Live-streaming of Rising Tide conference here .
Keynote Address: Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré on leadership and environmental justice
New Orleans Advocate publisher John Georges introduces Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, augmented by video footage from CNN.
Standing ovation for Honoré. Honoré thanks audience for being an active community sharing respect for environment, the place where we live, for sharing a common purpose to be able to live in a place where you don’t have to worry about the quality of the water and air. I like my oil in the engine of my truck, not in the water or on the ground. “We can do better.”
“I want to talk a little about leadership (and to shamelessly promote my book, Leadership in the New Normal ).” You have to be able to get people to willingly follow. For instance, for the goal of environmental justice and social justice. There’s a purpose to teaching children how to read; part is to prevent these same children from later being in the prison system.
If you think you have it hard, think about how hard Gen. George Washington and his troops had it in the winters of the Revolutionary War. We are now in a kind of fight like the one during the 1770s. The elected officials in Washington with their air conditioning think they’ve got it hard, but we do not have it hard like the soldiers in Washington’s volunteer army had it. This war that we are fighting [for environmental and social justice] is a war we can win, because we are on the right side.
My public school teacher in Pointe Coupee Parish told me we know you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so let me tell you three things that will help you in the future: (1) Learn to do routine things well. Brush your teeth, be respectful, do your homework, etc. (2) Don’t be afraid to take on the impossible. This came back to me when we landed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (3) Don’t be afraid to act even if you’re being criticized.
If oil and gas are so good for Louisiana, why are we one of the poorest states in the union? Why don’t we all get to go to private schools? Just speaking critically of oil and gas industry and its effect on our state will get you criticized. We want tourism and visitors, and oil and gas industries can be here, but they can’t destroy the place. “You can’t trash the place.” We’re not saying they can’t be here, but they have do it the right way, responsibly. Too many public officials will say, any time there’s a chemical leak, or several employees die at the plant, that the chemical release was minimal, or the loss of life was minimal. This is not acceptable.
We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. We have to show it to people in other countries. If you grew up in Louisiana, you grew up smellin’ stuff. Maybe the sugar cane burning, or something from an Exxon plant or a paper mill. It’s a part of the culture, and it doesn’t mean much as we’re growing up, but people from other places ask, “What is that?” • I was on CNN and I said I’m not going to call this the “Gulf oil spill,” this is the BP oil spill. The Gulf of Mexico didn’t cause this. This was created by a company. Same with the sinkhole, or the Jefferson Island salt dome collapse.
How is that the EPA is prevented from coming into a state to take action against a violation of the Clean Water Act unless the state government invites it in. If there’s a violation of a drug smuggling law, the federal forces can take action. But it was written into the Clean Water Act that the EPA is limited from enforcing the law. Self-regulating is not an option. These companies messing up this state don’t even have their headquarters here. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. We have a serious water problem. The aquifers are depleting seriously because of the industries’ use. Why aren’t they using the Mississippi River? Because the aquifers, which should be reserved for the local people’s drinking water, are easier for the companies to draw from. And what are we going to do with the orphan wells? These abandoned oil wells have been abandoned. Streams of oil all over the place, just leaking. You can see them all over Plaquemines Parish, still lying knocked over by Hurricane Katrina, and the companies have been allowed by the Louisiana legislature to leave them abandoned. We have to make it visible. This is your war. This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in. What we have going on off our coastline is like what they have going on in Nigeria. How many of you could make a list of 10 people you could bring on the team for environmental justice, for social justice?
Sandy Rosenthal of Levees.org asks Honoré about the SLFPA-E lawsuit and Gov. Jindal’s attempts to have control over the membership of the Flood Protection Board. The governor may be forgetting that he will not always be governor. How is he going to explain to his children or grandchildren that they can’t go out and play because the air is too polluted? • Audience member commends Honoré for speaking out about environmental issues. You have some of the best guerrilla fighters in the state in this room now, but we need leadership. Please run for governor. [Applause.] • You have to get busy on the college campuses and get the students mobilized. You’ve got to be prepared to do civil disobedience; that’s the only thing that will get these people’s attention. It’s likely going to look foolish to the rest of the country, but it’s got to be done. It’s going to take the voice of the people speaking out. It’s going to take some community organizing. Get the restaurateurs involved; they need clean seafood, so it affects them too.
Received by Greg’s sons, Magnus and Wilder, after introductory remarks by Alli de Jong about our late friend Greg Peters  (1962–2013).
Charter Schools: Access & Accountability
11:30 Moderated by Scott Sternberg. Panelists: Nikki Napoleon, Marta Jewson, Jaimmé Collins, Aesha Rasheed, and Steve Beatty.
