Roundtable: Nagin's NOLA Appeal, Church Arson Attacks Topics: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin seeks financial help from other nations to help rebuild his hurricane-ravaged city, and arson attacks continue on rural Alabama churches. Guests: Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com; Yvonne Bynoe, Author of Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; and Pedro Noguera of the Steinhart School of Education at New York University.
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Roundtable: Nagin's NOLA Appeal, Church Arson Attacks

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Roundtable: Nagin's NOLA Appeal, Church Arson Attacks

Roundtable: Nagin's NOLA Appeal, Church Arson Attacks

Roundtable: Nagin's NOLA Appeal, Church Arson Attacks

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5198822/5198823" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Topics: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin seeks financial help from other nations to help rebuild his hurricane-ravaged city, and arson attacks continue on rural Alabama churches. Guests: Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com; Yvonne Bynoe, Author of Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture; and Pedro Noguera of the Steinhart School of Education at New York University.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable: New Orleans still recovering, and they're looking for help abroad, plus church burnings continue in Alabama.

Joining us today to discuss these topics and more: from our New York Bureau, Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the NorthStarNetwork.com and Pedro Nuguero, Professor of Education at New York University, and from out headquarters in Washington, D.C., Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip Hop Culture. Welcome folks, good to have you with us.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, NorthStarNetwork.com): Thank you.

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author): Thanks.

GORDON: Let's talk a little bit about New Orleans. We continue to watch, and we've tried to remain vigilant as to keep New Orleans and the Gulf Region in our show on a daily, weekly basis, whenever appropriate. We didn't want to just hit it with the headlines when everybody was talking about it, and that's part of the concern and problem that many of those who live in that area now are yelling about: Don't forget about us. We see, this week, Mayor Ray Nagin suggesting--and actually, on Friday of last week--that with the steady stream of foreign dignitaries who have found their way to New Orleans and that region, he's suggesting that he may seek international assistance, international aid because he feels that the United States and the money being given from the federal government has not been sufficient to get this city back on its feet.

Walter Fields, when you hear this, is this just a desperate man? Or is this a good idea?

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. It's a sign of desperation; clearly, New Orleans is still in serious trouble. Before you know it, we're going to be upon another tropical storm season, and the city is going to continue to be in its current state. I think, you know, reaching out to foreign nations is, you know, a controversial step, but certainly, there might be some interest there. I mean, the French certainly expressed an interest because of the historical roots of Louisiana, but I think this mayor is at a point now where he really is running out of options. You know, it's a city that's faced with an election. He may not even be mayor within the next three or four months, so you have a city that really is running out of time in terms of being able to recover.

GORDON: Yvonne, when you take a look at this and when you look historically when locals have kind of thumbed their nose up at the federal government, particularly when you talk about aid on the backend, it usually hurts a city.

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I'm not sure I would phrase it as him thumbing his nose. I think it really goes to the point that there doesn't seem to be any plan. I think the last I was here we talked about New Orleans, and there doesn't seem to be a clear idea about what needs to happen. I think there's a whole faction of people, as quiet as it's kept, that really don't want to necessarily rebuild New Orleans. They believe it's in a part of the country that's going to be prone to another disaster, and perhaps, if it is going to be rebuilt, it should be in a much smaller fashion, which means not bringing back or even attempting to bring back a large number of the evacuees. So I think right now, they're in flux as to--the federal government, I mean--as to how much they really want to support any real plan to make New Orleans what it was prior to Katrina, and I think Ray Nagin is between a rock and a hard place.

Certainly, as was stated, there's an election coming up, but more importantly, I think he does feel that he has an obligation to the evacuees and to the people who are still there in New Orleans trying to make a go of it. So, if the federal government can't get a plan together, can't put resources and make this a priority; then I guess he feels his only option is to go elsewhere and to get money, so I wouldn't term that thumbing his nose. I call that him trying to be resourceful in the face of being ignored.

GORDON: Pedro, I'm gonna stick with thumbing my nose at it because I think that's how the federal government sees it, the idea that we've heard President Bush suggest that he's sending all of this money down to the Gulf Region, and as we have seen Ray Nagin be a thorn in the side of this president all throughout, he is saying, yet again, look, it's not coming quick enough. It's not enough. We need more of it, and if you're not going to give it to me, I'm going somewhere else.

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (Steinhart School of Education at New York University): I think the mayor is--it's understandable that he would take this approach, but I would frame it more as foreign investment in the city and not as foreign aid. To hold your hand out begging for assistance is just, I think, beneath the dignity of the mayor and the city of New Orleans, and what he should really be looking for is investors who are willing to build, help rebuild the future of New Orleans, and that--we have foreign investors throughout the country, particularly here in New York City, so I don't think that's at all something that anyone should be ashamed of, but the real question is what's the vision for New Orleans. How are we going to ensure that the new New Orleans is not a city that's mired in deep poverty? How are we going to make sure that the people who once lived there come back to a better life? Those are the real questions, I think, for the mayor and for the governor of that state.

