After the levees broke

Last Wednesday night, the Chicago Urban Art Society in Pilsen hosted the Chi-town stop of the “Floodlines” tour. Written by Jordan Flaherty and published by Haymarket books, “Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six,” seeks to give a powerful stage to the voices of the New Orleans Black community so they can impart their experiences of their pre- and post-Katrina hometown. And just as the book aims to empower such an underrepresented community, so the tour strives to provide a forum for such voices to be heard. The Urban Art Society’s golden hardwood floors emanated warmth as the evening of intimate personal relating and desperate calls to action enveloped the encouraging audience. Though Jordan Flaherty spoke and was present at the event, the focus of the night was Chicago social activism. Speakers from the Whittier School P.T.A, Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty shared their own harrowing horror-story encounters with the system, while students of New School Poetics laid down thought-provoking power poetry, and the founders of Free Write/Jail Arts bumped a track recorded by one of their incarcerated juvenile students. The mood of the evening was in a perpetual state of flux: heads bowed in sadness, were raised in laughter, and dropped back down to bob along to rhythm of the poetry. Many social dilemmas were brought to the attention of the eager crowd, and by the end of the night, no one could have gone about business as usual in clear conscience. Though it’s clear that much needs to change, seeing so many people together in one place working towards similar goals cast the entire event in a halo of optimism.