Questions posed to the panel include: Are charter schools in New Orleans more or less responsive to democratic principles than our old School Boards, and how can we address the access and accountability issues for the present and future of New Orleans?
Eighty percent of New Orleans schools are now charter schools. Questions of accountability, transparency. Because the school or school system is not strictly a public entity in the traditional sense of the public school, its administrators are not accustomed to requests for public records, or have different understandings of accountability—they may be quick to comply with requests for information, or they may say “that’s none of your business.”
Re: parent engagement, Jaimmé Collins says that all of us should be more active about attending the board meetings. This would begin to change things. We could each commit show up to at least one board meeting per year. Set an example and become a more engaged member of the community. Steve Beatty, editor of The Lens, says that the boards should schedule meetings at a time of day when parents can actually attend, not during the workday. If a school is not giving satisfactory performance or accountability, parents can “vote with their feet” by withdrawing their child and going somewhere else. In Q&A, a teacher says that that is often not a realistic option. Nikki Napoleon did pull her child from one school and placed him in another.
Jaimmé Collins says that school administrators should pick two or three things on which they are willing to engage in particular with parents to help the school improve in a more focused way for students. Started a parent-school review to design a process by which parents could evaluate how well the school is performing, but getting five or six parents to commit and attend meetings is sometimes a challenge. A good idea but sometimes a challenge to execute.
Steve Beatty says the city of New Orleans doesn’t have a charter school system; we have a lot of different charter schools operating independently.
Charter Schools panelists, from left to right: Nikki Napoleon, Marta Jewson, Jaimmé Collins, Aesha Rasheed, and Steve Beatty.
MelaNated Writers Collective: Creating Community for Writers of Color
10:05 Jarvis Q. DeBerry  introduces MelaNated Writers Collective  panel, Jewel Bush, David Thaddeus Baker, Kelly Harris, and Gian Smith. Young writers of color in New Orleans seeking a community of other writers of color, seeking support, fellowship in what is by its nature a very solitary pursuit.
Jewel Bush speaks at Rising Tide’s MelaNated Writers Collective panel. From left to right: Jewel Bush, David Thaddeus Baker, Kelly Harris-DeBerry, Gian Smith.
Discussion of the importance of not caring about—not being held back by—what white people think, or would think, of what I’m writing. Part of the necessary self-liberation for a black writer is to (try to) be free of these considerations. Reference to a famous essay by Langston Hughes (cite:TK). • The effect of Hurricane Katrina on these writers’ work. Gian Smith says it took being separated from New Orleans to realize how important the city and its people are, and to make me determined to represent what is not known to the rest of the world. Partly in reaction to the television representations of New Orleans, of black people of New Orleans. • How has being in New Orleans affected your writing? Kelly Harris-DeBerry: being in N.O. has made me more playful in my poems. Gian Smith: I think it’s a distinct advantage to be in New Orleans. Just as all of Stephen King’s novels are set in New England, mine are definitely set here. The settings for the action are local. Question about how the memory of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina affected your writing? Jewel Bush says the storm is there as a background to the present action of a story. It’s always there as a presence, an internal chatter that’s always on. David Thaddeus Baker says he has written two poems relating to Katrina, but he cannot let the storm dominate his focus or overpower what he is writing. Kelly Harris-DeBerry says she is hesitant to write about the storm because she is not from here and she was not here at the time of the storm (2005).
Pat Armstrong asks if writers feel pressure or expectation to “cross over” and serve as a “tour guide” to New Orleans and to the community of color for readers outside New Orleans. Jarvis DeBerry says there is sometimes an indifference among New Orleanians about whether outsiders get what we’re about or not. Lance Vargas asks, How do you get into that contemplative space needed to start writing? David Thaddeus Baker: I go for a walk and think about things. Jewel Bush: I like to listen to music; gets me in the mood. Gian Smith: I try to clear my schedule so that I am not distracted by other obligations. Kelly Harris-DeBerry: I don’t really have a ritual, but I try to write with pencil or pen. I feel I’m more thoughtful and concentrated when I’m writing by hand rather than by typing. I seem like I take my time and I’m more thoughtful.
10:00 Introductory remarks by RT secretary Patrick “Cousin Pat” Armstrong. Thanks to Xavier University of Louisiana for hosting this conference, and to sponsors The Lens, WWNO, and WTUL. Welcoming remarks by Xavier Univ. Student Council president Javon Bracy. Emcee is George “Loki” Williams. T-shirts and posters designed by Greg Peters for sale.