Maybe that’s not really a fair question seeing as though in this moment of mass stupidity the seemingly available options to a Drew Brees or Mike Gundy, who are set upon and castigated as racists for simply offering a defense of conservative or traditional American thought are considerably fewer than for a suddenly put-upon leftist like New Orleans’ clownish mayor. That said, when the “mostly peaceful” protesters came calling for Cantrell, she certainly didn’t grovel the way Brees or Gundy did.
Instead, Cantrell offered up an open letter which is both deliciously ironic and at the same time strangely praiseworthy…
An Open Letter, from Mayor LaToya Cantrell:
To the people of New Orleans:
We are at a pivotal moment when systematic racism, structural inequality and a global pandemic have converged to challenge us in a way that is unprecedented.
But within this challenge lies an opportunity to reshape our world and build a new and better society that respects and uplifts all people, including the women and men who are the backbone of our cultural economy.
I want to recognize the protestors who have taken to the streets to make their voices heard. I want the men and women who brought their grievances and their anger to my front door to hear me clearly as I have heard them. This moment must redress those who have been marginalized by our tourism economy, by failed policies, and by an economic collapse that has hit the least of us the hardest.
It cannot be about misdirected anger. It cannot be about empty gestures. And it cannot be about storming angrily into a residential neighborhood leaving my daughter feeling terrorized, a 12 year-old black girl, whose mother rose from the epicenter of the crack cocaine epidemic, whose family did not come from a place of privilege. To be worthy of this moment, we have to be bigger than that. We all have to be better than that.
The stated goals and objectives of the workers group that marched into Broadmoor last week should be better aligned with the tactics they chose. Their core demand, for paid sick leave, is an issue that — by state law — must be addressed on the state level, through the legislature. It would be far more effective and also demonstrate a thorough understanding of the issue if they went to Baton Rouge. Instead, they marched into a residential neighborhood to the house of the Mayor, the head of the executive branch of a municipality that does not make state law. They also frightened a child whose only crime was being raised by a woman elected to a position of authority.
That cannot be what this moment is about.
Effective advocacy and meaningful action must be more than angry slogans and empty gestures. The real work is in holding power accountable. That means talking to the business owners and the hospitality leaders about how to take care of their people. I have called for those leaders to create time and a safe space for this badly needed dialogue, followed by action.
The real work must involve talking to state lawmakers about what paid sick leave means — for the health of this City, and for the health of the state’s economy. It means being smart, being bold and building a coalition.
To be an activist in this moment is a sacred and a serious endeavor. To be worthy of it, we must grow beyond the impulse to shout at the nearest authority figure. Determine who can make the changes, determine who is responsible and how they can make things right — and work directly with them to move forward. That’s how Broadmoor was rebuilt. Not by empty dramatics, but by doing the hard work.
Black Lives Matter. My entire lived experience has been a fight to make that point. I did not become the first woman to lead this City by virtue of legacy. Nor was I the first black woman elected Mayor because of any privilege. Every step of my journey —- from the crack epidemic that decimated my family, to the years spent on the front lines of the hospitality industry here in this City, to the fight I helped lead to rebuild Broadmoor after Katrina — has been defined by that implicit fact. Black Lives Matter.
My father was a victim of the crack epidemic. My stepfather was another casualty of the same scourge — which ran unchecked by those in power, while it decimated the black community. My brother was system-involved and turned his life around. My stepbrother was system-involved and taken from us by violence at 18. This is not a story about privilege and power. I can stand up and say Black Lives Matter because I’ve personally had to fight to make that true every day of my life.
The hospitality industry, and the workers who are its lifeblood, are the backbone of this city’s economy. If we have any hope of recovery as we stand our City back up, it is pinned on making New Orleans a success story: a safe place for our visitors, and a safe place for the women and men who do the work.
This is a defining moment, for our country and our generation. We cannot fail this test by giving into the temptation to be small right now. We cannot go back to a “normal” that was never working for the people doing the work. Industry leaders have to be accountable. Lawmakers, at every level, have to step up.
