IMMIGRANTS: WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Forest Hills, NY
While I appreciate your positive coverage of the emerging immigration movement, “Immigrants & Us” [April 24] concerned me deeply, both in its tone and intimation. That progressives need to be convinced to join this fight, one that seems to jibe with their values and agenda, is more than a little unsettling. That they have to be coerced or wooed toward it, apparently against their presumed better judgment, fills my throat with bile. If in their hearts US progressives stand against “illegal” immigration for the same or similar wrongheaded, misinformed or racist reasons that many other Americans do, then they can take their strategic false alliances and shove ’em. The immigration movement has more than enough passion and will to supplant such insincerity and prejudice.
GARY C. SUAREZ
Illegal immigrants are the “final solution” for the economic survival of African-Americans. Recently the Washington Post ran a story of 170 displaced (by Katrina) African-Americans promised work in New Orleans by a staffing firm in Mobile, Alabama. When they arrived, the jobs had been filled by illegal immigrants from Mexico. Those types of stories play every day throughout America in black communities. The progressive movement has turned its back on its most loyal supporters, African-Americans and the working poor.
What’s interesting in the whole immigration debate is the lack of discussion of why every day thousands of people risk their lives on treacherous journeys across oceans in little boats, across deserts and rugged terrain on foot or on the top of a train. Is it that their current situation is so desperate that risking death is better than staying put? Can you imagine the type of life they must be living? If so, what is our role? What can governments do to help raise standards of living to better levels? It’s an international problem that calls for a global solution.
What is necessary is a call for real immigration reform, which is to say, a destruction of the whole concept of immigration and border controls and a move toward a European Union-style system of free-flowing borders. If goods can flow freely from one country to another, why can’t people?
KNIGHT RIDDER: RARE, ENDANGERED
A note of appreciation to John Nichols for pointing out the excellent work of Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau [“How to Free the Press,” April 17]. In addition to the prewar stories, they did a painstaking assessment of Judge Alito’s record on the Third Circuit before his confirmation. Not only did they take a barrage of criticism for pointing out that Alito’s opinions generally favored the state, the police and the powerful, but after the criticism came tumbling in, the bureau chief (since retired) wrote an opinion piece defending the reporting and pointing out that there was no “other side.” Alito’s opinions are what they are. If readers didn’t like that, they should take it up with Alito.
It was a pleasure to read the tribute to my distant colleagues.
Philadelphia Daily News
EARLY BYRD CATCHES THE WORM
Merion Station, Pa.
I enjoyed Eric Alterman’s catalogue of noteworthy Americans who warned us about the folly of the Iraq War [“The Liberal Media,” April 17]. I note one serious omission in the “statesman” category, however. Alterman awards first place to Al Gore, with honorable mention to senators Feingold, Kennedy and Obama. Much as I like Barack Obama, I think his prewar warnings pale in comparison with those of Senator Robert Byrd. Based on Byrd’s prewar speeches on the Senate floor (mostly ignored by the media, of course), he probably deserves first place, with Al Gore displacing Barack Obama in the honorable mention list.
THE SPIRIT OF NEW ORLEANS
“Who is killing New Orleans?” asks Mike Davis [April 10]. New Orleans was already dead. It is interesting to get a Yankee’s perspective on what is happening in my city, tucked neatly into a “they’re all just a bunch of racists” ethos. If New Orleans is going to stand proud again as it once did–and I don’t mean in August 2005 but more like the 1920s, when it was clearly the crown jewel of the South–we are going to have to do it ourselves. Yes, we need levees; yes, we need the offshore royalties. But above all we need radical change in our institutions: our education system and law enforcement and in City Hall. We need people in charge not afraid to think big and propose radical changes, because as most of us realize this is our one chance to make it happen. What we don’t need is smart-ass Yankee reporters who have no idea what it was like here.
Mike Davis is from California. –Eds.
Another brilliant article by Mike Davis. However, as a reporter working and living in New Orleans, I have one objection. Davis mentions the City Council being shut out of the rebuilding process, as if that were a bad thing. Anyone familiar with the New Orleans City Council knows it as one of the more regressive forces and no friend to low-income African-Americans. The little that it has done to “aid” the reconstruction is to help FEMA stall on delivering trailers to displaced residents.
