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Dossier 45: Way Down Yonder
September 6, 2005: Perhaps the only city dwellers who can't imagine experiencing the societal breakdown of New Orleans post Katrina are those who live in urban nabes as valuable as some in say, Manhattan. Where if Wall Street or 5th Avenue were threatened by looters, gun toting paratroopers would drift downward like dandelion fluff in May. But residents of myriad other cities, particularly ones called "post-industrial" must surely suspect that given a similar scenario, rule of thug would replace rule of law just as quickly, the buses, water and food would be just as slow in coming, and pols would shovel the bull just as high as they have re New Orleans.

Many politicians, from municipal levels on up, now seem to view residents of working poor neighborhoods as expendable. Or at best, as the census numbers required to qualify for the state and federal funding most taxpayers believe revitalizes such neighborhoods. But which instead jacks corporate offices, hotels and luxo housing far from those nabes and supports a vast edifice of public corruption. One which robs citizens of their political voice. Sure, money has always talked. But once upon a time so did political and social responsibility. Even the legendarily corrupt felt compelled to provide basic services such as public safety. But that was then. This is the now of pols whose careers are buoyed by hitherto inconceivable amounts of public spending and the political contributions of those who want a helping.

A less soggy, slow motion Katrina has been at work in numerous cities for decades. See Camden, New Jersey. Or Trenton, Paterson and Newark. See Springfield, Massachusetts. Or various urban centers in Connecticut and a slew in upstate New York. Among the millions of victims of the ubiquitous Katrina were the Dawson family in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2002 all seven Dawson family members were burned to death in their beds by a drug dealer angered by Mrs. Angela Dawson's frequent complaints to the police about the deals being cut on her corner. Drug thugs threatened the Dawsons for months. Yet putting a 24/7 police presence at the Dawson home, or having the National Guard patrol the war-zone neighborhood where they lived was apparently out of the question. (As such measures usually are, no matter how strongly and often citizens request them.) Local cops advised the Dawsons to get out of town-- but they refused to evacuate and instead were incinerated.

The Dawsons' fate was extreme. Even in terms of Katrina. Not everyone died in New Orleans. The majority were forced to live sans the protection of civilization as represented by government. The most hopeful and inspiring stories coming out of New Orleans are of small groups of citizens organizing to care for and protect one another. Demonstrating the decent impulse and understanding of mutual benefit that leads human beings to create governments in the first place. Under life threatening circumstances, these little clusters of "average" people acted with the humane purpose and directness much of our political class now seems unable or unwilling to muster. Here's hoping the example provided by the good people of New Orleans will prove a veritable mustard seed.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"IMAGINE What's the possibility of living in a community where: 16) Walking down Morris [Street] Dana, or Knox gives you a feeling of pride and safety instead of shame and fear."

From a list of 20 "imagines" from a 09/25/02 leaflet announcing a meeting of the Park South Neighborhood Association in Albany, New York, with an agenda provided by the Park South Walk & Watch

"Yeah there is Heaven right here on earth"

Freddie "Boom-Boom" Cannon, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, 1960

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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