And as the Mayor of New Orleans — I cannot, and I will not relent in the fight to move this City forward: in a way that is equitable, in a way that respects the humanity and the integrity of all of our people, and in a way that continues to insist: Black Lives Matter.
Mayor, City of New Orleans
There is so much here we could tear apart, starting with the fairly irrelevant references to the 1980’s crack epidemic in Los Angeles that virtually no one in New Orleans gives a hoot about in the context of the Big Easy in 2020 and certainly not finishing with the irony of Cantrell canceling all the major events in the city for the rest of the year and thus impoverishing the local economy.
The people protesting at her door don’t appear to have been angry at her over canceling those events. It’s not that they’ve been put out of jobs as busboys, waitresses, line cooks or hotel maids. What we could perceive from those protests was that they’re angry about having to work jobs they consider “unsafe” with the COVID-19 virus afoot.
The answer to which might be that these people watch too much TV, given that most of these people are fairly young and in no particular danger of dying from the virus; they’d get mildly sick, if at all, in the event they caught the virus. It takes a real snowflake mentality to be a twenty-something and demand hazard pay for waiting tables or cleaning empty hotel rooms.
Had they marched on Cantrell’s house demanding she reopen the city’s economy and get some money flowing back into their bank accounts, that might be less laughable.
Of course, Cantrell’s “Why me?” response is fairly laughable as well. She isn’t wrong that most of the public policy she says would address the concerns of the “Hospitality Workers’ Alliance” is made at the state level, but it surely comes off as a passing of the buck when she issues the demand that they march on the state capitol rather than Chez Cantrell – particularly when she doubles down on that demand by further blaming the protesters’ employers for the ills of their workplaces.
What would have made this discussion truly interesting would have been an acknowledgement that New Orleans’ economy being based solely on tourism, something poor leadership through the decades has produced, is the real cause of the malaise motivating those protesters. As Conrad Appel continues to point out, the economic basis for the city’s existence has been stripped away piece by piece thanks to bad business leadership, worse public policy, a criminal culture of corruption and a catastrophic failure to recognize the threat competition from neighboring cities and states would inflict on the city’s future.
New Orleans came up as a port city. It was one of the busiest ports in the world for most of its existence. It still is, though most of what moves through the Port of New Orleans is raw materials rather than finished goods and the good-paying jobs in transportation and logistics that ought to come from a busy port have been stolen away by other cities along the Gulf Coast.
New Orleans also used to have a good deal of manufacturing. That’s almost all gone and without a complete sea change in how the city governs itself it’ll never come back.
Nor will oil and gas come back to New Orleans, which is a shame since in the 1960’s and 1970’s, what you can see of the city’s central business district was built by the oil and gas industry. Its political class viewed the fact there’s a lot of oil offshore in the Gulf a constant which would force the oil companies to have a presence in New Orleans regardless of how much corruption and abuse were inflicted on those companies and found out they were wrong. Now those companies are all in Houston and none will come back to New Orleans.
Having lost port, manufacturing and oil and gas jobs by the thousands, what’s left is tourism. Every Caribbean island nation can tell you what a tourism economy offers: poverty. Tourism jobs are generally low-skill, low-paid jobs. They’re jobs people do while they’re in school, or while they’re trying to get a better job doing something else. But if there is no something else because all you have in your economy is tourism, you will have a large number of unhappy people.
LaToya Cantrell didn’t create this problem. It has been festering for a long time before she squatted down into the mayoral chair. But she’s certainly making it worse by demonstrating daily that she has little aptitude for her job or the humility to recognize her limitations. The letter is childish in its self-focus and haughty opprobrium toward those rude protesters she’s been supportive of when they’ve sought to disrupt the lives of people not named LaToya Cantrell.
But that said, at least Cantrell tried to defend herself in that letter. It would have been nice, particularly in this insane moment of mass hysteria in the media and on the Left which won’t go away until the hysteria is stood up to, had Brees and Gundy done the same.