Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mardi Gras with the Skeleton Krewe





This year I spent Mardi Gras Photographing the Skeleton Krewe. The Krewe was created by Christopher Kirsch, a New Orleans native and fine artist in the truest sense of the word. 
Click here to check out a preview of a book i made from the photos I shot that day. And here to see more see images from 2013's Le Krewe D'Etat parade. 

I asked Christopher what inspired him to create his own crew. Here is his response. " 
 There is no one factor that inspired me to start my own Mardi Gras Marching Krewe but rather a series of events.
First off it's in my blood, my father and my father's father both marched in the oldest Mardi Gras marching club, the Jefferson City Buzzards. The history of that club goes all the way back to 1890. I knew I couldn't be a Buzzard but that's another story.....I knew I had to start something on my own. As a child I was always fascinated by a photo that they would publish every Mardi Gras in the times picayune of several skeletons walking down Magazine Street, it's an early photo before the streets were paved in New Orleans and as a child this picture fascinated me, always thinking to myself “that ain't Mardi Gras that Halloween” Year after year they would publish this photo in their Mardi Gras supplement pull-out. It wasn't until the 1990's when Mardi Gras was dieing did I learn that skeletons are a common image in Mardi Gras in New Orleans as well as Carnival celebrations around the world, from Rio to Haiti and even Italy. Around that time I became to soak up any Carnival and Mardi Gras history I could from a Gambit article about the Black Bone Gangs or New Orleans, to a James Gill book called Lords of Misrule and several other books on the subject.... after reading about how Comus started as a street level procession I was determined to build something of my own to help save Mardi Gras....now this didn't happen over night, it started slowly and has built slowly.I knew I wanted to be traditional, I knew it had to be Papier Mache just like the early heads of the giant walking heads of Comus and I knew I wouldn't want to wear a head over and over again, every year it would have to be a new head, and I new nothing could be store bought and ready to wear (okay our gloves are store bought but that's it) 
It started slowly, me by myself in 1999 and again in 2000 
Then in 2001 my then girlfriend (now my wife) decided to make a head (a devil, also a traditional carnival image) some friends saw us that year and joined us in 2002, slowly we grew but I new I always wanted to maintain control and quality of the krewe. By 2003 we settled on a logo and went forward, we grew from 6 members in 2003 to about 40 now, some aren't active due to little ones of having to relocate post-Katrina but I still consider most people that once marched with us members (there are only a few that I would never let march again – but I ask you don't print that) in 2012 we had 24 active members, in 2013 we only had 17 due to illness of some a bad back of another and others not being able to get the day off.
In 2000 I began costuming as a skeleton for the Le Krewe d”Etat parade, somewhere along the lines they noticed and by carnival 2005 we were asked to take part in their parade and pass out their Carnival Bulletin and their own Wooden Nickels, the only way to get these items is to obtain them from the Skeleton Krewe during the parade. We have proudly lead their procession since then, learning and growing along the way.We are made up of Artist, School Teachers, Liberians, Fire Fighters, Attorneys, professors and Office Workers and more. We range in age from the late 20s to the early 60s We spend about 6 plus weeks of heavy preparation to get ready for Carnival, from each member making their own head to spending time getting our trailer ready for Le Krewe d”Etat or making banners or ordering “throws”, we are broken up into committees to help organize everything. Some of us spend much more than 6 weeks on the Skeleton Krewe........
Our Krewe starts early on Mardi Gras morning, leaving a secret location before sunrise and heading down the traditional parade route down St Charles Ave. before heading into the French Quarter, each year we stop at St. Louis Cathedral and have a meal and meet and greet other Marching clubs, This year we toasted the Krewe of Bike-Us in years past we have met up with the Krewe of Grotesque and Outlandish Habiliments, the Krewe of the Golden Calf or the Krewe of Chartreuse and others. Part of our Carnival ritual has evolved into Battling the Christians (not very Christian Christians) I like how you have labeled them A Christian Hate Group. It has just sort of happened, this year was the first for the Blah Blah Blah banner but we are already planning on making more of those along with some nonsensical Christian banners....you'll have to wait until 2014 to see what we come up with.....after we tire of the Christians we move on to the R Bar on Royal Street to meet up and watch the Society of Saint Anne, we slowly disband and start heading home around 2 in the afternoon or so. I would just like to mention that there is nothing else I ever want to do for Mardi Gras ever again" 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Right To Work Bill Signed Into Law As Unions Protest In MI


