second line in the frontlines.
Today, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt presides over a hearing that will have a powerful impact on a seminal New Orleans cultural tradition, second-line parades, as he hears arguments in a lawsuit against the city, filed by the ACLU on behalf of the Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force, in protest of security fee hikes that appear arbitrary, discriminatory, and, according to ACLU staff attorney Katie Schwartzmann, unconstitutional.
For those in New Orleans, your presence at U.S. District Court Eastern, 500 Poydras St., Judge Engelhardt - Section C 351, at 10am, can only lend support. (Tape recorders or cameras not permitted, cell phones must be off.) The Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force will likely assemble by 9am in Lafayette Square, across from the courtroom at 9am.
Please read on for more details and background:
Here's my piece in this week's Village Voice, which underscores the fact that while the Jazz & Heritage Festival will turn on its soul-charging battery 4/27, the 4/25 hearing is just one of many roadblocks to cultural recovery in New Orleans.
If you take anything away from it, perhaps it should be this passage:
Erosion of our coastal wetlands may have paved the way for the natural disaster that hammered this city. But the least- mentioned aspect of the resulting devastation--the erosion of what ethnographer Michael P. Smith once called "America's cultural wetlands"--is of tantamount concern. The resilient African-American cultural traditions of New Orleans, famously seminal to everything from jazz to rock to funk to Southern rap, also contain seeds of protest and solidarity that guard against storm surges of a man-made variety. Erasure of these wetlands exposes many to the types of ill winds that shatter souls.
And here's today's Times-Picayune piece, by the stalwart and talented Katy Reckdahl, with extensive background to the pending lawsuit.
Beyond some key specifics, Reckdahl offers this important perspective:
With the Carnival krewes dominated by white members and the social aid and pleasure clubs predominantly African-American, the debate has taken on racial overtones. Social aid and pleasure clubs acknowledge that Carnival is a big business but point out that tourists also are lured to New Orleans by marching bands, Mardi Gras Indian tribes and the second-line tradition.
Plus, they say, value can't always be calculated in dollars. Their club members pray together, gut houses for one another, buy school supplies for neighborhood kids and bring groceries to families who can't afford them.
"No matter what problems one may face in life, the second-line community is there for you," said JeNean Sanders, president of an Uptown club called We Are One.
Beyond that, the clubs are an important symbol of this city's culture. Their images are used to lure tourists here, and their feathers, umbrellas and dancing have become an almost-required part of any municipal celebration.
"The city is happy to use us to sell New Orleans to a crowd or to a convention. But it seems to have a problem with the clubs parading on their own, through their own neighborhoods," said Gerald Platenburg, a member of the Nine Times club.
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