Why heavy rains make me think of NOLA… Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

Guest post by Isaac Coplan, MES grad student at York University and former CINT 912 student at Ryerson University.

Two nights ago I took an hour and a half to get home (usually a 45 minute commute). I ran through heavy rain and arrived at my lobby to find that the power was out.


Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

Shortly after the rain started, York Commons, York University. Photo by Tanya Gulliver.

I climbed up the stairs to the 8th floor while I swore out loud. When I got to my place, I looked out past the balcony at Wilson ave. and Highway 401, both bumper to bumper. They remained perfectly congested until 930pm. My partner and I sat without power and ate sandwiches. Our stove is electric. We only have one blueberry scented candle and a wind-up flashlight that was giving my partner a headache by the end of evening. All in all it was kind of fun; we played chess and then crazy eights and hung out by blueberry candlelight. Our water was still functioning (though I think the hot water was out by 10pm). Our iPod touch was able to function as our alarm when both of our cell phones died. When I went to sleep, I had a brief moment of thinking that the lights and power may still be out in the morning when I woke up, what would I do then? Our AC had been out for hours and we were starting to get a bit muggy, our food probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of days in the freezer.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Flooding on King St in Toronto. Photo by Steph Vasko.

Throughout Toronto, hidden waterways that used to mark the landscape prior to colonialism, development and re-development reached out their swampy arms and flooded the Gardiner Expressway and basements throughout the downtown core. The water systems reminded us that they are there, and that they can’t really be tamed or routed. Sure enough, at 230am the lights flickered back on and scared us. The returning electricity saved our food and allowed us to plug in our cell phones. Other than the stoplight out at the end of our street and wet pavement, the events from the day before were hardly a memory by the morning.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans probably started in much the same way as this heavy rainfall. It wasn’t the largest hurricane that had passed through the region. Many people start off by having hurricane parties and meeting up with friends. It all probably started off pretty fun, but then at some point, that panicky feeling that things may not get better ended up being true. People ended up losing family homes and suddenly being without places to stay. Displaced, they were reaching for inexistent assistance from people in other states and from their own government. People drowned in their attics, or in the flow of water. The news referred to them as refugees and the media began immediately to blame the victims. The infrastructure that was supposed to protect those people in the Lower 9th ward and St. Bernard Parish was insufficient and the storm surge reminded everyone that it was in charge (not the Army Corps of Engineers). FEMA trailers were lined with asbestos and other harmful chemicals for those who even qualified. The remnants of Katrina are still in New Orleans. Those who lost people, places and signifiers to the storm surge of Katrina will think of it when they see every new storm coming.

Now, heavy rains make me think of this displacement and temporality of shelter as I know it. I look outside and it forces me to think about the privileged position that I am in. I live high above the water level if there ever is a flood. I may or may not have power, but my living space is cool enough and I am consistently hydrated. I have food to eat, even if there is a chance that it will go bad. I have a place that I can return to when the rain falls quickly. I have a place that is safe, where I have dry clothes and a support system. In Toronto, there are lots of people who don’t have that. There are lots of people displaced who are threatened by severe weather. People living in unsafe housing or outdoors whose possessions are at continuous risk of being destroyed, stolen or “cleaned up”. For those people, every rainstorm can be as devastating to them as Hurricane Katrina. Their ‘heavy rains’ may not even be tied to weather, they are tied to social, political and economic positions that they are placed in often through no fault of their own. We have an obligation to make sure that everyone has safe housing, and that there are adequate supports for those who are displaced. When the heavy rain is over, and my power is back up, I have the privilege of breathing a sigh of relief.

It really is time for change, to end displacement as we know it.

It doesn’t take a dream, it just takes a commitment.



DRO 734-2013 — Hurricane Isaac Wednesday, Aug 29 2012 

For the last two years I’ve been responding to a disaster that has impacted the US around the anniversary of Katrina. Last year I attended a couple Katrina related events and then left for my deployment as a shelter manager in Vermont. My current deployment with the American Red Cross is in my own backyard.

