Friday, April 20, 2018

Survivor Story Showcase features theater, dance and performance pieces by sexual violence survivors

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 4:52 PM

Organizer Lauren Hind has created several performances dealing with sexual violence. - PHOTO BY SCOTT MCKIBBIN
  • Organizer Lauren Hind has created several performances dealing with sexual violence.

Sexual violence, performance and visual artist Lauren Hind says, is a silencing thing.

"One thing that survivors all have in common is just this unbearable secrecy and quietness. ... It often is very isolating," she says. "And in that isolation, I think, that's the part where it just becomes such a heavy trauma."

Hind first started thinking about this silence — and how to break it — during conversations several years ago with a group of other artists who also had survived sexual violence and abuse. Those conversations eventually made their way into a performance piece about healing the group staged at the Alternate ROOTS art activism conference, which provided Hind with the germ of inspiration for an upcoming production she's organizing with New Orleans Family Justice Center at Cafe Istanbul. Survivor Story Showcase opens April 25 and comprises 12 artists presenting theater, dance and other performance pieces drawn from experiences of sexual assault and what it took to move past them.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'We are coming for you': Women's groups converge on the Capitol for lobby day

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 8:55 PM

State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.
  • State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.

At the Louisiana State Capitol Building, there are imposing elevators with brass-coated doors, gold-painted Ionic columns, marble walls, lots of men clad in navy sportcoats and blue and gray suits, lobbyists with shiny "LOBBYIST" badges, security guards and school groups in matching T-shirts. And today, there were feminists.

A group of more than 100 women, many of them affiliated with women's advocacy groups including Lift Louisiana, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Feminist Majority Foundation, Women With a Vision, New Orleans Abortion Fund and Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, convened at the nearby Capitol Park Welcome Center on the morning of April 11 for "Justice for Louisiana Women." The event was part lobby day, part activist workshop and part response to a legislative session that has included a great number of bills that would be consequential for Louisiana women.

From bills that affect health care for women who are incarcerated to bills preventing people convicted of stalking from owning a firearm to bills preventing Medicaid service providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from simultaneously holding an abortion license, legislation currently being considered could endanger women's health, economic security and, some argue, even their lives. At today's lobby day, organizers seemed prepared to train a new generation of activists in the grinding, sometimes multi-year process of influencing and educating legislators, often with the threat of evicting them from their seats.

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sports-entertainment scholars unafraid to mix it up in the ring

Posted By on Sat, Apr 7, 2018 at 1:44 PM

The conference program
  • The conference program
There's never just one thing happening in New Orleans. At the same time WrestleMania week is slowly, multifariously unfolding across the region, beautiful wrestle-blossoms of different sizes and pay scales blooming in every available metro auditorium or high-school gym, the Southern Sociological Society is holding its annual meeting and conference at the Marriott across from WWE Axxess.

This year's conference theme is "Racial Theory, Analysis, and Politics in Trump's America." Digging into the program, I was gratified to discover multiple panels about pro wrestling, one of which I attended Friday morning.

Dr. Jack Karlis of Georgia College opened, detailing his research into how media framed (or failed to cover) the longstanding connections between President Donald Trump and WWE's owners, the McMahon family. I knew Trump and the McMahons were chummy; I hadn't known that Linda and Vince McMahon were the largest single contributor to the Trump Foundation, a gift Karlis estimates to be around $5,000,000.

JH Roberts
  • JH Roberts
Next up, the University of Georgia's J.H. Roberts discussed activism in pro wrestling during the Trump presidency. Usefully, or perhaps crushingly for some, she defined activism as "not just saying things on Twitter, but doing things." Roberts provided a survey of some forms this has taken, both outward-facing (WWE Superstar Sami Zayn bankrolling a mobile medical clinic in Syria, indy star Zack Sabre Jr. donating merchandise profits to a transgender law center) and inward-facing, which is activism focused on improving pro wrestling itself.

The third panelist, Chris Maverick of Duquesne University, talked about models of performative masculinity in leadership, comparing Trump to Lincoln, an accomplished amateur wrestler, and then to various comic book villains and pro-wrestling characters. The highlight, for me, was the connection Maverick drew between Trump's compelling, crowd-pleasing yet contradictory or semantically incoherent rhetoric and the promos of Dusty Rhodes and the Ultimate Warrior.

Perhaps defying assumptions about those that do vs. those that teach, I discovered both Roberts and Maverick are or have been wrestlers themselves. Roberts is actively training as a pro wrestler, and is part of a collective she describes as "a pro wrestling promotion dedicated to exploring within the boundaries of pro wrestling what you can do with feminist and gender performance."

