Archive for September, 2005


Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

The Green Festival in DC this weekend was most excellent even though I didn’t get to hear Amy Goodman because I was moderating the progressive parenting panel (say it ten times fast) at the very same time and I didn’t get Amy Goodman to sign a book for me because I was signing books at the very same time. I guess I was kind of loser-mama sitting next to Amy Goodman all weekend long, like, No, sorry, I’m the other A.G. But it was all right. What are you going to do?

I’d told China Doll Martens to meet me at the festival before I realized that was kind of like saying “Meet me at Grand Central Station,” but miraculously, we were united. I was wearing a pink tutu and she’s 6’3″–so that might have helped. “Have you seen a tall girl?” “Have you seen a girl in a pink tutu?”

So we found each other and we traveled through underground honeycombs of stalling sweaty public transportation to the weird hotel out in Virginia because all the DC hotels were full of protesters with credit cards.

Pajama Party! And working on China’s new book, a compilation of so many issues of The Future Generation that have sustained you since almost forever, the original punk parenting zine. But isn’t it weird when you mostly talk to a friend online or mostly communicate through your respective zines and then suddenly in person you feel a little awkward?

Morning and we could sleep as late as we wanted, but we woke up early and needed coffee so we headed back into DC for the Code Pink demo and of course we got lost. China reassured me: We’re in DC and we’re looking for the White House, so I think we will find it.

China is funny because she says things like “I have no sense of time” or “We’re just walking” and she’ll shrug and get that look on her face like she just fell of the turnip truck, but actually she’s totally competent and she’ll raise a kid and write a book and take you to the White House.

So we found the White House and joined the pink ladies and my tutu was so fabulous everyone wanted to take my picture, but then they wanted to interview me, too, and there were plenty more eloquent people around who’d had enough coffee and I’d done enough talking at the Green Festival so I said, “No, I’m just the Code Pink supermodel.”

I didn’t want to get arrested because I had to catch my plane home and get Maia to school this morning and to work this afternoon, so I took on tasks that were more my speed like Water Girl and Lady With the Pink Parasol Watching the Backpacks while the braver mamas who maybe didn’t have to make sure they weren’t incarcerated by today crossed the street to yell at the President and deliver a million reasons to stop the war in Iraq. Cindy Sheehan was the first to get arrested.

I met a woman who showed me this box of M&M’s the size of a pack of cigarettes and she said that this is what W. and Condoleeza gave her when her relative was killed in Iraq–after the family portrait they gave her these M&M’s with the national seal on the front of the box and this happy flag-toting yellow dancing M&M on the back and this is what they gave her. At first I think she’s out of her mind, but she’s not. This is what they gave her. Like free gift with you cosmetics purchase only it’s just M&M’s and your son brother uncle sister daughter is dead and the yellow M&M is dancing on the box and this is what they gave her.

Dream of the Sphinx

Monday, September 19th, 2005

When I was a kid there were rumors in the family about some animated shorts my dad had made in the ’60s–Dream of the Sphinx and, with Adam Beckett, The Letter. He’d won prizes in France, they said, been a shooting star in the obscure world of experimental animation where folks make movies about the inner lives of tomatillos and lint people who come to life in laundromats at night.

Where are the films? We wanted to know.

Sold. Lost. Somewhere.


So it was kind of cool and out of the blue nowhere when a researcher emailed a few days ago asking after James Gore and directing me to the library where the old reels live. I poked around the internet a bit, emailed another filmmaker. It seems the shorts were screened in classes at CalArts for decades. And my dad’s been an elusive sax-playing mystery man of trippy experimental animation yore.

Could you put me in contact with him? They asked.

I can try.

But, alas, the mystery man remains elusive. He’s off fishing with sea gypsies in the gulf of Thailand.

Welcome to Portland

Friday, September 16th, 2005

Everybody loves a hurricane victim . . . Until one actually shows up in the neighborhood.