GORDON: That's an interesting way to look at it, Pedro, because I think a lot of people would be shocked, when you think about many of the historic building and landmarks in the United States, how many of them now are foreign-owned. So that is an interesting way to take a look at that.

Let's move our attention to what we have seen over the course of the last two weeks that is becoming problematic and reminiscent to a period in the mid-1990s where we saw a spade of church bombings and burnings, predominantly black congregations in the South. We are starting to see, again, this happen in Alabama and across that region down South. The difference here, Walter Fields, is that all of these churches are not predominantly black, but over the course of the last week, we've seen the three latest being predominantly African-American congregations. What does this say, if anything--we don't know enough, and we should note that police are saying they just don't have enough to really pinpoint this to anyone.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, generally, it's an act of terrorism. I mean, this is what blacks encountered in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the notion that what is considered to be the, probably, the safest institution in your community, a church or a house of worship, comes under assault. So I think that there's a growing concern that whether or not this is an organized effort or whether or not these are individual acts, but clearly, something is going on in these southern states that suggests that we are revisiting a time when this type of terrorism plays out in communities that, mind you, though they haven't all been black churches, the South has changed dramatically in terms of population, and black have come back to the South in droves over the last ten years, so I think we have to really watch how this thing plays out to really figure out what's at play here and why we're seeing this happen again.

GORDON: Yvonne?

Ms. BYNOE: Well, I'm, I guess I take a little different stance. The only thing that I'm aware that the churches have in common is that they were all Baptist, and certainly, I think it is an important aspect that all the churches are not black. I think that if it had been a concerted effort to target black churches, we would not have seen any of the white churches being burnt down. I think it's clear if you're targeting someone, you know who's inside the building, so I'm more inclined to believe this might have some religious aspect to it, that maybe for whatever reason since Baptists are the majority religion in that area of the country or that's what is being said, perhaps, that is really where we should be looking at, the religious aspect of the churches as opposed to the racial component.

GORDON: Pedro, she raises an interesting point. In today's world, we are starting to see the graying of areas that people have little tolerance for, whether they be race or religion, in, perhaps, a bigger way than ever before.

Mr. NOGUERA: No, it's true, and there's so many different possibilities of what's motivating this arson. It's just too early to tell, though. It could just be a mad man out there that likes to burn down buildings, so I think it the real question now is can we apprehend the person that's behind it and also consider the impact because I think the point was made earlier that the church has played this historic role of bringing people together and holding communities together, and what's going to be done to replace those churches, I think, is really the question that we have to now confront. In addition...

GORDON: Here's what it does, Walter Fields - no matter who's doing this - it raises the fear that has lived for far too long in that region of, as you suggest, terrorism.

Mr. FIELDS: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, you have to remember the South and what it went through, particularly for African-Americans, that this was really the ultimate breach of safety and security, that your church could be burned or that your home could be burned. It was the one sanctuary you had in a community that did bring people together, so I'm a little concerned - whether or not this is an individual act or whether this is some sort of organized effort - that once again, this notion of trying to instill fear in people has come back.

GORDON: All right. Yvonne, maybe, maybe, there is a pulse, and I'm talking about the Democratic party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

We are starting to see Democratic leaders suggest that they are going to come up with their own contract with America, made famous, of course, in 1994 by Newt Gingrich. We are seeing what they're calling the change election, meaning the election forthcoming is the real change that is going to be needed for this country to move forward. Now, if you look back historically, the bang for your buck that Newt Gingrich got on a personal level was huge with the contract with America, but didn't really pan out to much in terms of what it gave Americans.

Ms. BYNOE: You're exactly right, Ed, and I will believe it when I see it. I think the Democrats have a real problem in terms of really figuring out who they are. I think they have two distinct factions within the Democratic Party: the people who are the centrists, and the people who are on the further end of the party--and I don't think that they're coming to a meeting of the minds. The Republicans certainly have their differences but they are, seemed to be able to galvanize behind a couple of succinct points and they seem to hammer those points away over and over and over to the American people to the extent that a lot of people are believing what they have to say.

The Democrats however are all over the place. They have ten different ideas for--and everyone in the party seems to have a different stance on what needs to happen. And I think it's just confusion and chaos so until they can clearly get behind some points everybody stay on message, I think this is just more of the same.

And I think that really speaks to what their vision is. It's not about what Bush did or didn't do, what is the vision for the Democrats? How are they going to be any different? How is it the American people going to be better served by electing them? No one's heard it. And that...

ED GORDON, host:

Yeah.

Ms. BYNOE: ...that's really the big problem.

GORDON: Pedro.

Ms. BYNOE: No one's heard them say anything.

GORDON: Pedro, here's the interesting point and Yvonne raises it what this contract with America doesn't say is in order to give them a contract you have to craft it. And we do know that there are factions within the Democratic Party that have been fighting, and fighting for a long time.

Really since the emergence of the DLC some years ago led by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others. And that was kind of a snatching it away from the Ted Kennedy left of the party. So do we believe that we're going to be able to see a contract where we see most, most, you never get all of the Democratic Party, but most of the Democratic Party behind it?