So, an update after the first official night of Hurricane Isaac. I spent Aug. 27th in the Red Cross COOP (Continuity Of Operations Plan) office in Madisonville on the Northshore. It’s a 15 minute drive from my house in bad traffic. That’s where the Southeast Louisiana chapter shelters during a storm. We were extremely short staffed so while my official title is Community Partnerships Lead I helped out with government liaison, staffing, training, and sheltering. I slept on a cot in the photocopier room to stay warm (they kept the building soooooo cold so if the power went out it wouldn’t hurt as quickly) for about 5 hrs.

After getting woken at 5:15 to troubleshoot a shelter issue I decided to get up and at ’em. I did an initial interview with a producer at CTV and some social media but was asked by my leads if I would change roles and head to the town if Franklinton in Washington Parish. I’m embedded at the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. I’m in the headquarters which has reps from the Fire dept, sheriff’s office, health dept, national guard, parish staff, EOP staff etc. The Parish President and council members drop by as do folks from other departments, especially at National Weather Service briefing times.

The storm is moving very, very slowly. We haven’t been hit hard here yet, a few hundred homes without power, some trees down, light to moderate winds and some rain, heavy at times. In other words, a normal day in Louisiana. The storm is coming, it’s just slow.

Other areas haven’t been so lucky. About half a million homes are without power across South Louisiana. Lots and lots of rain and heavy winds. The storm sat over Grand Isle (one of the centers of damage during the oil spill) for hours and hasn’t moved far away. In Plaquemines Parish (also affected by the oil spill and basically wiped off the map in Katrina) damage is wide spread.   There is either a breach or levee overtopping and ppl are reporting 12 ft of water in homes. Ppl are trapped, but rescue efforts are hindered by the weather conditions.

New Orleans has been slammed since last night. Winds of 50-70 miles an hour. Several inches of rain. The storm may continue to affect it with hurricane or tropical storm conditions for another 24 hours. There is street flooding, power is out almost everywhere in the city, and will likely be out at least another couple days.

It’s likely that we’ll get hit soon so I’ll sign off. More when I can. I’m tweeting @TanyaMGulliver and will continue while we have power/signal. We do have a generator so hopefully I’ll have phone or texting capacity.

Leaving A Bit Of My Heart In NOLA Friday, May 11 2012 

As I stood in line for my Customs interview, I predictably began to sweat. I mean, I’m not a rabid ex-con or anything, but standing in front of those officers just makes me want to confess to things I had nothing to do with (Note to self: NEVER take a career in the Secret Service). The attendant ushered me forward and, much to my surprise, the customs officer turned out to be the man who had witnessed my mother’s hysterics while dropping me off an hour earlier. “This isn’t a coincidence, you know. Your mother made sure I watched over you until you crossed our border”, he snickered. I began to relax as he scanned my documents. He asked me why I was going to New Orleans and, as rehearsed, I stated it was a part of my course at Ryerson University, that I would be meeting twenty others down there, later this afternoon. I handed him the letter and, as he scanned it, looked up at me and said quietly “You’re going to New Orleans for a lot more than just some school work.” I began to grow nervous but his next comments surprised me. “It’s taken this country years to do there what it would have taken a day for them to do anywhere else. People like you and your classmates just warm my heart. Volunteers work their fingers to the bone for people they don’t know. My family and friends there appreciate it, I assure you. God Bless you, your mama must be proud.” He then handed me back my documents, we exchanged well wishes, and I went on my way.

I don’t the think the enormity of his statements hit me until later in this trip. Up until we departed from Toronto, my preparation for this trip had been purely academic. I hadn’t had the chance to think about what others think about what we’re doing here. Notably, I mean that in the least self-aggrandizing way. I simply mean that the work that we’re doing, the work that thousands of volunteers before us have done, has not and will not go unnoticed. People with no connection to the victims of Katrina have reached out their hands and hearts to make even the most marginal of differences. Acknowledgment isn’t necessary, purely because that drive to help comes from within. But it was interesting to hear it from someone whom is on the outside – even just a customs officer – who doesn’t lie within the assigned “confines” of victimhood or relief.

Working on the sites that we have, learning what we have, meeting the people that I’ve met, and sharing parts of myself to the classmates with whom I’ve grown so close to has been one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had. I’m leaving a little piece of my heart in New Orleans, and am already counting down the days until I return.