On September 6, Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongoski signed an agreement with FEMA to accept evacuees from hurricane Katrina (and to receive federal funding for their care). The next day, the defunct Washington-Monroe high school in the Buckman neighborhood of Southeast Portland was set up as a shelter, but some community members were less than thrilled:

“This is an enormous crisis,” said Susan Lindsey, chairman of the Buckman Community Association. “And we are thrilled that Oregon is going to reach out and help. But of all the places in the great state of Oregon, we wonder why it’s going to be concentrated in Buckman?”

“What happens,” asked David Bowles, who owns a house four blocks from the would-be-shelter, “when the warm, fuzzy feeling wears off?”

Sounds like the “warm, fuzzy feeling” never quite took hold. But that’s not something residents of the 93%-Kerry-voting precinct have to worry about now.

We like your jazz fests and your Mardi Gras, but . . .

In an apparently unrelated fiasco, the governor’s phone rang again just three days after he’d signed the agreement with FEMA. Bring, ring . . . Hello? Oh, hey, Gov, this is FEMA. “Cease and desist” preparations for evacuees. We hereby order you not expend any further efforts on the Oregon operation.

But the shelter in Portland had already been advertised on TV!

More than 300 people have “self-evacuated” to the little city in the liberal Northwest.

And so they arrived. Off Greyhound buses and Southwest airplanes. Hitched rides from friends and friends of friends. They arrived. “Oregon will welcome you with open arms!” they’d heard. Two thousand six hundred forty two miles from New Orleans. Forty hours and thirty-eight minutes if you drive straight through the night. But in those 40 hours cots had been folded up, shoulders shrugged.

Still, they arrived.

And they looked so out of place in white liberal Southest Portland that folks call the cops. “They’ve got guns!”

According to police, there were no guns.

The doors to the old high school were opened, but only as a “Welcoming Center.”

The Red Cross and community agencies who are actually trying to help have turned the space into a resource center where survivors can access resources, but the new arrivals have been referred to craigslist for housing. Some were given vouchers for hotel-stays in the overwhelmingly white suburb of Tigard. Neither warm nor fuzzy.

Volunteers from Portland’s African American community–who insisted that the city welcome people no matter how they got here–have been left out of decision-making processes. But guess who the city, county, and Red Cross officials depend on for cultural competence? Yep. Same volunteers.

What to help out? Tough luck. The City of Portland is no longer collecting offers of local housing. The basic donation message from 211info is “When people reach an operator, they may leave their name, number and donated item information and NW medical Teams will follow up when more is known regarding need though this effort will likely be discontinued next week.”

Those with resources but without city or agency connections are being told “Just to donate to the Red Cross,” an organization that has been accused of withholding aid, has close ties to the Republican party, works in tandem with the Department of Homeland Security, and is officially part of the Bush Administration’s national security apparatus.

In the spirit of if-you-want-something-done-do-it-yourself, Pastor Mary Overstreet of the Powerhouse Temple Church in North Portland–with help from family members in the Gulf Coast area–evacuated a group of survivors herself. Pastor Overstreet cashed in two certificates of deposit and sold her Arizona vacation home to pay rent and utilities on Portland apartments for the new community members. “They are broke, homeless, disturbed and need something to get them back on their feet,” Pastor Overstreet said. “Why give them a cot when I can give them a key?”

Good thing, since the government doesn’t seem to be able to manage even a cot.

Black United Fund
2828 NE Alberta
Portland, OR 97211
(donate generally or note on check: Hurricane Relief Fund and the funds will go to people who relocate to Portland)

(We Love) Pastor Mary Overstreet
Powerhouse Temple Church
4525 N. Williams Ave.
Portland, OR 97217

Back on Track Care Packs

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Back on Track Care Packs began Friday afternoon with a mother of four needing a way to help the children left homeless and devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Kia Grant wrote a letter to the 200 people in her e-mail address book requesting their participation in her project. Her basic idea is simple–buy a backpack currently at back to school sale prices, create the Care Pack specifically for a child of a certain age and gender and fill it with items (such as stuffed toys, crayons, bubbles, etc). As of Tuesday morning, there were over 50 members on the Yahoo site, and she had secured seven designated locations across the US for her Care Packs to be shipped directly to. Over ten schools and churches across the country are holding drives to amass large shipments. Care Packs are coming from Switzerland. She appointed a board of Regional Coordinators to assist her in the administrative and organizational tasks required to run her ever-growing project. Beyond the basic idea is her commitment, and that of her supporters, to “adopt” the children who receive these Care Packs. In each Care Pack are postcards with the addresses of the donors requesting the families who receive the Care Packs to write in a month an update Back on Track as to their situation and location, so they can be shipped another Care Pack. By Tuesday night, Big Mama’s Church of Portland, Oregon had taken Back on Track on as a mission . . . Join the group & get more info here. Send Care Packs here:

