The Katrina Commemoration 2nd Line has been a site of resistance for the past nine years. Photo: Katina Parker.
Article and Photos by Katina Parker (Durham, NC)
Friday, August 28, 2015. Driving into New Orleans over the 10 highway, apparitions of Black bodies in the hundreds, sun-scorched, tattered, injured, stranded, abandoned, determined. Water on all sides. Helicopters overhead. Rooftops, attics, and raised streets — the only source of hope and safety.
August 29, 2005. These memories are seared into my heart, my deepest and longest ache. And yet 10 years later, people flock to New Orleans as if nothing ever happened. The conversations on the plane were nauseating. The White dudes who’d already started drinking, loudly planning their weekend of debauchery — more alcohol, hookers, and who knows what else. The sweet-spirited Philadelphia-native next to me who’d come for a bachelor party, when I reminded him that this weekend marked 10 years, how it all came back to him, but before I’d said anything, he was oblivious.
How could he forget thousands perishing? How could he forget 100,000 Black people being displaced forever?
I’m sure he remembers 9-11.
That’s the story America loves to tell — that time we were victimized by an unknown (brown) assailant. Not that time we left our own people — poor, imprisoned, disabled, Black, Brown, babies, elderly, pregnant — because we deemed them to be of no value. And not that time the President (George W. Bush) flew overhead and peered down from his plane, but had the nerve to show up 10 years later to dance with the children of those he’d left to die.
Today, the city is abuzz with color, life, music, laughter, poverty, yearning, art, life. New construction and remodeling projects bustle in just about every neighborhood — gentrification. And in other places, homes that never quite got fixed after the storm are held up by hope. Some still bear that haunting “X”, indicating the ratio of dead to alive that were found. Holes gape between houses like missing teeth — family homes that were bull-dozed and never rebuilt.
The news cameras, the high-profile political figures, the chamber of commerce would have you believe New Orleans is healed, whole, and open for business as usual.
The air is heavy with death, struggle, and remembrance. A deep desire to somehow make right hundreds of years of peddling and misappropriating Black culture, Black spirituality, and Black labor for the entertainment of tourists and the wealth of the American economy. And for stealing the land and customs of the Chitimacha, Choctaw, and other indigenous people from the area, also for the wealth of the American economy.
Ten years later, the aftermath of Katrina is still unfolding. It is a story of survival, loss, separation, death, cooperation among community members, transformation. Hope lies in our commitment to resistance — through art and organizing. Resistance to displacement. Resistance to exploitation. Resistance to the deadly whims and desires of patriarchy, capitalism and racism.
Katrina Commemoration 2nd Line
Hundreds gathered the morning of August 29th at North Galvez and Jourdan, the site where the levees breached, or some believe, were destroyed by the government to redirect flood waters from wealthier neighborhoods into the Lower 9th Ward, as they did after Hurricane Betsy (1965) and the Mississippi Flood of 1927.
The Commemoration 2nd Line has been a site of resistance for the past nine years, gathered together the first year after Katrina, initially by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, a coalition of local grassroots organizations. It has continued over the years with support from social justice organizers and led by organizers/rappers/record shop owners Sess 4-5 and Young Sino.
This year, people from all over the country danced, chanted, and vented for three miles to the rhythm of African drums and brass bands. Some mistook it for celebration. Poet Sunni Patterson reminded attendees that the 2nd Line is how people mourn in New Orleans, that the act of dancing and shouting may look joyful, but in the midst of so much overwhelming despair, it becomes cathartic, transformative, and healing.
ECOHYBRIDITY: LOVE SONG FOR NOLA
Installation artist (and ROOTS member) Kai Barrow in collaboration with multiple artists from and local to New Orleans, Durham, and beyond created a multi-layered sensory experience. ECOHYBRIDITY used the story of a flock of songbirds as a metaphor for exploring ideas about displacement, Black feminism, Black futurism, Black optimism, and Black pessimism. The project included sculpture, music, drama, projection, dance, and dialogue. Installations were created on-site at the Joan Mitchell Center, the Eco-House (a shotgun house right next to Kai’s), and at Congo Square.
Gulf South Rising
Gulf South Rising (GSR) collaborated with local and regional organizers to coordinate and support over 13 events from August 21-30 in multiple locations from Gulfport to New Orleans. The Katrina 10 Week of Action represents a powerful coming together of many organizations dedicated to lifting up the leadership and resistance of the people on the frontlines.
GSR supported a Southern Movement Assembly, creating a people’s platform that is building international mobilization. This places Katrina and the organizing around it, not as a stand alone event, but as part of a larger people’s movement.
The New Orleans organizing, meetings, and events concluded with Rhythmic Alchemy, a day of conscious music that included a healing tent, healthy food options, and genuinely good people in Congo Square — the birthplace of jazz and the place where enslaved people once gathered to practice African spiritualities and rituals.
Katina Parker is a filmmaker and photographer who teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Her work focuses on African-American-led social protest and creating platforms for Black Queer people to tell the personal stories. Please follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo @katinaparker; and on Instagram @katinanparker.