at clubs and theaters around the word. Sexy, funny, naughty, and très amusant!”) and Bad Girls of Burlesque (“Luscious and lascivious ladies of burlesque entertain you in this rowdy, standing-room-only show . . . a celebration of the wicked, the wayward, and the wanton”). Click here for the schedule.

Classes and Instruction

Workshops, held at the Hilton Riverside, 2 Poydras Street, are sponsored by the Ruby Room of Dallas (that sounds scary). “We know y’all want to sleep late, so all workshops are scheduled between 12 noon–5pm!”

BURLESQUE BODY WORKOUT: In this high-energy workout class taught by the 2013 Miss Viva Las Vegas, Missy Lisa, you will use the most popular techniques from fitness and dance to strengthen and condition your body. You will easily break a sweat with moves specifically chosen to tone hips, thighs, buns and abs. Appropriate for all skill levels.

BUMPS & GRINDS: Perfect your bump and refine your grind with the 2011 Queen of Burlesque, Ginger Valentine. This class focuses on quality of movement and sensuality in classic burlesque, while burning calories and toning muscles. Before you take it off, learn how to tease and tantalize like a pro.

GirlsGirlsTHE ELEMENTS: Taught by Ray Gunn of the famed Stage Door Johnnies (Best Boylesque–2013 Burlesque Hall of Fame, Best Group–2011 Burlesque Hall of Fame), this lecture and discussion class for both men and women will cover the basic components of constructing, focusing, and editing a successful burlesque act. Participants will focus on refining composition, identifying the four main elements of an act, analyzing the thirteen types of ‘teases,’ and more.

SECRETS OF STAGE PRESENCE: How do you mesmerize an audience? What is stage presence and how can you achieve it? Unlock the tools to combat self- consciousness and stage fright, learn about “Active Intension” onstage, and find the burlesque superstar within you! Jett Adore of the acclaimed Stage Door Johnnies outlines his “Five S’s of Burlesque,” vital components to achieve the full potential of your own star quality. Bring a rehearsal boa if you have one and note-taking materials.

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Cold shower time. We’re all worked up just writing about it . . .

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Godless Socialism as Cause of Homosexual Marriage

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Pastor_CruzUltraconservative Unified Field Theory Revealed

“Socialism requires that government becomes your god. That’s why they have to destroy the concept of God. They have to destroy all loyalties except loyalty to government. That’s what’s behind homosexual marriage.”

—Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), addressing Family Leadership Summit, Ames, Iowa, Aug. 10

And that’s all you need to know.

H/T to The American Prospect

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‘Elysian Fields’ Weekend in New Orleans April 5–7

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

EF-Humanity

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After long workin’ in the fertile fields of Elysium, a fruitful harvest. The novel ELYSIAN FIELDS, published this month by Mid-City Books, will be officially launched in the city that gave it birth with a party at Mimi’s in the Marigny on Friday, April 5, from 6:00 to 8:00, and a reading and signing by Mark LaFlaur at the Garden District Book Shop on Sunday, April 7, from 2:00 to 4:00. See the Facebook Event page here.

Since our last posting, early reviews have been encouraging. Publishers Weekly gave Elysian Fields a starred review (“engrossing”), and Antigravity magazine calls it “a stunning debut.” Excerpts below. Read more reviews and comments here.

EF_newbrite_mini“Life in the Weems family of 1999 New Orleans is anything but Elysian in this engrossing Southern Gothic snapshot. As Simpson ponders whether to kill his brother Bartholomew, he reflects upon their upbringing with mother Melba. At age 36, Simpson works in a copy shop, but fantasizes of escaping to San Francisco and being a famous poet. The obstacle is Bartholomew—as a second grader, he spent a year in a psychiatric ward—who is presented vividly as possibly autistic and ‘laced with idiot savantism.’ LaFlaur deftly alternates between character perspectives, delving into perceptions and motivations. . . . Simpson’s perception of haunted New Orleans hammers home LaFlaur’s implication that life consists mostly of dealing with your ghosts. . . . [R]eaders will find the author’s portrayal of New Orleans convincing and his characters fascinating and fully developed.”   —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A stunning debut . . . A look at the interplay of the figures in this working-class clan on Invalides Street has shades of Tennessee Williams, Faulkner and John Kennedy Toole impressed in its pages, yet [Elysian Fields] transcends those influences to become an original vision all its own. . . . LaFlaur gently and expertly pulls readers along with his characters, never flinching in the face of their foibles, giving us reasons to care what happens to them . . .”  —Antigravity magazine (Your New Orleans Alternative to Culture), March 2013

The public is invited to these free events, but you might want to get to Garden District Book Shop early, as seats will fill up.

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Thanks to Sam Jasper and Mark Folse for their help in lining up the party at Mimi’s. Sam and Mark coedited A Howling in the Wires, a powerful, highly recommended anthology of writings by New Orleans bloggers just after Hurricane Katrina—when posting on the InterWeb machine was often the only way to communicate with the outside world, or even across town—published by Gallatin and Toulouse Press (2010). An excerpt from the book, written by our friend and Ashley Award–winning blogger Dedra “G-Bitch” Johnson, can be seen here. (She’ll be at the launch party, too!) Warm thanks to all New Orleans bloggers and others for spreading the word.

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Do They Know It’s Mardi Gras?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

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Outside of New Orleans and southern Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras generally comes as news—if it comes at all—to people in the rest of the United States when they see footage on network and cable news. Oh, it must be Mardi Gras again. Look at all those crazy-dressed people milling around on Bourbon Street. Now back to work, or looking for a job.