"For example," Roberts told me, "within pro wrestling there's Ultimo Dragon, Dragon Dragon, Super Dragon ... Drago, in Lucha Underground ... but [in our promotion] we have potentially the first-ever female dragon character. In her storylines she addresses things a female dragon would have to deal with that male dragons wouldn't — aspects of reproduction and female bodily autonomy."
Chris Maverick
  • Chris Maverick

Wrestling is brutal. "I'm in pain pretty much all the time," Roberts says of her training. "At the same time, it's nice to do something so purely physical because it lets me turn my brain off. It's also exciting to push myself in new ways and confront things I'm terrified of, like front flips— since if you don't do those you can't wrestle."

Chris Maverick is on the other side, having retired from in-ring competition. "I did it for six years," he told me. "My last match was maybe eight years ago. I wrestled exactly 50 matches in my career and mostly jobbed," meaning he lost to more prominent wrestlers.

Maverick, a lifelong wrestling fan, joined a wrestling school and started training at age 29. His overwhelmingly younger classmates all dreamed of getting to WWE. "My goal was a little different. I said to myself, 'I'm going to wrestle one match, maybe write a paper about it.' There were 15 of us in the class and only three of us finished because it was so grueling." Maverick's wrestling career did include a stint as a tag-team champ in a West Virginia promotion; it so happened I'd just seen his erstwhile tag-team partner, DJ Z, wrestle at Evolve 102 the night before.

"I wasn't great," Maverick said. "I was older and had bad knees when I started, so I knew my time was limited. I dislocated my shoulder four times... it's hard. It's a very rough sport."

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Sexism Project documents lives of sex workers with new online portrait series

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2018 at 3:29 PM


Her back to the camera, a woman wearing a bodysuit opens a refrigerator, the light outlining her forearm. In another photo, a woman bicycling down a New Orleans neighborhood street turns and grins at the photographer. Other women sit on their couches or beds, a dog or a cat close at hand.

These are the portraits from the most recent installment of The Sexism Project, a photography and interview series in which project curators discuss sexism with women in different industries. The women in the photos are sex workers — many are dancers in New Orleans strip clubs — and with this series, photographer Katie Sikora hopes to help tell their "human stories."

"As someone who's coming to the table with already a very liberal viewpoint on sex work, my mind is still being blown by what these women have to say," she says. "They're fighting against a long history of people kind of walking all over strippers, and treating them like second-class citizens."

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$15 minimum wage rejected by Louisiana House committee

Posted By on Thu, Mar 29, 2018 at 12:26 PM

A "Fight for $15" march in 2016 rallied on Canal Street. - PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
  • A "Fight for $15" march in 2016 rallied on Canal Street.

Ryan Jones earns $290 every two weeks from his job at Popeyes in New Orleans. The check is gone the day it arrives, after bills are paid and his family's needs supported. "I can't afford to buy myself lunch," he said March 29. "I work hard on an empty stomach."

Baton Rouge lawmakers sitting on the Louisiana House Labor and Industrial Committee heard several stories about the cost of full-time work earning minimum wages — from the impacts to children in poverty while parents earn a low wage to workers' reliance on public assistance while big business earns millions of dollars in profit.

A few days after the Louisiana Senate rejected a mere $1.25 increase in a statewide minimum hourly wage, state Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, introduced his bill to bring it up to $15 in 2019 — the first-ever attempt in the Louisiana legislature for a $15 wage. The committee rejected the proposal, with only three representatives in support.

A second attempt to extend the state's equal pay protections to women who work for state contractors also failed in the committee, after a Senate version was voted down earlier this week.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Housing group report: New Orleans short-term rental laws enabled 'hotelization of residential housing'

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2018 at 2:30 PM

JPNSI released an extensive report measuring short-term rentals' impact in New Orleans.
  • JPNSI released an extensive report measuring short-term rentals' impact in New Orleans.

A lengthy report from housing advocacy group the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI) says that nearly 20 percent of short-term rental operators in New Orleans control nearly half of all listings.

The report from the housing justice and community land trust organization offers a detailed look at how large companies and developers, including locally based real estate investors, have leveraged the city’s short-term rental (STR) laws to turn potential housing stock into a sprawling enterprise of de facto hotels.

"Short Term Rentals, Long Term Impacts: The Corrosion of Housing Access & Affordability in New Orleans" follows extensive media reporting and debate over the impact of STRs in New Orleans, which spiked in the wake of a package of city laws that provide a legal framework to allow them to operate — city officials hailed it as a model compromise with the industry while extracting tax revenue from an already-existing practice. But JPNSI — which has led community meetings to share its data over the last several months — says the laws have merely provided companies and developers with an economic incentive to prioritize visitors at the expense of residents.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

New Orleans students march against gun violence in a March for Our Lives through French Quarter

Posted By on Sat, Mar 24, 2018 at 6:00 PM

New Orleans-area students joined a nationwide March for Our Lives March 24.
  • New Orleans-area students joined a nationwide March for Our Lives March 24.

