I’m just back from a week in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), where conversations around violence and community organizing have me thinking about technology, gender and digital activism.
I spent much of my time in the Bywater district of NOLA, where the city blocks are full of diversity, and community members feel integrated. Nevertheless, I was warned not to walk by myself-especially as a tourist and a woman–day or night. At the local coffeeshop there was a handmade ‘missing’ poster of a young woman who’d left a party on her bicycle this winter and had never been seen again.
It was eerie to feel in need of protection. Partially out of desperation (and perhaps a bit out of bitterness), I called the phone number at the coffeehouse that promised it was doing something for the community about the neighborhood death toll.
Reminder: NOLA has the highest murder rate in the country and the third largest in the world, said Lord David, the proprietor of the Skull Club in St Claude Arts District, a blogger on humidcity.com, and a community organizer for New Orleans Citizens Against Crime (NOCAC), the group I called for information and guidance.
In response to the violence and murders of many working in the hospitality industries of the French Quarter, coupled with the perceived lack of engagement by local law enforcement, NOLA residents have become proactive.
There’s the NOLA SMS CRIME ALERT NETWORK; launched in winter of this year in response to the murder of another woman who worked in the French Quarter. After her death, her friends began texting each other their own form of citizen crime reports to help one other get home safe.
MSNBC did a short video piece on the SMS Crime Alert project that’s worth checking out if you’re willing to wait 30 seconds while they stream advertisements.
Lord David told me that in NOLA, you get robbed, you walk away, and they kill you anyway. He used the words “insanely violent” and said that one way he vents, beyond blogging at Humid City, is to organize NOCAC community meetings that bring together police, government officials and the citizens of the community. Although the police have been responsive, their attention is mostly on the French Quarter where the tourists are, not the Bywater district where many employees of the French Quarter live. There’s an issue about a police department station (or lack there of) and a Mayor who seems to be writing a book…
It’s the people’s organizing skills and tech savvy that have brought the SMS alerts and NOCAC about this year. Where they’ll go is anyone’s guess. Lord David, on the personal activism and the political sensibility of the downtown Bywater community of NOLA, “I read about something like it in the 1960′s, but I’ve never seen anything like it before. There’s an art movement in this area that rivals anything else. Writers, artists…They don’t own property or hold public office. They’ve got nothing to lose.”
So I’m back up north, reading and writing. I’m thinking about gender and technology. I’m thinking about Duncan Kennedy’s feminist framework (we’ll post that tomorrow) and the radical feminism’s concern with violence. I’m wondering how a group like Gender & Tech could work with a group like NOLA SMS Crime Alerts.
If you know about any other SMS -crime interventions, shoot me a note. We’ve got a digital activism wiki going, and we’d love any add-on’s you’ve got.
If you’re going to NOLA, check out these resources. If you need a tourguide of the Bywater, contact Mac Taylor ( mactaylor at whoever.com) who’s got a nose for the grit and song of the city.
NOLA Text Alert Website -
St Claude Art District
Skull Club on Myspace
Lord David, among others, @ humid city
Rex Dingler & NOLA Rising