Friends and Neighbors



By Philip Cartelli

"God gave us a beautiful day. Maybe it’ll rain on Bush tomorrow.” That was local housing advocate Tracy Washington speaking on Sunday at a rally held in the Ashé Cultural Center’s parking lot to mark the visit of Presidents Bush and Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Crescent City this week for talks as part of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Washington continued to address the 40 assembled Latino immigrant members of Congress of Day Laborers/Congreso de Jornaleros and about as many local citizens. “You have a right to housing. You have a right to have your children educated in whatever language you choose. You have a right to healthcare, to be treated when you are sick.”

These exhortations prefaced the main activity of the rally put on by New Orleans’ Critical Resistance and the New Orleans People’s Summit. Members of the Congreso de Jornaleros had prepared a piece of street theater, which they enacted in front of the colorful mural on the Ashé Center’s eastern wall.

Two struggling farmers from Mexico decide to illegally cross the U.S. border to find work. On the way they encounter a ruthless “coyote,” or smuggler, and other desert perils before meeting a friendly Central American immigrant who offers them a ride to New Orleans with the promise of all the reconstruction work they could hope to find.

Following their arrival in New Orleans, the Latino workers fall in with a corrupt contractor who withholds pay and refuses to aid a roofer injured on the job (“I guess I’ll have to sleep under the bridge tonight,” the abandoned worker proclaims). In the final scene, the workers are at a construction site when they spot a figure in the opposite corner of the parking lot: “Is it the contractor?” they wonder aloud. “No, it’s Bush!” Swiftly, a member of the Congreso wearing an exaggerated mask was carried over to a folding chair and tied down (several of the Congreso, winking at an expectant audience, took mock fist jabs at El Presidente’s “head”). The workers debated what to do with their prisoner before settling on deportation: they unceremoniously dumped him onto the pavement before closing their drama with a rousing guitar performance and song.

Prior to the “Expressions of Resistance” in Ashé’s parking lot, a panel co-sponsored by the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival and Critical Resistance outlined the concerns for New Orleans residents of the recent — and frequently semi-secret — SPP negotiations. One of these resonated particularly with the city’s significance as a port town. Reacting to the rejection of wage reductions by labor unions at major U.S. ports, North American business and political leaders have devised a strategy wherein (cheaper) Mexican ports will serve as transshipment points to other continents and goods will be funneled via superhighway and freight train to northern U.S. and Canadian cities. Kansas City has already been selected as the U.S. hub for the network, logistics for which are viewable here. Such a plan is partially designed to reduce traffic at major West and East coast ports, but would naturally affect New Orleans’ as well, not to mention the impact on the environment of having goods travel thousands of unnecessary miles via land and sea.

At least there’s still all that oil in the Gulf.

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