There are emigrés from New Orleans and southern Louisiana all over the U.S. and around the world who feel Carnival coming for weeks before the big day arrives, and we know it’s not a one-day affair (how could it be?). We look around at life going on in January, February, and sometimes March, and wonder how our fellow citizens can not know that Carnival is coming, that it has already started, it’s here. And especially on Fat Tuesday itself—which is today—seeing life go on as Just Another Day, earning just another dollar, we’re reminded of the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (recorded to raise awareness and aid for the 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia). It is not entirely a fair comparison, but there’s a resemblance, and the question does come up.

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New Orleans–based social justice journalist Jordan Flaherty published an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled Five Myths about Mardi Gras that does a decent job of dispelling some misconceptions about Carnival—we’re all for dispelling false views, especially about New Orleans and Louisiana—and we recommend Jordan’s piece. But first we’d like to offer the following essay, which goes into more detail about the historical, cultural background of what we call Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival. (Interestingly, in this international world we live in, there are other terms in other languages!) We humbly present the following, originally written by one of our staff writers for Festivals and Holidays, a Macmillan Profiles encyclopedia.

Times-Picayune coverage of Mardi Gras here. And see photos of this year’s parades by our friends here, here, and here.

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Mardi Gras: From Ancient Origins, with a New Orleans Twist

Mardi Gras, also called “Shrove Tuesday” or “Fat Tuesday” is a flamboyant Carnival celebration that most Americans associate with the city of New Orleans. The exact date for Mardi Gras varies from year to year, but it always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, forty-one days before Easter.

Mardi Gras has roots deep in pagan rites of ancient Greece, and is the “climax day” of a whole season of festivities—balls, parties, parades—that begins on Twelfth Night, or Epiphany (also known as January 6). Although the festival is most commonly associated with the Crescent City, the first American Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, in present-day Alabama, in the 1830s (except it was really New Year’s Eve). Mardi Gras is still celebrated in Mobile, as well as in other southern Louisiana towns and cities such as Baton Rouge, New Roads, and Lafayette.

“Fat Tuesday,” the culmination of over a month of celebrations, is the great day when the parades of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Krewe of Rex roll down oak-lined St. Charles Avenue into downtown New Orleans, where thousands, or a million—not necessarily sober—are lined along Canal Street, the widest downtown street in America. When the great floats arrive, and the masked captains and marshals in robes of medieval royalty hold out their hands full of beads, people yell, “Throw me somethin’, mister!” and reach up in a joyous frenzy for the colorful beads, cups, doubloons, and the famous painted Zulu coconuts. Though the big parades don’t go into the Vieux Carré anymore, the crowd swells across Canal into the French Quarter: sometimes a million people are crowded together on land that is [just a few feet above] sea level, a quarter mile from the Mississippi River. [Ed. note: bracketed phrase corrects a factual error in the original.]

(more…)

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How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years

Friday, January 6th, 2012

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Portraits of Courage, Struggle, and Defiance

This is the mug shot of Joan Trumpauer, a 19-year-old Duke University student and SNCC member who was arrested by the Jackson, Mississippi, police with eight other activists as they arrived on a train from New Orleans to participate in Freedom Rides in early June 1961. Joan Trumpauer had already participated in lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. (She is the student having sugar poured on her head in this iconic image.) The photos above and several dozen other powerful images from 1961, mostly by American news photographers, are part of an impressive collection posted by The Atlantic Monthly. See more below. (H/T to A Continuous Lean.) Some of the viewers’ comments on the photos are instructive; others, particularly about civil rights, are disturbing, depressing.

The caption to Miss (not yet Ms.) Trumpauer’s mug shot explains:

A Jackson Police Department file booking photograph of Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, taken on June 8, 1961. 19-year-old Duke University student and part-time secretary in the Washington office of Senator Clair Engle of California, Trumpauer arrived in Jackson, Mississippi to take part in the June 4, 1961 Mississippi Freedom Ride. She and eight others were promptly arrested and refused bail. Trumpauer served three months in jail, later enrolling in traditionally black Tougaloo college, which had just started accepting white students. 

In a column worth reading in full, “Toward a Manifested Courage,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, quotes a prison superintendent’s reply to Trumpauer’s mother (a native of Georgia whom Joan later described as “an unrepentant segregationist”):

Your daughter is receiving plenty of food, has been provided with a toothbrush, tooth paste, and whatever else she actually needs. 

I notice that you state that as a mother of a minor that you want to be notified in the case of any emergency. What I can not understand is why as a mother you permitted a minor white girl to gang up with a bunch of negro bucks and white hoodlums to ramble over this country with the express purpose of violating the laws of certain states and attempting to incite acts of violence.

The Trumpauer photograph appears among many other portraits in Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. Click here to see more images. And see the gripping American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

We detail the Joan Trumpauer experience at some length here out of admiration of her (awe-) inspiring personal courage (“Now if whites were going to riot when black students were going to white schools, what were they going to do if a white student went to a black school?”) and as a prelude to, an early honoring of, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday, Jan. 16).

Now, some selections from the Atlantic photo feature “50 Years Ago: The World in 1961.”

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George Lincoln Rockwell, center, self-styled leader of the American Nazi Party, and his “hate bus” with several young men wearing swastika arm bands, stops for gas in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 23, 1961, en route to Mobile, Alabama. (AP Photo)

A policeman orders his dog to attack a man who was too slow in obeying his order to move away from in front of police court, shortly before nine African-American college students went on trial for sitting-in at a (white) public city library, on March 29, 1961, in Jackson, Mississippi. (AP Photo/Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

 

 A Freedom Rider bus goes up in flames after a firebomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Alabama, in May of 1961. (AP Photo)

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