Mac-Notes: Line in the mud, part II
Last week, I related how a European fan basically told me that, in his opinion, Americans never want choices taken away even if it's a choice they don't exercise. During the concert, I mentioned to the audience that they might want to follow the city's proposed security plan--which was announced a couple weeks ago--because it could negatively impact cultural activity in New Orleans. As an annual visitor over many years the Belgian NOLAphile wondered why, with as loving as the culture seems universally, people here seem to take it for granted.
I admit to wondering this sometimes as well, but my questions are for NOLA-philes and culture-bearers alike. For example: If the Mardi Gras Indian tradition is so sacred, who in the hell doesn't see how reducing it to entertainment for destination weddings isn’t irreverently diluting the tradition’s values?
We know that live music is vital to the soul of the city, so it leaves the question of why are world class musicians like John Boutté are unable to earn enough to continue living here? And if Sunday second-lines and funerals-with-music are so important, why has it become acceptable to appropriate, co-opt, or counterfeit them?
Our indigenous cultural practices developed over many years and are how we maintain and pass on our community’s values. Respecting and understanding them is the first step in creating genuine connection and a meaningful sense of place.
Anyway, so, here we are with a $39 million security plan that includes cameras scattered throughout the city, a 24 hour monitoring center, cameras inside bars who will all be shutting their doors at 3:00 a.m., late night street-cleaning with police escorts, and even some zoning considerations for music and street entertainment snuck in for good measure. I already shared objections raised by MaCCNO (the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans), but you can also see the cost breakdown, or check out former city crime analyst, Jeff Asher's blog for other insights.
Businesses have been quick to organize and galvanize support to push back on that "closed doors" aspect of the plan (Initially, it was fleetingly proposed to close all ABOs at 3:00 a.m.), but is this where we're drawing the line? "We won't let them change the 24-hour nightlife culture that the world expects from New Orleans!"
It is this musician's opinion that this would be a shallow agenda and could, at best, only yield a hollow victory. Call me a snob, but I don't care much about visitors whose "New Orleans experience" is plodding down Bourbon Street with “big-ass beers” into the morning hours. Furthermore, I think that tradition-bearers who make New Orleans a truly living city need and deserve to have their aspirations fed by much more than promise of subsistence level employment in the alco-tourism industry.
Now is definitely not the time to let fear-mongers justify restrictions that hinder the organic progress of culture. New Orleans must be about more than entertaining folks looking for a good time. Our music must be more than a bucket list item above beignets and oysters. And living here must mean more than paying less rent than than Brooklyn or being able to leave a bar with your drink.
How does one decide where to draw the line, then? Maybe a good place to start is as simple as considering what matters most to you and what keeps you here. What feeds your soul? Don't join MaCCNO because you think New Orleans needs you to save her culture, don't come to tomorrow's meeting to defend what you "can" do here, but rarely do. The author of the saying, "Charity starts at home," meant begin with yourself--the you that only became possible when the heritage of New Orleans taught you:
-Creativity. How diversity drives problem-solving.
-Community. The thrilling satisfaction of creative, co-operative effort.
-Tradition. The seamless integration of past, present and future.
Participation and sincere effort to respect and understand our traditions, which have been developing for 300 years, can engender respect and openness to one another, and has more power to drive crime down than a thousand cameras, cops or curfews.
This is the greatest power of our culture-bearers, whom we need to support and encourage. This is the promise of New Orleans culture that we are protecting and need to share with the world.
Please join MaCCNO who hosts an open meeting to discuss the security plan at the Candlelight Lounge tomorrow at 5:30pm (Thursday, February 10).
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at email@example.com.