My Two Cents on the Rail…

Because, it's important

First, a disclaimer…when the Krewe of Eris rolled down the streets of the Marigny and the Quarter, I was over 1000 miles away. Wasn’t there, didn’t see what happened and I won’t pretend to understand the events of that night from any kind of firsthand knowledge. What I do however understand from my own experiences are things like police over-reaction and brutality, bad-apple syndrome, gentrification and yes, anarchism.

I am an anarchist.

It’s the political philosophy I identify with, simply because it makes the most sense to me, and it makes more sense day by day, especially in these days. More specifically, I am an anarcho-syndicalist who believes strongly in the power of unions and community.

By now everyone has read the accounts of what happened at the Krewe of Eris parade and from what I am able to gather, most everybody was doing fine and having a swell time until a few people took it too far (minor property damage) for that kind of a situation (a parade where not everybody shared the understanding of what would happen, including bystanders who got caught up in it), and then in response the NOPD really got stupid, again. Tasers, batons, pepper spray and random arrests, and if some of the first hand accounts are true as they seem, further threats of violence and a denial of medical care for some of the people arrested.

In the midst of these accountings of said events, I’ve read in a few places where writers suggest that for certain members of the Krewe of Eris the parade was about anarchy and anarchy is about chaos, so chaos is what happened.

I can’t speak for the members of the Krewe or their intentions, so I won’t, but what I can speak to is the idea that Anarchism is about no structure, no rules and chaos. This is simply not true, not at all. All forms of Anarchism are based on three main principles: tolerance, equality and mutual aid. The idea of anarchism as a bunch of bomb throwing nihilists shouting “No rules, man!” is a media invention, and frankly, its bullshit. Self proclaimed anarchists who act in this way haven’t really read the philosophy behind the slogans, words and patches. Influential authors such as William Godwin, Peter Kropotkin, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Ward Churchill have studied and advanced a political philosophy that is about helping others, not telling others what to do and working together through consensus to lift entire communities, not just its wealthier members.

But you know, like in any group…when everybody gets together, there’s always going to be the asshole…such as it would appear occurred during the parade when a few people started busting up some cars. This would seem inappropriate in the moment, not that I decry property damage. I actually support it as a media attention-getting exercise and a rather freeing, liberating experience if done responsibly, and kicking dents in the cars of working class people and artists be it during a parade or in any other setting is not responsible. What is, would be actions like shattering the windows of large multinational banks and investment firms, or of other companies that inflict damage on people and/or the environment in this country or any other country….yes, I can buy into that. What will the breaking of windows change? Not much, I understand that, but every political movement needs its moments of excitement…so, so be it.

But yeah, if fringe members of the Krewe of Eris were damaging the cars of artists and the working class people of the Marigny, well, that was pretty stupid because that damage costs money. Also, the parade was a bad setting to inflict said damage because it gave the police the excuse they desired to shut the whole thing down, which by all accounts would be precisely what they did. As mentioned above, in any group there are going to be assholes and from what I’ve read and at other times experienced, the New Orleans Police Department has got a lion’s share. So, they shouldn’t have done what they did either. There was no excuse for it, property damage or not, one of them getting hit by a brick, or not. If somebody hits a cop with a brick, the cops can arrest the man or woman who did it. It’s not reason to start a police riot and randomly arrest and do violence to whomever they wish, period. The idea that police officers work a high pressure job is no excuse for brutality and breaking the law. If they can’t handle the pressure of their job, quit. Some people simply are not made to be police officers.

In any case, there was an apparent police riot in the Marigny…and then of course the repercussions begin, including the closing of the Ark building, home to the Iron Rail, the bicycle collective and a number of other artists and activists.

But as was so well put by a certain writer in his concerns about gentrification in the Marigny, Bywater and St. Roch neighborhoods, the Ark could very well be only the beginning. Gentrifcation has a tried and true pattern of development, one I’ve personally watched occur in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago and the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco. It works rather simply. You got a fucked up, crime ridden neighborhood where the rents are pretty cheap and soon, artists and activists move there because of the cheap rent. New businesses begin to open up to serve the needs of those same artists and activists and over time, the neighborhood gets safer and becomes more desirable to the rest of the city who sits, silently watching until the day they start moving in. Soon enough, the rents rise and the artists and activists get priced out. A few years later, the neighborhood is a hollow imitation of the culture that drew in the money that was ultimately responsible for kicking out the culture.

Round and round we go…

There are some who would make the argument that since Katrina, this would be a way of describing the development of the entire city of New Orleans…maybe, but it certainly is a way to describe the recent goings ons in the Marigny, Bywater and St. Roch neighborhood, and the closing of the Ark building is another step down that road.

