Wait 5 Minutes, It Will Change.
by Lewis Wallace, $2 from Stranger Danger Distro
26 pages at half-letter size.
This zine is not especially recent, but it is in print, awesome, and available, and remains important and topical. Lewis Wallace wrote Wait 5 Minutes, It Will Change in 2007 to commemorate the second year since Hurricane Katrina, and to reflect on hir experiences volunteering there after the storm.
Wallace found that ultimately, ze was deeply ambivalent about the usefulness and motivation of outside volunteers’ efforts. Ze wanted to draw attention to the roles structural racism and other forms of oppression had in everything that happened after the storm.
The rebuilding efforts were, among other things, a way for privileged people, whatever their intentions and ultimate effects, to shape the destinies of poor people, people of colour, women, and trans people— people who are, Wallace reminds us, the people most catastrophically affected by a disaster like Hurricane Katrina.
Wallace’s experience was that when ze came down from Chicago to volunteer, ze was immediately given, by virtue of hir white skin and that alone, power over displaced and vulnerable black families, a power that ze absolutely did not ask for or want.
Ze asks us to keep in mind that the Gulf Coast, like the rest of the Americas, is stolen land— in this case, stolen from groups like the Opelousas and the Tunica, who no longer exist, and the Houma, who still lack federal recognition of their tribal government.
And ze asks us also to consider also that the Gulf Coast is literally disappearing—50 acres of some of North America’s most ecologically and culturally vibrant land falling into the Gulf of Mexico EVERY DAY due to oil industry incursions and haphazard to nonexistent land stewardship.
As Wallace sees it, many of the people who came to New Orleans to volunteer were ultimately tourists looking to “get a charity fix” without examining the privilege that made it possible for them to do so, or thinking too hard about the place that they were coming into and what had happened there, both recently and over the centuries of its history:
“I love that city in my bones, but I question whether it is respectful at this point to go there and inhabit the homes and communities of those who could not return”.
The question is how to support and be an ally to people who belong to those communities without imposing your will.
I’ve spent a couple of days in New Orleans, “a place that by its humblest description is magical”, as this zine aptly has it. I’ve spent many more days than that studying the city’s history, enjoying its music, and thinking on the feast of contrast it offers the eyes and mind.
“Just to be in New Orleans felt like a privilege, a blessing, and a violation of sorts”, Wallace writes, and I felt the same way. I am more comfortable admiring it from afar, though I can’t wait to go back as soon as I can.
As well as hir keen sense of the interplay of power and privilege, Wallace has a great eye for detail that makes hir writing a pleasure to read:
“A heroic little squirrel was just stalking me on a park bench. Crept up close and then spotted treasure: a plastic flask of whiskey wrapped in twisted brown paper. She proceeded to completely unwrap the container, tearing and crumpling the paper as she went, and made off with the whole paper bag in a ball in her mouth, bouncing across the damp grass.”
Other ground covered by the zine includes Wallace’s memories of teenage love and lust, and of hir coming of age as a trans boy. The narrative threads tie together nicely, evoking the way a striking experience can call back other fraught memories.
Wallace lives in Chicago, identifies as “genderweird”, and is involved in activism and academic work around prisons. Ze is the author of Miklat Miklat: A Transformative Justice Zine, and also contributed to Story of Attica, a zine commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising. I reckon on reading those next, so watch this space.
- Lily Pepper