On Tuesday, December 11th, Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed the Right to Work bill into law while more than 10,000 union members and supporters protested at the Capitol in Lansing.  Snyder, who had told constituents he wouldn't support the bill, changed his mind only last week,  pushing the legislation through a lame duck house with uncommon speed. Unions put out a call on December 6, urging supporters to come to Lansing to try to stop Snyder.  Twenty-four states already have  Right to Work laws on the books. What happens in Michigan, a historically strong state for unions, may well influence the passage of RIght to Work laws nationwide. 


At a press conference after the day's protests broke up, Snyder claimed the RIght to Work bill is not union busting. Instead he says it's a law that gives people more choices. Workers can still join a union, he pointed out.   But union members claim that Right to Work means lower wages and fewer benefits as it takes away their power since without certain jobs requiring union membership their numbers and power will dwindle. They fear the rights, benefits and protections that unions have championed for decades will disappear as has happened in the  states that have adopted the law.  (see link here )  Union member David Sweet explained, " The Right to Work law is wrong. Unions created the middle class and without unions, we will lose it. People have to realize that Unions set workers standards. We set wages. Without us wages will get lower." according to the UAWs website 'The bill reverse decades of balanced labor law in Michigan, which has yielded stable industrial relations, good middle-class jobs, and broadly shared prosperity.  Studies have shown that workers in so-called “right to work” states earn an average of $1,500 less annually. 

Protesters sat down in the middle of the Capitol's rotunda in an act of civil disobedience after the signing of the bill took place. Reverend Jesse Jackson, Michigan senator Gretchen Whitmer and Lansing mayor Virg Bernero made brief statements in support of the unions before joining the protesters. Outside there were two separate incidents where police officers used mace, and one brawl between a person from the Americans for Prosperity and an anti-Right to Work protester. Three arrests were made. James P. Hoffa lawyer and president of the Teamsters was also on hand. He said that this law is a major step backwards for everyone and made it clear the fight against Right to Work is not over. Mayor Bernero told me what happened was despicable. "We are in a colossal war between the 99% and the 1% and today the 1% won. The governor represents the 1%,  but we will be back. In two years a Democrat will be elected and the law will be reversed." 

For more the passing of the Right to Work Law check out my story on the Progressive 's site 

Union Members March in Lansing MI To The State Capitol
Jake Stone, Burner and Boilermakers Union169 and Daryl Honaker, the Operating Engineers Union 324



Union Members and Supporters Protest Against the Right to Work Law at The State Capitol 
Protester Sit in the middle of the State Capitols Routanda 


Jesse Jackson, LLansingMayor Virg Bernero and Michigan Senator Democrat-minority leader, Gretchen Whitmer 
State Police Guard the George W. Romney Building where Snyder's Office is
Krystal Nowicki and Jamie Krystal eat pizza While Protesting the Right to Work Law
Janitor Colleen Baldwin Says it is Too Bad so Much Will Be Taken From Her Grandchildren
Sign in the garbage at the end of a day of Union led protest against the RIght to Work law 
  Dave Sweet a member of a union for 35 years, He say the Right to Work law is wrong  
Protesters in Front of the George W. Romney Building across from the State Capitol
Corey Hake, iron worker in local 25 Union at the RIght to Work Protest
Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan holds a press conference  
A Union member holds a sign with a Christmas message across from the State Capitol 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Volunteers Take Charge After Hurricane Sandy

 Occupy Wall Street disaster distribution center on 38 and beech Channel in St Gertrude's Church 

Good Samaritans have come to the aid of those hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. They shovel sand out of basements, deliver meals, and supply stricken communities with pet food, medicine and legal advice. FEMA and the Red Cross are not easy to find in the post-Sandy landscape. But Doctors Without Borders, Occupy Wall Street and lesser known groups like Punishers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club from upstate New York and Michigan's Movement for Peace.Org  mobilized quickly and went right to work.