The charge to save green space and golf courses for the rich was led by the archconservative Algiers- and Uptown-based members Jackie Clarkson and Jay Batt. But even the council’s most progressive member, Oliver Thomas, has praised the Housing Authority for making it harder for public-housing residents to return, saying we don’t need any “soap opera watchers” in public housing. Progressive groups, whether unions, community or African-American organizations, have long been weak here and have had a lot of catching up to do. I would say that if anything, the situation in New Orleans is worse than Davis suggests.
While we are certainly struggling mightily down here, no one is killing New Orleans, although inaccurate articles like Davis’s do damage us. I write as president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans, a multiracial community nonprofit organization, to offer a picture of what is actually happening as those of us–young, old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian–who love New Orleans are working to rebuild our home.
Some examples of Davis’s inaccuracies: In lamenting how the “white elite” dominated the Bring New Orleans Back commission, Davis claims that “the real clout was exercised by committee chairs.” Of the seven committees, two were chaired, and one was co-chaired, by African-Americans. And Janet Howard was hardly the power broker Davis fantasizes. She chaired a finance subcommittee and produced a rather pedestrian set of recommendations that made up a small piece of the final report.
All this overlooks that some 3,000 stakeholders and citizens participated in BNOB meetings, including a growing number of African-Americans, a function of two factors: one, more African-Americans are returning to the city; two, as they recognize that there is legitimacy and openness to the process, they become increasingly willing to participate.
Davis states that “most locals found little charm in the Canizaro report.” In fact, the report was received with long and loud applause from a room overflowing with local citizens, black and white. Some loud dissenters grabbed the microphones; but the clear sentiment was that this plan was a good starting point.
The article boils down to a claim that a small group of elite white Republicans is now running New Orleans. Looking at the chaos here from the void of leadership, it is questionable whether anyone is running New Orleans. I work every day with a variety of colleagues to rebuild the best possible New Orleans. The vision we share is that all citizens must have a chance to return, and that a New Orleans that loses its diversity loses its character and livability. I am a middle-aged white guy, but if the majority of my New Orleans neighbors end up looking like me, I’m outta here. Fortunately, that’s not happening.
As for who is running New Orleans: The people are. Neighborhoods from New Orleans East to Carrollton are engaged in a variety of planning processes, almost all self-initiated and bringing more people out to meetings than has ever happened. More than eighty neighborhoods have joined a coalition, the Neighborhood Planning Council, to share experiences and marshal resources. This effort is supported by the same powers vilified by Davis. An independent foundation is supplying millions of dollars; planning tools and information sets are being prepared for the neighborhoods; an extraordinary outreach effort is being designed so that residents of any neighborhood can participate, whether they are living in their homes, in a FEMA trailer or in a city halfway across the country.
We are not going to let anyone kill our city, or hijack it, or turn it into a museum or adult theme park. We still need a lot of outside support; we need leaders who will listen to the people and exert true leadership; and we need responsible, informed, accurate reporting by the media. But we will have the final say in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Don’t kill us off just yet.
KEITH G.C. TWITCHELL
Conservatives seem to want to build a beautiful city with open spaces, to gut public service unions, destroy the education bureaucracy and reduce the number of poor African-Americans and Cajuns, so as to establish a Republican majority. Liberals seem to want to return New Orleans to its pre-Katrina condition: same poor people, same distressed neighborhoods, same lousy public schools, same desperate conditions that invigorate the music joints, same political infrastructure and unions, to assure a Democratic majority. But where are the morally grounded goals? Where are plans to improve the lives of the poor, the safety of the city, the schools, the economy, the distribution of wealth?
How thankful I am to be able to keep up to date via your website. You see, I live in the postapocalyptic frontier town known as New Orleans, and we don’t get mail too often in these parts, and we don’t get our magazines at all. We appreciate your continued coverage. While the rest of the world thinks we are all well and good, I am thankful that The Nation tells it like it is.
CLARIFICATION & CORRECTION
Patricia J. Williams (“Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” April 17) refers to the Pittsburgh schools dropping the International Baccalaureate program; it is Upper St. Claire (a Pittsburgh suburb) schools that are dropping the program.
Perry Anderson’s “Inside Man” (April 24) incorrectly states that Francis Fukuyama is co-editor of The American Interest. Fukuyama was one of the magazine’s founders and chairs its editorial board; its editor is Adam Garfinkle.