Mr. PEDRO NOGUERA (Steinhart School of Education, New York University): I think it's possible. I think it's possible if they can just seize upon a small number of issues that are clearly within the mainstream of Democratic opinion. Issues around security, the environment, I think they have to deal with health care because this is the looming crisis and the pensions that are increasing at risk.

They also have to use different people, different individuals particularly those who are not going to run for president to engage in the attacks because the attacks are also important. You've got to go after the Republicans about the mishandling of the war, about Enron and the scandals with Jack Abramoff.

I think to miss that is an opportunity to remind the public that these Republicans have mismanaged the government and engaged in some of the worst kind of corruption we've seen in years.

I think it's also an opportunity that has to be seized.

GORDON: Walter, I you know I don't suggest myself to be a political genius but as Pedro just suggested there are some issues that it seems to me the Democrats could take by the hand, really put forward and win a whole lot of folks. He talked about health care, just a long term well being of most Americans is something that is so tenuous that when you go to the Heartland.

I spent a week in Detroit. People are really concerned about what's going on with their lives and their opportunity to find that nest egg and retire and take care of their children. They don't believe that that's going to happen anymore.

Mr. FIELDS: Well, I think you're right but I think the party generally needs a laxative. I mean it needs a cleansing. I mean if you look at what's happened to the Democratic Party it's not really even an issue of methods. They've been talking about a lot of these issues.

I think the problem is, and we saw it when Senator Clinton was you know up in New York giving that infamous remark. White Democrats got to go back down to the south because they've lost the south. They cannot win those southern states.

You have a lot of Reagan Democrats who are voting Republican and there needs to be an honest conversation between white Democrats and white Democratic leadership in the south about why they are voting against their interest every time they vote for the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party refuses to engage their own voters and time and time and again they turn to black Democrats to carry the day without doing what they need to do in those southern states. They had a member of their party who was from the south, Al Gore who couldn't even win his home state.

There's a real problem down there in the south and until there's an honest discussion and it all revolves around issues of race and class that the Democratic Party refuses to touch today. So I think part of it is you can come up with any contract that you want. If you don't build your party up again from the ground and have that dialogue over time then I think you can change the direction of the party. But you can't do it by simply creating a document and mimicking the Republican Party.

Ms. BYNOE: But the Democrats are, they're saying the same old song that they've been saying. And the conversation about race and class seems to have not changed since 1968. And I think that's part of the problem. I think they're not realizing that they have a very different audience.

We have different demographics in this country. I think they're not also looking at the fact that there are different demographics with even in black America. And certainly Bush has not endeared himself to many blacks, but I'm not sure that in other places or another candidate that Republicans cannot get black votes.

So I think that they're going to have to get with the times and get with the 21st century message. So I'm less concerned about whites because I think hat whites in the south, we already know what the conversation is. I think what their missing is people who are not even voting.

We have millions of people who are not even voting because they think this is a waste of their time. They need to be engaging those people in dealing with issues would be it health care, affordable housing , living wage, whatever is necessary to get those new voters on the road and engage in this process.

GORDON: Pedro isn't part of the problem though when you look at the leadership whose really moving this? There is so little diversity, save Via Rigosa in Los Angeles, save Obama, save Nancy Pelosi, a couple of others. We're still talking about middle age, wealthy, white men driving a message.

Mr. NOGUERA: That's the truth and I think it's that limited perspective they have, that prevents them from connecting to the broader public. If you read a book, a good book, Tom Frank's book What's the Matter with Kansas? Which goes back to the point I just made earlier about why is it that the white working class is voting against their interests?

I think it speaks to the disconnect that the mainstream Democrats, the leadership, have had not just with the white voters working class but I think with a broad segment of the public of not knowing how to address the day to day concerns and speak to the reality. Because the fact is that many Americans are facing great uncertainty, worried the direction of this country. This should be and excellent time for the party to come forward with a bolder agenda that addresses some of those very complex issues. But what we're missing right now is a national spokesperson.

Obama to me seems to have extraordinary potential. The only problem with him right now, I think he's just a little too junior but right now I'd say between him and Hilary they're the only...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. NOGUERA: ...ones that seem to have that ability.

GORDON: All right well listen guys what I had hoped to get you but we've run out of time and listen Democrats you have hope because Sly Stone returned to the stage last night. So there is hope. Don't worry Taylor we're not going to say that.

All right, thanks guys appreciate it.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

Mr. NOGUERA: Thank you.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

GORDON: Up next on NEWS AND NOTES Juan Williams recaps the week in Washington with his panel of beltway insiders on political corner and the hottest movies from the African Diaspora, the Pan African Film Festival opens today.

(Soundbite of music)

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GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon next time on NEWS AND NOTES finding your family tree, a new documentary series researches the genealogy of prominent African Americans and looks to retrace black ancestry. I'll talk with the host and producer of the PBS series, Harvard Professor, Henry Lewis Gates. That's next time on NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

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