Occupy Wall Street has been a leading force in the relief effort. They set up the website OccupySandy.org that people find via Facebook. Donations have poured in and they quickly coordinated volunteers, sending them to areas  where people need help the most. Team Rubican,  veterans who pair their members with civilians,  go out and help with the dirtiest  parts of recovery. Nicole Green,  an ex-Air Force officer, says vets are well suited to help in chaotic situations. Rockawayreleif.org is one of several sites people are using to find out where they can go to help.


Aria Doe runs the Action Center for Education and Community Development in the middle of five Far Rockaway public housing projects.  Half her staff have no power and have lost everything. Yet they come to the Center on 58th St and Beach Channel Drive to help, distributing donated goods to whoever comes in and providing health and childcare. The Red Cross and FEMA were in touch with Doe ten days after the Sandy to ask what she needs, but they haven't been able to follow through yet. She chokes up when she speaks of wondering whether she should pay her staff or use what funds she has to buy cribs for babies sleeping on wet mattresses. Many of the people in the projects would go without food, if not for the Center. She says "People can text  to ease their conscience but that money won't make it to the people she is serving." 



New Zealanders Craine Knowels and Tim Huse hooked up with a group called The  Rockaway Renegades on Facebook  and spent Sunday digging out basements. Huse said the earthquake that hit  New Zealand taught him it takes years for people to recover from a disaster.  Community leader Kevin Foley told group form Southbury, CT's Pomeraug High School, "It is time to get your hands dirty." The 25 volunteers came to the Rockaway's with shovels in hand going door to door to dig out basements. On the corner of Beach Channel Drive and 44th Street I found five friends who surf in the Rockaways feeding people. They came equipped with grills, 500 burgers, 500 hot dogs and  ten pounds of rice and beans. 


I met Suzanne McCrory, whose house is close to the beach in Belle Harbor. Volunteers were cleaning her basement, hauling out furniture and building materials that they piled on the street. I asked her if she knew who was providing the help. She smiled and shrugged and said she didn't know who they were, but said they were doing great work.

To see more of my work on Hurricane Sandy check out my stories on the Atlantic wire-

St. Francis De Sales Church  now a disaster aid station.
 A group from the Pomeraug HighSchool in Soughtbury CT takes to the streets in the Rockaways with shovels going door to door
Actor Steve Buscemi, a one time firemen shows support in Belle Harbor posing with a group volunteers 
Suzanne McCrory in front of a pile of rubble from her basement in Belle Harbor
Monsignor Brown at St. Francis De Sales Church in Belle Harbor talks to  Oscar Gubernati, with a background in disaster relief who is running a makeshift disaster relief operations from the church .
Anji Crane from Baton Rouge LA used Rockawayreleif.com via Facebook to find out where to help.
Disaster aid station across the street from the St. Francis De Sales Church in Belle Harbor
Team Rubicon uses a special military program called  Palantir normally used to diagram terrorist networks, But for their need , they use it to pinpoint areas where help is needed
 Rockaways, Nicole Green,  an ex-intelligence officer in the air force spokesman for the group, says veterans are best suited for helping out in a disaster area- it is good for them as well as the people they help

Craine Knowels, and Tim Huses  from New Zealand help out in the Rockaways
The  Rockaways Relief Organization board at the Rockaway Surf clubs disaster relief makeshift center

The Far Rockaways, Naomi Baria on of the founds of Rockawayrelief.com in the Rockaways

Aria Doe director of the Action Center for Education and Community Development in the Far Rockaways opens the school for disaster relief
Tyson Chanler of the Knicks stopped the Action Center for Education and Community Development to show supp
Action Center for Education and Community Development - a room for children set up by volunteers from the Brooklyn Waldorf School
Surfer, Juris Kupris grills hamburgers for anyone who is hungry on a the corner of 44st and Beach Channel drive. 
Far Rockaways  Shlomo Roth, of Occupy Wall Street tells people to take what they need

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fight Against the Keystone Pipeline In East Texas


 Tree Blockade in the Path of Keystone Pipeline
Texas landowners and environmental activists are fighting side by side to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada, whose pipeline would transport tar sands (bitumen) from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, jeopardizing the environment along the way, broke ground in September on the Gulf coast segment. 