– Maria

FIVE days… and yes, I’m counting Monday, Apr 23 2012 

Less than one week til we leave for New Orleans and I can’t quite figure out if it feels more real or more dreamlike at this point. May seem strange, but truth often is. On one hand, seeing my bag half-packed on my floor and reading the itinerary emails Tanya and Pascal sent out surely adds to the realness. My mind is running through lists and making imaginary check marks in my brain as I finish the housekeeping tasks that I must complete before locking up my apartment and saying so long to Toronto for a brief – yet inviolable – period of time. However on the other hand, each day that goes by seems a little more unreal than the last. I’m so used to my daily routine in Toronto, having lived on my own in the same apartment for over three years, that any trip becomes quite a production in my mind. I’m a bit of a homebody, so breaking out of my usual habits and going somewhere new is a pretty exciting thought. Funny, because there was a time in my life when almost every day involved going somewhere new… and yet simultaneously staying home. What a privilege to be able to travel for pleasure and know that your home will still be there when you return. Although I believe this is a privilege all should have the right to enjoy, it is clear this is not a reality. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be able to say one’s home is “safe and sound” and I’m humbled by the thought of being able to help others make this dream a reality.

Although this trip is really nothing like living and travelling on a sailboat, I find myself naturally drawing comparisons: the living quarters will be small and communal, we’ll be on the move a lot, we may encounter things that seem unfamiliar, we may miss home, we’ll definitely be excited to learn about our surroundings, and we’ll certainly be eager to contribute in relevant and positive ways that benefit those who have been gracious enough to host our stay.  Most importantly, regardless of how much we read and research about our destination and no matter how much we try to wonder, imagine, and anticipate in order to prepare ourselves, the only way to really experience anything is to go and do and be and see and listen.

And so, my dear Internet, that is what I plan to do. Although I immersed myself in learning as much about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina as possible when I first started this course – and continue to pay attention when I stumble upon new information – I do not want any pre-trip impressions to detract from my ability to experience this new place to the fullest. I look forward to forming my own thoughts and opinions based on all that I go and do and be and see and listen to from April 28th til May 13th, 2012. 

Thoughts on Victim Blaming and NOLA Thursday, Apr 19 2012 

As my time in New Orleans draws nearer I find myself seeing and hearing NOLA everywhere. Whether it be in books, in stores or on my iPod it seems like everything is related to the journey my peers and myself are about to embark on.  However, nothing put things in perspective quite as much for me as a Jan Stanners article I came across on the Feminist Dating blog that she had penned for the first annual International End Victim Blaming Day (IEVBD). IEVBD came about through the Slutwalk movement which originated here in Toronto after a sexual assault occurred and during a press conference at a local university women were asked “not to dress like sluts” in order to avoid becoming assaulted in the future.

I have noticed this sentiment where the blame is placed on the victim or survivor and not on the perpetrator and find it so infuriating and illogical. Stanners does as well and made some excellent connections to Hurricane Katrina and the victim blaming that has occurred in New Orleans since.  She highlights how the government blamed those who did not evacuate, while not taking into account the means people have to have in order to evacuate.

This is exactly the impression that I had reached in researching more about Hurricane Katrina and the social inequalities I feel that it exacerbated.  I would like to further expand Stanners’ position and think of the Katrina survivors in the months that follow.  Not only have they experienced such massive and abrupt loss, but now this loss is being placed squarely on their shoulders during a time of rebuilding and grief—a time when they should be receiving apologies and reparations. 

I cannot help but think that this more than the system attempting to blame the victim in order to shift blame from themselves.  After all, if this was the case would the government not try to blame Mother Nature and the storm itself for the damage?  Instead they selected those who had been greatly disserviced by the state and in their moment of need and pain said “this is your fault”.  This to me is the state blatantly trying to gain control over and further marginalize those already experiencing inequality in society.  Not only is it sickening to think that any kind of organization with power would set out to do this, but the thought that they attempted to do so by praying on people who were experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress emotionally, financially and physically is utterly deplorable.    

