By Ty Siddiqui, Louisiana Bucket Brigade Field Manager
I have been a canvasser for the Bucket Brigade for roughly three months and, in that time, I’ve dealt with a myriad of people. There are those whose eyes glaze over the moment they answer your friendly knock at the door and see your clipboard in-hand, as if they’re wishing for a cocktail in order to power through the four minutes of misery you’re about to inflict upon them. There are also brutalists who support the status quotient and believe the world would be a better place if canvassers were wiped off the face of the Earth (and have no problem telling you so while they simultaneously slam the door in your face.) Then you have those who engage in role-play. These are people who feign interest in the message, but yield no concrete support to help our program, whether that support is time, money, or writing letters. Dealing with these varied layers of rejection can be heart-wrenching for the idealistic canvasser who is searching for one or two people in an entire neighborhood who support our work whole-heartedly… our “diamonds in the rough.” Luckily, in Bayou St. John, there is an entire street lined with people who care about our work. This is St. John’s Court, or “The Miracle Mile.”
To give you a sense of St. John’s Court, let me paint a picture. While Delibes’ “flower duet” plays softly in the background, imagine that across the bayou waters there’s a small, partially-paved road that juts out onto Moss St. On one side of the street entrance, there’s an open and empty field. The other side has a picturesque house reminiscent of “Munchkinland.” As you journey down the road, the small and colorful homes (beautifully maintained with endless potted plants, flowers, hanging baskets, and charming Arizona/Bohemian tchotchskes) come into view. With each step, you feel as though you’re leaving the urine-soaked and polluted streets of New Orleans for something better waiting up ahead. The street numbers have been replaced with letters, and the residents are so comfortable with their Portlandia bubble inside our city limits that their doors stand wide open while they chat with neighbors on the porch or take a nap in their recliners. At the end of the road is a cul-de-sac with a small park in its center, perfect for the neighborhood children and dogs to play at, or perhaps, for the monthly block party barbeque. What’s more, when these neighbors see me (canvasser for the Bucket Brigade), they open their homes, hearts, and wallets for a chance to help the world outside of their own.
Unlike days where doors are slammed in my face, my experience on this court was more than pleasant. With each door knock, these informed and caring citizens came out onto their porches and listened to the information I offered about our six local refineries and the constant air emissions they currently refuse to correct. At the end of each conversation, these people would offer to become members as easily as offering me a glass of water. I collected letters from almost every house on that street at the end of the night, and never had I felt more satisfaction with canvassing than knowing that an entire street of people stood with us in our work, shoulder to shoulder.
Obviously, this magical place is a rarity inside a city like ours. With the horrors of Katrina still lingering in the back of our minds, not to mention the increasing crime, poverty, and pollution of our old and musty (but beloved) city, it is difficult for residents to open themselves up to that most illusive and fleeting of qualities… hope. The residents of “the miracle mile” embrace the message of the Bucket Brigade, which is that hope is still to be found here even among the filth. They hear about the oil refinery accidents happening all over the southeastern portion of Louisiana leading to new uprisings of auto-immune diseases, allergies, asthma, and cancer. They engage us with questions about the initiatives of our organization, from our work with communities in the past, to our need to motivate and inspire citizens to join our efforts. They don’t wilt in indifference or malaise onset by the magnitude of the problem and the thought that someone else should do it for them. Hearing these issues galvanizes them against this city’s apathy, which is apparent in their volunteer work, attendance at our yearly Earth Day festival, constant donations to our organization, and letters for our campaign. My question then becomes, why can’t the rest of the city live up to this example?
New Orleans has become a hot mess, not just because of corruption, pollution, racism, poverty, and injustice, but because the institutions that perpetuate these things have instilled us with apathy. So we live with it. But the attitudes that prevail on St. John’s Court aren’t just idyllic and out of place in New Orleans. They’re the kind of attitudes to which we should aspire. There are several trueisms that are widely known: 1) The simple act of giving (whether it’s time, money, or resources) betters the world; 2) Karma exists, and it improves with the good “ju-ju” that you feed it; and 3) We are stronger as a community together than apart. I hope that we, as canvassers, can continue to rally New Orleanians to our cause through the simple concept we try to make others understand: that New Orleans is a dumping ground for big industry, and while these industries make billions, we are living in their filth and dying from their toxins. No one is going to take care of this problem for us… it’s up to everyone here who values this city to unite against it. Canvassers will continue as well, one knock at a time. Please, just open your door!