Fairchild Shows TransCanada Detail Where He Should Be
Eleanor Fairchild, a 78 year old Winnsboro, Texas, property owner, had never before participated in protests or acts of civil disobedience, but when it became clear TransCanada's pipeline would be transporting tar sands instead of crude oil, as she had been told,  she knew it was time to fight back. On October 4, Fairchild and actress/activist Daryl Hannah stood in front of some heavy machinery, halting TransCanada's work until they were arrested. Fairchild's interest in the pipeline's environmental impact began three years ago when she received papers from TransCanada saying they needed access to her land that was in the pipeline's path. But she refused to sign their papers or take their money for the easement they demanded. As far as she's concerned, TransCanada's financial offer is insufficient and the company's ability to safely transport tar sands across America is unproven. She doesn't blame others for signing their papers and taking the money; fighting TransCanada will be expensive and time consuming. 
Air Force veteran David Hightower encouraged his mother to sign on with TransCanada paperwork because she was ill and the stress was taking its toll. As a result his vineyard has been destroyed. TransCanada gave him an additional payment when the media got hold of the story, but money can't replace 20 year old grape vines, Hightower says, living under the threat of an oil leak is unnerving. Can the pipeline withstand the pressure of the cars passing over it? If his ground water is contaminated, his insurance won't reimburse him. Where is the oversight in the construction process, he wonders, since the environmental impact studies are lacking. 
Julia Trigg Crawford Looks Over At Pipeline Construction
Julia Trigg Crawford is fighting Trans Canada on a different tack: she points to the misuse of eminent domain laws. Recently her fight was dealt a blow when The Lamar County court ruled TransCanada can their for take her land through eminent domain. She is appealing that ruling and promises to go all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if she has to. What started as a personal battle has become a campaign to protect America from corporate bullying. Crawford was labeled an activist by the TransCanada attorney, James Freeman, a label that's not particularly popular in the Texas/Oklahoma border country. She, however, sees herself as a patriot, standing up for all Americans' property rights.  
Susan Scott signed her contract with TransCanada after a two-year battle, accepting $20,000 after TransCanada rep Peter Porter made it clear if she didn't agree, TransCanada would sue her. She would be responsible for all court fees, and would receive practically nothing for the easement.  Signing the contract isn't stopping her from fighting, she says, because she found out after the fact she had been sold a bad bill of goods. 
Along with individual actions, larger protests are making an impact. The Tar Sands Blockade's October 15th protest followed a two-day training camp. Fifty participants made their way to Tree Village on David Daniel's land in an effort to resupply the tree sitters who have been camping out for over 28 days, despite threats of being charged with felony trespass. According to the New York Times, Daniel asked the tree sitters to leave. Daniel's lawyer said his client had reached an agreement with TransCanada and would no longer fight the easement. Now media and outside monitors are being kept off Daniels' land by a TransCanada police detail. Two New York Times reporters were handcuffed and detained while attempting to cover the story.  