St Vincent DePaul Society
1010 Nicholson Drive
Baton Rouge LA 70802

Angela Alston Ross
P.O. Box 736
Ocean Springs, MS 39566

Ascension Lutheran Church
6481 Old Canton Rd
Jackson, MS 39211

Rhea MacDonald
1111 3rd St
Brookings, SD 57006

Send Care Packs, Books, Emergency Supplies . . .

Monday, September 5th, 2005

Back on Track Care Packs

Hurricane Katrina refugees are without and in need of our help. Perhaps you have already donated $$$ or offered your services in some way.

However, many of us are unable to physically help.

Since the victims must be able to carry their belongings the idea of providing a backpack stuffed with necessities is my core goal. As a mother of four, I am particularly aware of the needs of families.

I am asking everyone who reads this to purchase a backpack (or donate a gently used one). Please fill this pack with any of the items on the FEMA approved list.

Join the Back on Track Care packs Yahoo Group or email for more info.
–Kia Grant

From Coleen

My minutes at the library compter are about up for now, but it’s great to hear from you, from everyone.

Some Hip Mama friends are donating a laptop to me so that I can work from where I’m staying–my uncle’s house in central Louisiana and I’ll be more in touch from there soon.

For now, just spreading the word–the word of outrage at the federal goverment for the intense suffering of the people stuck, and also the word of sending donations of money and items to shelters all over, the word of opening up homes to refugees all over.

My family are all safe and housed and fed, some of my friends are not.

Much love to you–

Coleen Murphy
New Orleans, Louisiana

Books for Folks

Books for Folks Website

Former New Orleans resident and Gulf native author Janis Owens has created an organization to provide books for relief centers, libraries, and schools hit by Hurricane Katrina. The program is getting enthusiastic support from the Southeastern Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, and authors. Authors or publishers who would like to participate should contact Janis Owens at

MS Post Office Open, Send Supplies


There is a small post office in Ocean Spring, Mississippi, that is standing and open and able to deliver packages of supplies. This is truly a crisis and the people of Ocean Springs and Biloxi are in desperate need of sanitary/hygiene supplies, power bars, flashlights, batteries, nuts, diapers, bottled water, formula for babies, clothing–anything you can think of for survival. Alston will coordinate these efforts in Mississippi through the City Hall and Mayors Connie Moran of Ocean Springs and Mayor A..J. Hollaway of Biloxi.

The only way to deliver to this area is through the United States Postal Service.

Please mail (United Postal Service Only) survival supplies to:

Angela Alston Ross
P.O. Box 736
Ocean Springs, MS 39566

Baton Rouge St. Vincent DePaul

Baton Rouge St. Vincent DePaul is asking for the following items:

Infant Clothing/layettes
Baby wipes
Childrens Clothing
Childrens Shoes
Childrens Sleeping Bags
First Aid Items
Childrens Tylenol
Baseball Caps to limit sun exposure
Non Aeresol deoderant
Non Aeresol Bug Repellant
Coloring Books

Ship to:
St Vincent DePaul Society
St Vincent DePaul Place
Baton Rouge LA 70802

Do You Know What It Means to Lose New Orleans?

Sunday, September 4th, 2005


September 4, 2005
La Jolla, Calif.

WHAT do people really know about New Orleans?

Do they take away with them an awareness that it has always been not only a great white metropolis but also a great black city, a city where African-Americans have come together again and again to form the strongest African-American culture in the land?

The first literary magazine ever published in Louisiana was the work of black men, French-speaking poets and writers who brought together their work in three issues of a little book called L’Album Littéraire. That was in the 1840′s, and by that time the city had a prosperous class of free black artisans, sculptors, businessmen, property owners, skilled laborers in all fields. Thousands of slaves lived on their own in the city, too, making a living at various jobs, and sending home a few dollars to their owners in the country at the end of the month.

