In my piece of the movement, I work with small-scaled farmers and activists interested in supporting those producers by creating places for them to meet which, in their own time allows citizens to come to a shared understanding of food in their region. And lucky me, I get to do that while living in New Orleans, where true connections are commonplace.
However, since 2005 and the federal levee breaks, it has been demoralizing to meet some of those who have traveled here to "help" repair our region. Not only in the food part of the movement, although that has been troublesome as well since those sad days. Honestly, the entire region has been an experiment for others to make their mark and throw their ideas in the mix. Carpetbags full of promises and well-meaning, unspecified rhetoric.
At first, (people from away is what is meant by "they" and "them" here) came with hard work on their brain and very little judgement, probably because there was so much to do in those days. Everywhere you went, there were homes to clean and people to comfort so we accepted the tens of thousands of visitors coming each month. Ultimately most of them came, did amazing work and then went back. That seemed part of their typology; they were not looking for answers or a new place, as much as they believed in community and sharing. We appreciated them, we truly did. We found a few fellow citizens.
After the first wave, came the system people. These folks had answers they told us, and rattled off loads of ideas that could help us. Some came with money and others came with media access and others just came with energy. We gamely tried to go along with the ideas, to understand how they could work in an informal city like New Orleans in a region that has almost no political muscle or any expertise, having been exploited for its entire history.
Or they had completely thought through ideas or projects that didn't allow local interference and at the end, fell apart because of their stubbornness in accepting help or ideas from locals.
What I can say 5 years after those people started coming is: very little has been accomplished by them. Very few new ideas have stuck or been expanded. The new ideas that are still here were handed back to locals almost immediately after founding and honestly, are still struggling. Part of the issue was that the money and access went with those system people who came for a few years. It didn't stay and had no intention of staying here. Nor did they.
Or even worse, are those people who trade on the cultural strengths of our place and then come to believe they own them. That they can tell others about them or employ them to make money for themselves. They are the hardest to rid - we may suffer with some of these for a longer time, but at least it seems they are not multiplying anymore.
So it seems that wave is just about over. And now comes one that may be the one we had hoped for, and could merge with ours: the few who come to live here with us, like us.
Although we have known it for generations, New Orleans is a special place that takes special people to commit to. There is broken infrastructure surrounding us that allows us to use "lagalou" which Peter Berg explained in an earlier post on this site:
"The difference between lagalou and purely functional infrastructures is inestimable. Infrastructures are efficient but alienating and inner-directed, like the sound of a recorded voice instead of a real person. Lagalou is assimilating and outer- directed, always involving other people and their lives."
Read his whole piece if you have time:
So lagalou is about people's own alternative methods that they create in order to work, live, play, travel and communicate. To have them or use them, you have to trust people. To do that, you have to believe in the people that you live among. To do that, you have to see the paralysis of relying on federal infrastructure.
Those coming now seem to believe more in lagalou, then in charity or in that federal infrastructure. They are quietly coming in and just showing up at regular things and meeting people everywhere. Taking the time to learn and listen, rather than preach and promise.
My friends Jean and Libby number among this group. One has visited 5 times in one year, the other 3 times. Both are living with appropriate scale and connections already, back in Vermont. Both are serving others in their work by facilitating connections and will continue to work like that for their entire life. And both are thinking of moving here.
I know they will add to our city because I watch how they move through it when they come. How they have made friends on their own and asked loads of questions so they can begin to understand the connections and how they work. How they travel mostly by foot and stay in the neighborhood that they want to spend time in for that visit, therefore learning about another small piece. And quite importantly, how they graciously accept offers of sharing from locals without throwing money or skepticism back at us. (And that is harder for people from away than it seems.)
I welcome them just as I welcomed people like George and Budd and how people welcomed me over 30 years ago. Because I know they are not here to extract or to impose, but to live and to share.
And maybe they will be part of the 3rd wave which keeps cresting over us for the next decade at least. And let's hope the others are over and have gone back out to the American sea.