Tar Sands Blockade on Oct. 15th 
Ron Seifert, a Tar Sands Blockade media spokesman, described the day's action as bittersweet. Although they effectively shut down work on one site, it will take a much larger multi-pronged approach including legal injunctions and more direct action to stop the pipeline. At least ten of his friends have been arrested during the action. He hopes the media will undertake more investigative reporting about the Keystone XL pipeline and the devastating environmental effects of tar sands, the dirtiest of dirty energy sources. The group is not against energy consumption. They just don't want multinational corporations to dictating America's energy policy and believe there are other less environmentally destructive alternatives. 
Recently 21 people, including Eleanor Fairchild, have been cited as eco-terrorists in a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed by TransCanada. They were served with stacks of papers numbering in the hundreds.  It is a civil suit so the term eco-terrorist, is being applied as a scare tactic Ron Seifert told me he sees the lawsuit as another effort to intimidate those fighting back. Unknown to many, new laws like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)  have empowered corporations like TransCanada to take intimidation even further. By labeling those who stand up against them eco-terrorists they could ultimately be detained without charges brought against them, and journalists covering their stories could join them in some undisclosed jail cells. Seifert intends to file a counter suit naming TransCanada the trespasse, not he and the others. TransCanada is guilty of slander, he says, since the Tar Sands Blockade is a nonviolent direct action group, not a terrorist organization. As Eleanor Fairchild puts it, "I'm no eco-terrorist!"



Tar Sands Blockade on Oct 15th 

Keystone Pipeline construction in East Texas





Tar Sands Blockade Activist Attached to Machine


Detained Activist Who Tried To Get Food To Tree Sitters

Detained Activist Who Tried To Get Food To Tree Sitters

Detained Activist Who Tried to Put Sign on Truck

Tar Sands Blockade on Oct 15th in Winnsboro Texas


 Susan Scott With Persimmon Tree She Saved On Her Land

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Isaac's Messy Aftermath


 Stolthaven Chemical Plant, Braitwaite
The depth of Isaac's destruction came into focus as the flood waters finally receded. The surge knocked homes off their foundations and toppled power lines for miles, stranding cars and cattle alike, it also toppled railroad cars full of toxins and hazardous chemicals parked at the Stolthaven Chemical Plant in Braitwaite. To date, there is no information about what was spilled and how much, but the spill was bad enough to mandate a half mile exclusion zone around the plant. Not until yesterday were residents who live near the plant allowed t to check on their homes and rescue belongings. Braitwaite residents who live beyond the exclusion zone go about there business hoping they are not being poisoned. Those I spoke to are skeptical about rebuilding in the area. With the chemical waste and the lack of flood protection they may decide to settle elsewhere. They blame the severity of the surge on the flood protection created for New Orleans. Though there is no proof as yet that New Orleans' massive Great Wall forced the water in their direction, Blake Miller says, "The water hitting the wall had to go somewhere." Oil washed up on the columns of St. Mary Plantation, the historic landmark he recently restored.

Since the BP oil spill when the government went along with BPs misinformation campaign, everyone in the area is skeptical of official information. The remnants of BP's oil spill are back, washing up on the beaches and in the marsh. So much for BP's tv commercials claiming the Gulf Coast is better than ever.

 Isaacs surge was predicted, but Solthaven was caught off guard. Doesn't a chemical plant have a responsibility to safeguard its neighbors when storms are coming? Is self regulation, like that of the oil ad gas industry, enough? Will Braitwaite become a toxic ghost town? For now, the beleaguered town is contending with visible dangers, watching out for snakes and red ants as they clean up the muck.. Their next job is dealing with insurance adjusters and FEMA representatives who are spreading the word that this time around it will not be like it was after Katrina, and they shouldn't expect as much.

Photos available through Corbis 
Stories on the Atlantic's website:  Eerie Vision on Highway 23 After Hurricane Isaac and
 After Isaac New Orleans Struggle to Rebound but Counts Its Blessings 

 *Linda Hopper-Bui from LSU supplied coordiantes to find the oil in Bay Baptiste that her tests confirmed as a match to the Macando (BP) well.
Hwy. 23 in  Plaquemiens Parish

Cows in house on Hyw. 23
Destroyed home in Briaitwaite
St, Mary’s Plantation in Briaitwaite

Blake Miller owner of St, Mary’s Plantation assesing the damages



Toxic chemical on the levee in Briaitwaite

Assumption Mission in Briaitwaite
Cow in house on Hwy. 23 in Plaquemines Parish

Coffin on the levee in Briaitwaite, Plaquemines Parish
 Cat Island eroded to less the half its size by Isaac.
BP oil in Bay Baptiste