So, who gets the blame for all this…the bad apples, the Krewe of Eris, the NOPD?

I don’t know for sure.

Like I mentioned, I wasn’t there, but a persual of the accounts would indicate the NOPD lost their shit in response to some minor provocation, and then the combination of it all led to the first of retaliatory measures called for by neighborhood advocates of gentrification…

In any case, anarchism certainly isn’t to blame.

An oft quoted line from many a conversation is “My freedom ends at the beginning of your nose.”

Meaning: Anarchism is not about mindless violence or the belief in nothing. The philosophy is about tolerance and equality, about helping each other out, for ourselves and against the people who are trying to take it all away. It’s about building, about replacing the government with a system which flows ground up by consensus, rather than orders from the top we have no choice but to follow, or else.  

On several occasions, I’ve been to the Iron Rail and the Ark building and enjoyed my experiences there. I thought it was a tremendous asset to a vibrant and diverse community, and the shutting down of that building troubles me greatly. It’s existence was one of the larger reasons I have been planning my move back, my return to the city of New Orleans, a city I love so much.

A number of writers have also commented that the Iron Rail should have had the proper permits.

I see the point, yes…but at the same time, there’s certainly something contradictory about a bookstore that advocates the end of government applying to the government for permission to be open. I get it. People in the anarchist community feel differently about such ideas. A collective I’d been involved with in Chicago got permits because the Chicago PD would have closed it down the moment they opened their doors. A collective in Berkeley got permits as well, for the same reason. The Iron Rail for whatever reason chose otherwise, and had been open for several years, so there was probably an assumed understanding, rightly or wrongly, that they would be left alone…and it would appear they had been until the NOPD decided they finally had cause to do otherwise.

So, the point of all this rambling?

It would simply be that now is the time to work hard, to help end the gentrification of the city and the neighborhood. Anarchy didn’t cause the melee at the Krewe of Eris parade, assholes did. The NOPD haven’t appeared to have learned too many lessons, and continue a dangerous, heavy-handed approach.

Finally, bring the Iron Rail and everyone active within the Ark building back, into the Marigny, Bywater and St. Roch neighborhood, in whatever form possible.

For a diverse, thriving community it’s both necessary, and important. Whenever any space where the expression of alternative ideas are encouraged gets shut down, the surrounding community gets one step closer to a mind numbing suburbia that benefits nobody, especially not in a city as unique as New Orleans. 

Have a nice day.

2 thoughts on “My Two Cents on the Rail…

  1. I rode out Katrina and thus the Kafkatrina Federal Flood in my writing studio, of many years, above the Iron Rail Bookstore. I remember back when that space was a punk rock venue, where I saw Mexico 1910 as their parents dropped them off at their gig. Know what I mean? The water in my glass above the stage would vibrate. They were in frigging high school, rock on.
    3 months after excaping the flood, I had to hand my studio off to someone who needed it, the Poet Moose.

    Then the Iron Rail showed up about the same time as Plan B bike cooperative. I don’t care what people say about so-called Anarchists, but these folks put together an alternative bookstore that rivaled Anything I’ve seen in San Francisco or Austin or even the birthplace of bricks Eugene OR. And, they did it with Aplomb and open Compassion for other people’s views. They have always had a Sharp Difference for Freedom of Information.
    Yeah, occasionally one could find themselves in a stupid argument with Angst Filled American Youth, but overall I found the place to be a wonderful neighbor in an exceptionally creative space at 511 Marigny.

    Plan B was a Goddessend for Pedaled Transportation before The Flood, but after the fall their work took on epic Saintly proportions. No shit, they (mainly this single Femme Sista) collected I dare say 1000 refused bikes left for dead after the Flood, and rehabilitated them so anyone might have a bike FREE to get around the tangled mess. They worked continuously and without rest.
    It was nothing short of an Astounding Effort which made Big Difference in the recovery of the Marigny/Bywater.
    Upon the fate of mine and the other artists studios above this Elysian Field of Dreams I find it difficult to comment. Really… for 10-15 yrs the 3rd floor housed work spaces for visual artists, who to a painter operated in the Fine Art relm, to wit: this weren’t juvenile dorm room. All of them were professionals who worked hard at their Art and worked even harder to make a living with it. I knew several who sold in the $10,000+ range. I mean, these were serious motherfuckin Artists.
    The ground floor rear bays of the building usually housed the sculptors and such.

    The place called the Ark was the kind of scene one could easily find in the best novels our city has produced.

    Thank you

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