The Battle of New Orleans 2017

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a historic speech at Gallier Hall on Friday, May 19, 2017 as the final of four Confederate monuments was taken down. So ended a process Landrieu began in 2015, when at his request the City Council declared the monuments public nuisances. The speech is excerpted below with a link to the full text. Below that, Martin Marty compares Landrieu’s speech to the Hebrew prophets. And below that, Southern historian Malcolm Suber of #TakeEmDownNOLA critiques how Mayor Landrieu subverted a much larger city-wide process aimed at taking down all such statues, not a representative four.

From Mitch Landrieu:

“The soul of our beloved City is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way – for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans – the Choctaw , Houma Nation, the Chitimacha . Of Hernando de Soto , Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle , the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese and so many more.

You see – New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum – out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture . America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. ….”

Read the rest of the speech here.
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From Martin Marty’s commentary “Memorial Day, Mayor Landrieu, and the American Future”:

“Let me compare Landrieu’s genre to the forgotten language and intentions of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Landrieu addressed his city as “a people.” So did the prophets, like Jeremiah, revered in and beyond Judaism and Christianity. Landrieu was defending the decision and act of taking down the city’s four most prominent icons—the prophets would have called them “idols”—in the form of statues commemorating long-revered General Robert E. Lee and lesser Confederates who defended the enslavement of American blacks. The expressions of others before the removal of the statues were not always eloquent or healing: defenders of the statues and representatives of what the mayor would call the “Cult of the Lost Cause” often rallied with shouts or whispered with threats.

As the statues were being lifted up from their platforms and lowered to the ground, Landrieu—not to his or anyone’s surprise—was the subject of death threats. Yet, like Jeremiah, he spoke of “a future and a hope.” His speech exemplified Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of prophecy as “hope projected backward.” In a time of bitter divisions in New Orleans and throughout the nation at large, Landrieu spoke not as a great denunciator, but as a great enunciator of directions for his contemporaries to take. Unmistakable was his identification with his great city, to some of whose many assets he referred in terms that a tourist bureau could envy.”

Read the rest of Martin Marty’s commentary here.
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Malcolm Suber’s commentary in the Lens critiquing Mitch Landrieu’s approach:

“The two-year struggle to take down the white supremacy statues (which is really the culmination of a decades-long struggle for removal by the Black community) revolved around whether these statues were on land belonging to the city. State and federal courts ruled that these were indeed public lands belonging to the citizens of New Orleans. The courts further ruled that the city could do whatever it desired to statues present on public lands.

Mr. Mayor, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.The mayor’s attempt to present the future of these former monument spaces as a done deal seems to be an attempt by Mitch to preclude any other voices and opinions from being heard. Take ‘Em Down NOLA calls for a series of town hall meetings where we solicit what residents want to replace these monuments with.”

Read the rest of Malcolm Suber’s commentary here. And listen to On the Media’s Bob Garfield interview Malcolm Suber here.

Track Trump and Other Useful Spiritual Tools in an Age of Political Chaos

trowel-1My head spins, my stomach sickens, and my heart hurts when I dip in to all the political chaos with real life consequences coming from the Trump administration. It’s hard to sort news from political theater (both from the administration and from the reactionists).

I’m determined to be a good steward of my emotional and spiritual energy during this season of hate. For me, that means staying informed in a concise, not emotional manner and using my energy wisely in determining effective responses and — more importantly — effective leadership in the direction we want as a community or country to go.

Number one item is prayer and rooting ourselves in the biblical narrative and rituals. These will remind us that we’ve been in seasons like this before. This will encourage us that God sees, hears, remembers, and knows.

Torah scholar Avivah Zornberg writes: “The basic requirement for freedom (‘redemption’) is the awareness of ‘exile,’ the groan of conscious alienation. To be in exile and not to feel it—this needs a ‘great salvation.’” (The Particulars of Rapture).

Many American Christians are just waking up to their exile. (Others have known the experience for a long time.)

Here are some helpful tools I’ve found for responsibly keeping track of Trump administration actions while protecting my soul and spiritual life from the corrosion of the political theater:

Best podcast/radio show for understanding media, coverage of Trump administration, and tracking the story beneath the story is WNYC’s On the Media with Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.

Best site for keeping up on policy movement. Track Trump – This site was established by 4 computer geek and history guys who “believe it is important that citizens have the ability to understand and follow in real-time policy changes that will impact their lives.”

Over the first 100 days of the Trump administration they “will track and document the policies put into place by the Trump administration,” concentrating on tracking the specific policy pledges from the Trump campaign’s “Contract with the American Voter.” These include policies on: immigration, trade, economics, energy and climate, federal government, education, healthcare, and safety. Track Trump’s goal is to “isolate actual policy changes from rhetoric and political theater.”

At Track Trump you’ll find links to primary sources (memos of executive actions, transcripts, etc). What you will not find is analysis or implications or consequences from actions taken by the Trump administration. Also Track Trump does not track policy actions that are not part of the core themes in Mr. Trump’s Contract with the American Voter.

I signed up for Trump Tracker immediately. It helps me cut through the public chaos.

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FacingHistoryDemocracyToolbox760x570Another good place to look is the New York Times’ Tracking Trump’s Agenda, Step by Step. This site is updated regularly to track President Trump’s action “on several of his major priorities, but most of his proposals require moves by Congress or pose other significant obstacles. Possible paths are described below, though other options exist.” You do not have to be a NYT subscriber to get email updates from this site.

This site tracks policies but also tells you what has to happen next. For example, Mr. Trump has signed an executive memorandum to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline and the next step is that it must be approved by the State Department. I wish this site sent you to primary source material on the topics it covers. It sends you to NYT articles covering the topics instead. But combined the Trump Tracker, this covers a lot of information in a clear way.

(There is also a page tracking Mr. Trump’s Cabinet that lists the members, their positions, and whether they are appointees or must go through a confirmation process and dates and times of confirmation hearings.)

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Here’s a good article on tracking Trump and national security and international affairs. Tracking Trump’s National-Security Conflicts of Interest by Caroline Houck at Defense One, which is run by Atlantic Media (The Atlantic, National Journal, Quartz). Defense One “delivers news, breaking analysis and ideas on the topics and trends that will define the future of U.S. defense and national security.” Houck’s article is “as complete an accounting of Trump’s overseas financial interests as could be gleaned from open-source reporting, including the financial disclosure form he filed as a presidential candidate.” Houck will update the article as information comes to light about Mr. Trump’s financial interests, including projects that are cancelled or moving ahead. This site also provides fairly decent analysis of national security issues, but I appreciate it for the links to primary sources. (The Sunlight Foundation is another excellent source of information on this, especially Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest, but the information is not as well organized.)

A few sites or articles  worth checking are: Politifacts’ Trump-O-Meter that tracks Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and Vice’s All the Laws and Executive Orders Trump Has Signed So Far.

I have not found a good aggregator of lawsuits initiated in response to Trump administration policies. If you find one, let me know. And if you’ve found other helpful tools for responsible engagement, please add them in the comments below.