This story is still unfolding in New Orleans now almost 7 years later and yes, victim blaming is still prevalent.  However, something big happened after the blame was placed on Katrina survivors…they said “no”…actually they said “HELL NO”.  The survivors refused to be blamed for life situations they did not cause, they stood up for themselves and their community and attempted to rebuild.  Is this a perfect story, one where the state realized their wrongs and fixed everything? No, it is not, but I feel that it is so much more than that.  It is more than that because the courage of those who stood up in their weakest moment to fight and who still continue to live through this is so inspiring.

This is how movements like ending victim blaming come about, through people who are not willing to entertain the unfounded idea that they made themselves victims.  These movements set a standard that tells those who take part in victim blaming that they are not going to be successful in deterring the growth of survivors.  These movements inspire others to unite and push back against victim blaming.  It is the movement that is happening in Katrina that has inspired 22 students from Toronto to become more aware of and work with the survivors in the fight to end this kind of victim blaming by providing growth and support, which takes away the blaming power of the state.

I am so excited to be a part of this movement and like I have mentioned before, I am so looking forward to meeting those who live in New Orleans and feel I have so much to learn from their courage, strength and perseverance.  They are proof that although you may not be able to avoid devastating life experiences, you have to power to push back against victim blaming and help yourself and others to achieve a standard of living that every human being deserves.

I’ll be blogging often during this trip, come follow my peers and myself on our journey to NOLA with LOVE!

-Natalie Morning

NOLA to Toronto Friday, Jul 29 2011 

Like with the G20 last summer, every once in awhile my eyes are drawn back to Toronto. Right now, at 330a, in Toronto there is a people’s filibuster going on. Hundreds of people are crowded into meeting rooms at Toronto City Hall to present deputations to the City’s Executive Committee.

As usual, Mayor Ford blusters. As he mispronounces everyone’s name, at least those that aren’t pure WASPy in nature, he apologizes. But his apology seems half-hearted. He cuts off speakers, even though he starts their time while they’re still pulling out their chair to sit at the mic. Councillors are given a minute; when applause continued after one speaker he told Councillor Joe Mihevc that since “they are your people” he didn’t get to ask his question, even though Joe clearly couldn’t speak overtop of the clamour.

I’m watching via the 680 news site, and reading the Twitter feeds at #TOCouncil and #TOpoli. People have been following this all day. Some people have been in the room all day. It is unprecedented; in my years of organizing around city budget’s I never saw this happen. People were cut off, council refused to sit etc. Of course, that was before there was a central committee that we were allowed to speak to. The city scattered us through the various committees which spread us out and pitted us against each other.

I’m so tired, they’re on speaker of 206 of 300. But I’m staying up to watch until everyone has had a chance to speak.

Finished NaBloPoMo Tuesday, Nov 30 2010 

Finished NaBloPoMo so time to return to a more manageable level of blogging. It was a good kick in the pants though after having gone a couple months without blogging at all. Luckily, the students will be starting their guest blogs soon. I love logging in and discovering that people have been blogging away.

While technically the blog is Toronto as well as NOLA I rarely blog about TO. But Rob Ford‘s new round-up of his executive committee scares me too much not to comment on. I am afraid for the City of Toronto.

G20 and BP Friday, Jun 25 2010 

If I was back in Toronto right now, I’d likely be on the street protesting the G20. Instead, I am thousands of miles away reading about it online at the Toronto Star’s live blog.   Already, there have been arrests including an acquaintance Dave Vasey.

Tomorrow I am heading out to a “Hands Across the Sand” event in Mississippi – likely the one in Pass Christian which was one of the earliest spots that dead turtles and tar balls started washing ashore back in early May.

There are events across North America – please try to get out to one if you can.

I can’t help but think of the connections between the two events.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on April 20th continues to spew oil out into the gulf. No matter what methods – top kill, cap, burn off – the oil is filling the gulf. There is a potential hurricane brewing right now; and a heavy season expected. If it looks bad now, just wait til a hurricane lifts the oil and throws it several miles inland. BP is involved in providing response and recovery. It continually throws money at the problem; at the same time it controls media and public response. Volunteers and BP contractors are under a gag order. Kindra Arnesen is one of the locals not afraid to tell it like it is. (I heard this speech and it is great!). BP has spent about $2 billion in relief efforts (and pledged $20 billion into an escrow account for income loss).