This is not to diminish the horror of the slave market in the middle of the famous St. Louis Hotel, or the injustice of the slave labor on plantations from one end of the state to the other. It is merely to say that it was never all “have or have not” in this strange and beautiful city.

Later in the 19th century, as the Irish immigrants poured in by the thousands, filling the holds of ships that had emptied their cargoes of cotton in Liverpool, and as the German and Italian immigrants soon followed, a vital and complex culture emerged. Huge churches went up to serve the great faith of the city’s European-born Catholics; convents and schools and orphanages were built for the newly arrived and the struggling; the city expanded in all directions with new neighborhoods of large, graceful houses, or areas of more humble cottages, even the smallest of which, with their floor-length shutters and deep-pitched roofs, possessed an undeniable Caribbean charm.

Through this all, black culture never declined in Louisiana. In fact, New Orleans became home to blacks in a way, perhaps, that few other American cities have ever been. Dillard University and Xavier University became two of the most outstanding black colleges in America; and once the battles of desegregation had been won, black New Orleanians entered all levels of life, building a visible middle class that is absent in far too many Western and Northern American cities to this day.

The influence of blacks on the music of the city and the nation is too immense and too well known to be described. It was black musicians coming down to New Orleans for work who nicknamed the city “the Big Easy” because it was a place where they could always find a job. But it’s not fair to the nature of New Orleans to think of jazz and the blues as the poor man’s music, or the music of the oppressed.

Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy. Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn’t want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn’t want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn’t want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn’t want to leave a place that was theirs.

And so New Orleans prospered, slowly, unevenly, but surely – home to Protestants and Catholics, including the Irish parading through the old neighborhood on St. Patrick’s Day as they hand out cabbages and potatoes and onions to the eager crowds; including the Italians, with their lavish St. Joseph’s altars spread out with cakes and cookies in homes and restaurants and churches every March; including the uptown traditionalists who seek to preserve the peace and beauty of the Garden District; including the Germans with their clubs and traditions; including the black population playing an ever increasing role in the city’s civic affairs.

Now nature has done what the Civil War couldn’t do. Nature has done what the labor riots of the 1920′s couldn’t do. Nature had done what “modern life” with its relentless pursuit of efficiency couldn’t do. It has done what racism couldn’t do, and what segregation couldn’t do either. Nature has laid the city waste – with a scope that brings to mind the end of Pompeii.

I share this history for a reason – and to answer questions that have arisen these last few days. Almost as soon as the cameras began panning over the rooftops, and the helicopters began chopping free those trapped in their attics, a chorus of voices rose. “Why didn’t they leave?” people asked both on and off camera. “Why did they stay there when they knew a storm was coming?” One reporter even asked me, “Why do people live in such a place?”

Then as conditions became unbearable, the looters took to the streets. Windows were smashed, jewelry snatched, stores broken open, water and food and televisions carried out by fierce and uninhibited crowds.

Now the voices grew even louder. How could these thieves loot and pillage in a time of such crisis? How could people shoot one another? Because the faces of those drowning and the faces of those looting were largely black faces, race came into the picture. What kind of people are these, the people of New Orleans, who stay in a city about to be flooded, and then turn on one another?

Well, here’s an answer. Thousands didn’t leave New Orleans because they couldn’t leave. They didn’t have the money. They didn’t have the vehicles. They didn’t have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do – they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

What’s more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled.

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it’s true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That’s my question.

I know that New Orleans will win its fight in the end. I was born in the city and lived there for many years. It shaped who and what I am. Never have I experienced a place where people knew more about love, about family, about loyalty and about getting along than the people of New Orleans. It is perhaps their very gentleness that gives them their endurance.

They will rebuild as they have after storms of the past; and they will stay in New Orleans because it is where they have always lived, where their mothers and their fathers lived, where their churches were built by their ancestors, where their family graves carry names that go back 200 years. They will stay in New Orleans where they can enjoy a sweetness of family life that other communities lost long ago.

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us “Sin City,” and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.