New Orleans-area students, their teachers, parents and others calling for stronger gun control measures and an end to gun violence rallied through downtown New Orleans March 24, joining a national March for Our Lives movement organized in the wake of the killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hundreds of people spanning at least eight blocks marched from the Marigny through the French Quarter, past Jackson Square and into the CBD, then ending with a rally where students and elected officials called on legislators to adopt a platform promoting stronger gun control measures.

The movement is calling for universal background checks, a ban or age restrictions on so-called assault weapons, the repeal of the National Rifle Association-backed Dickey Amendment preventing the Centers for Disease Control from work that promotes gun control, and an end to the NRA and other lobbying groups' influence in politics.

The banner of "Enough" has waved throughout the last several weeks leading up to the march, following February's Parkland murders and more than 130 deaths in schools since the 2012 killings of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

"Until today I have been silenced," said Olivia Keefe, a 17-year-old Benjamin Franklin High School student and co-organizer of the New Orleans march. "I'm silenced by the words 'you kids don't know what you're talking about.' I'm silenced by the words 'you're too young to understand why these policies will never be changed.' ... How many school shootings has the average member of your generation been a survivor of? ... You're not the one who grew up with active shooter drills."

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

New Orleans City Council kills cap on Bourbon Street strip clubs

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 5:05 PM

Strip club workers protested club raids in the French Quarter earlier this year. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • Strip club workers protested club raids in the French Quarter earlier this year.

A proposal to cap the number of strip clubs on Bourbon Street’s seven-block entertainment strip has failed, a victory for dancers who have been squeezed out of jobs following recent raids and another blow to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s sweeping public safety plan.

The New Orleans City Council failed to pass the cap by a vote of 4 to 3 on March 22, following years of study and debate at City Hall and several raids of Bourbon Street clubs.

Several dancers and club workers spoke against the measure, which they argued further criminalizes an already-marginalized work and will limit job availability, pushing dancers into potentially unsafe clubs across parish and state lines that don’t share Bourbon’s regulatory efforts. Speakers also argued that the City Council’s expression of solidarity with women construction workers in the morning part of the meeting should also apply to other women workers.

“We too are women, we too are valid members of the community,” said Liz Collins, an organizer with Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers (BARE). “We too are workers and want to provide for our families, and we want to do it safely.”

At-Large Councilmember Stacy Head proposed limiting the number of strip clubs on Bourbon Street’s Vieux Carre Entertainment (VCE) District to 12, which followed the City Planning Commission’s rejection of a “hard cap” on the number of clubs on the street in favor of a “soft cap” of 14 clubs. The CPC’s “soft cap” called for a maximum of 14 clubs to operate on the street; operators would have to apply for a conditional use to open a club if the cap has been met. That cap would kick in after clubs close through “attrition.”

Head’s measure aimed to cap the number of clubs at 12, the current number of clubs in the VCE after recent law enforcement raids forced closures and suspensions of several venues.

Head said her motion is “merely a land use matter” to reduce congestion of an “intense use” in the district; City Council President Jason Williams said despite the legitimate efforts of creating legislation “in a vacuum” over the last several years, those raids (“a complete waste of time”) are now inextricably linked to the issue of a club cap. “You didn’t do that,” he told Head. “But that is part of all of this now.”

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Politically themed drag show Extra opens at AllWays March 27

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Drag performer Quinn Laroux as a "Gulf Coast oil spill mermaid."
  • Drag performer Quinn Laroux as a "Gulf Coast oil spill mermaid."

"Especially right now, everything in the news is just getting more and more ridiculous," says drag performer and producer Quinn Laroux, mentioning a recent tossed-off presidential remark about a military space force. "With drag, you're already starting on a note that's a little ridiculous to begin with."

That idea — commenting on the food-processed 2018 news cycle through the excesses and outrageousness of drag — is one Laroux has had for a while. In more satirical, conceptual performances, she's performed a reggae-based number that skewered cultural appropriation and sent up Kendall Jenner's racially-tinged Pepsi ad fiasco to "Where Is the Love?" With Extra: A Political Drag Cabaret, Laroux brings an entire show's worth of political drag and variety acts to AllWays Lounge & Cabaret March 27.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

LISTEN: Rebecca Solnit on sexual assault, Parkland and internet culture

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 2:02 PM


Essayist, cultural critic and activist Rebecca Solnit, who is known for the prodigious breadth of her interests and her feminist critiques of contemporary culture, is scheduled to give a lecture at Tulane University's McAlister Auditorium beginning at 7 p.m. March 19. Ahead of that appearance, she gave a nearly hour-long interview to WRBH-FM's David Benedetto for the radio station's "The Writer's Forum" program.

The interview, which spans a range of topics almost as vast as Solnit's own body of work, aired over the weekend, but you can catch it on the station's Soundcloud. There, the writer and host cover Solnit's writing history; her thoughts on the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida; the future of American activism and progressivism; what it was like to work on Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas; viral media; the language surrounding sexual harassment and assault and more.

The full interview is embedded below.

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