The G20 (and G8) meetings which occurred this week in Ontario bring together world leaders to discuss key economic and development issues. The theme for the summit is Recovery and New Beginnings and is intended to discuss recovery from the recession and moving forward. 7 LCBO (liquor) stores, the PATH (underground corridors), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Toronto, the CN tower (ironically included in the G20 icon) are all closed. Many businesses and organizations downtown – including the Professional Writers Association  of Canada of which I am President – have shut down for the day or are having employees work offsite.

$1.1 billion has been spent on the security and set-up of the summit; that’s just the amount they have told us about. From the fake lake to the security fence to over the top amounts of security police the summit organizers have turned Toronto into a police state.  The information that gets out will be as spun and controlled as the truth about the oil spill.

The protesters at the G20 aren’t just complaining about the cost of the summit. They’re there to talk about women’s rights, immigrant rights, health care, poverty, job security and climate justice.

The latter is where the biggest connection (after the outrageous security and media control) come into play. Environmental issues are critical. At the same time that the oil spill occurred and President Obama declared a moratorium on offshore drilling, Prime Minister Harper relaxed Canadian laws.

The oil spill is the fault not just of BP or governments but the fault of all of us. We have an over-dependence on gas and oil; it stems from our desire to drive, and consumerism. I include myself in this. As someone with a disability I depend on my car; I live in a community that has hardly any transit so my car is necessary. I don’t ever shop at Wal-Mart but the substitutes here – at least for low cost – are Family Dollar and Dollar General. That means that if I don’t want to spend a ton of money I need to buy cheap plastic products, likely made in China. I’m doing my best to find local sources, shopping at local non-chain stores, but its still a challenge.

What the G20 should be talking about this weekend is oil. It should be looking into clean energy options on a global scale. They should have a serious talk about the environment and the need for climate justice. I don’t have any faith that it will happen in any way but I wish it would. Maybe then the world would start heading in the right direction.

If you’re Canadian, on Facebook and want to show your support for residents affected by the BP oil spill, please join Canadians in Support of Gulf Coast Residents.

Fundraising…send a student to NOLA Wednesday, Mar 10 2010 

Hi all

This is a fundraising appeal to help send students to New Orleans this May to take part in rebuilding work. They will be rebuilding housing and replanting wetlands as well as other community participation initiatives.

Donations over $20 that require a receipt should be made out to Ryerson University. Donations that don’t require a receipt and under $20 also welcomed. You can also make a donation via PayPal using Visa or Mastercard – falcngrl@gmail.com (If you need my mailing address for a cheque, let me know).

For my American Friends – you can donate directly to the organization on our behalf and get a tax receipt https://www.networkforgood.org/donation/MakeDonation.aspx?ORGID2=262189665 and put Ryerson University in the designation or dedication lines. This will go to their expenses but without funds there would be nothing for us to do when there 🙂

This trip is part of a course that I teach at Ryerson (co-teaching (now yay!) with Pascal Murphy). We are taking two groups of students – 20 in each class – for two weeks each. Just to give you an interesting breakdown of numbers:
* there are 5 York students, 34 Ryerson students (including continuing education) and 1 non-student.
* there are 4 male students and 36 female students (grl power!!)
* just over 1/2 have taken or are taking the homelessness course
* almost 2/3rds are students of colour (despite the racial make-up of New Orleans this is rare for volunteers).

Bios for students are on our blog at https://toronto2nola.wordpress.com as well as info about our experience last year!

Students are available to do a presentation after the trip in the GTA area. I am able, with past students, to do a presentation before the trip if you have a potential fundraising opportunity.

There is also a video made by some of last year’s students (about thirty minutes in length total) available at:
Part 1 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF2w3ZkhLZE

Part 2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3_YnZgdeC4

Part 3 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDLuzdNjHiM

Part 4 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAq_UnELoK4


PS Tweeters and bloggers – please spread the word!!

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