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Promotin’ the General Welfare: The Day After (The Monuments Come Down)

Well, it sho’ looks like it’s for real this time. According to an edict from on high – at least as high as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – the imposing embarrassment of Confederate riches has been approved for removal, and much to Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser’s chagrin, there won’t be much anyone can do about it. (Word on the street was that our esteemed Lt. Governor was so upset by the City’s disrespect toward the legacy of the illegitimately formed Confederate government, he would personally appeal to the POTUS to pause Mayor Mitch from disgracing those sickening odes to things that once were…) So, with the coming down of these monuments, whenever that will be accomplished, here’s one significant concern: what will come on the day after? 


What does our fine Mayor plan for a fresh start to live a day without symbols of oppression towering over us? Does he have a master plan for our municipal well-being akin to the bright shiny plan he announced for Bourbon Street? Or, will this go down as another hand-me-down to the next administration to handle?


It’s all well and good that it was fashionable to declare that all leftovers of a long-gone but oh-so cherished – and oh-so despised! – past must be banished to some netherworld of history. But what about the “now”? What’s the plan to correct the indiscretions, indecencies, and daily incivilities that go down in New Orleans?


It’s fashionable to put down New Orleans’ past, but there was a time when there was great hope in this city. It started in the 1970’s with our current mayor’s father, Moon Landrieu. If it wasn’t for Moon’s historic and visionary decisions to promote inclusion and practice diversity, before those buzzwords were part of a progressive political plank, New Orleans might have remained in the backwaters of ass-backwardness. That is to say, it might have gone the way much of our sorry state of affairs called Louisiana has so hardheadedly remained even today.


It was Moon’s bold openness which made it possible for the city’s first black mayor in the late 70’s – no small feat back then. Post-Katrina, things came full circle. Folks put their faith in Moon’s son Mitch because of the storied history of his family as political personages willing to go against the tide and work toward a more perfect community. Always a work in progress, but progress we would.  


But “now” is Mitch’s moment to define himself within the distinguished legacy his father first began. What will Mitch’s bold statement be?


Without a doubt, removing the monuments is a big deal, as in beyond a big deal. For all of our being the lone spec of blue in a sea of Louisiana red, New Orleans is still very much a conservative city at its core. Don’t get played by all the laissez faire lifestyle and loose tongue lingo. True progressivism – that’s a wee bit too much radicalism for the status quo citizenry, regardless race, color or creed.  


New Orleanians of a more liberal nature may be better characterized as practical progressives since local advocacy is often based on common sense measures, like how to keep the tourist economy moving at optimal, operating mode .  


Mitch’s call to bring down the spectre of the Old House of Horror was really a practical decision: not only had the time come, it was a timely move, especially with so many new investments from outside the South making a home here. All those Confederate degenerates were causing folks not a small bit of queasiness. Besides, hadn’t they lost the war? Why were their heroes being so deified?  


So, yes, the monuments’ take down was well overdue, but it is not enough to take the monuments down.


It is also not prudent, as some groups are advocating, to begin the tiresome process of relabeling buildings and streets. This is a path we’ve trod before with respect to renaming public schools in the 90’s, and look where we ended up:  with a system stolen from under us. So, you wanna play the rename game? It is an imprudent distraction that expends energy better spent working toward real solutions.  


Convening dialogs about why one day we may decide to relabel streets, rename parks, and what-not: that is a good measure always. It can engender greater civic trust and understanding, but right now, “now” matters. There are more constructive ways to engage in meaningful, productive activism for the greater good.  


There is a long-game and a short-game in this process, but regardless which tact is taken, the end-game should be about what best moves the city with respect to sincere and significant progress, not just prettied up, repaved streets and new marketing slogans.  


For all its soul, New Orleans too often rings hollow at its core thanks to our preoccupation with trifles and poor handling of tribulations. The real question is: what is the state of our soul? Where do we see “us” going? Is there an “us” – or an “us” vs. “them”?  


For folks who oppose removing the monuments, for whatever reason, please know this: no one is trying to whitewash a past you feel should be honored. What honor is there in treason? What honor is there in supporting a government whose primary economic engine was driven by the pistons of human chattel? Is that really something you wish to honor? I daresay, not a whitewashing but a closer examination of this harmful history is in order. We should never forget what evil forces conspired to secede from the United States.  


For folks hell-bent on “making ‘em pay” for the dastardly deeds of the Confederacy and continued White supremacy, please know by the actions and oughts of the current Presidential administration, our greatest and most difficult work lies ahead. Not just in taking down symbols of oppression but in dismantling the language and lore that poisons our nation even now.  This is why dialog is so crucial, so essential: how do we learn what others think and feel if we do not hear them out, if we do not ourselves come to the table first to address grievances?  


There are far too many folks walking around who still see “other” as something to be despised or kept in its place or, worse, to be erased, removed, or repatriated.  This is the practical legacy of segregation and White supremacy which must be addressed if we are to succeed as a community and a country.


No doubt, Mitch has done a yeoman’s job of bringing New Orleans back from the brink of extinction. Now, we must demand a master plan that prepares for the betterment of all people in New Orleans. Taking down the monuments is a bold, forward-looking gesture that sends a message that New Orleans is making a break with an ugly part of its past. But the effects of that past overshadow progress today, and in order for “now” to be about a better future, we need more than bold gestures: we need forward-thinking - bold ideas that can bring serious uplift to the city and its citizenry, not just a facelift and a plateful of platitudes.


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The text above is a column and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.

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