2023 Times the Charm: The ANTIGRAVITY Year-End Top 5

In case you have trouble wrapping your mind around the concept of time, we’re here to confirm that, yes, another year has passed. But what even happened in 2023? Our annual Top 5 is here to remind you of the best and worst of what our weather, politicians, and culture had to offer in this exhausting pass around the sun—and how we might brace ourselves for the next round.

Top 5 Local Labor Movement Stories

This past year has seen a whirlwind of workers across the nation striking from work, picking up signs, and organizing unions to combat economic uncertainty exacerbated since the peak of the pandemic. Business malpractice, worsening work conditions, rising living expenses, and even belligerent customers are among the reasons why these local laborers have footed their employers’ bills for long enough.

1. Film writers (as the Writers Guild of America) took to picket lines in May, followed by actors the following month (SAG-AFTRA), as workers demanded studios fork over their fair share of profits generated by streaming services and inlay protections against artificial intelligence. ANTIGRAVITY spoke with David Jensen, a Louisiana film actor, who attested to the streaming revenue siphoning living wages from writers and actors. New Orleans union members rallied around Armstrong Park in support of the strikes in Hollywood. Even State Senator Royce Duplessis made an appearance.

2. In June, the City Council passed a “Right to Organize” ordinance that green-lit meetings between union representatives and City administration over the topics of pay, benefits, and organizing worker protections. This followed many failed attempts across public service departments, including libraries and firefighters, to reach Mayor Cantrell’s administration. Since the ordinance passed, the City administration has been more responsive to union members, which Councilmembers JP Morrell and ordinance author Helena Moreno see as a good sign to begin addressing the City’s recruitment and retention woes.

3. Closely trailing behind two local Starbucks locations, workers of the French Truck coffee shop in the French Quarter unionized in September in the face of low pay, unfair employee treatment, and equipment maintenance issues. With unanimous approval to join the Teamsters union Local 270, laborers of this local coffee chain are charting the path for better pay consistency and improving employee relations. This action follows reported employer retaliation, evidenced by a March filing to the National Labor Relations Board, that resulted from employee anecdotes of pay inequality and workplace racism, transphobia, and homophobia. Workers are in hopes that other French Truck locations will unionize as well.

4. It takes a team of 20 people to maintain over 800 Blue Bikes spread throughout the city, a fleet of e-bikes operated by the Blue Krewe. In an ANTIGRAVITY interview with employee Syrah May Lark, we learned about their monthslong effort to unionize field technicians to raise base pay, accommodate adequate working conditions, and provide full health care coverage benefits. In August, Lark and other crewmates organized with Workers United and successfully claimed formal recognition by the Blue Krewe board of directors, becoming the first bikeshare union in the country.

5. Nurses at the downtown University Medical Center are pushing to become Louisiana’s first and largest group of health care staff to unionize. In October, over 500 UMC registered nurses petitioned for union elections to address years of staff shortages, extended patient wait times, and violent altercations with patients and their families. UMC nurses are particularly hopeful that the unionization can lead to better patient care experiences. The National Nurses Organizing Committee is representing this group of 750 nurses and other staff in negotiations with LCMC ahead of election dates scheduled for December 7 through 9. —Van Le

Top 5 Most Ridiculous Public Health Issues of 2023

1. The Rise of the Political Arm of the Anti-Vaxx Movement
The anti-vaxx movement has become a political force, fueled in part by backlash against COVID-19 guidelines and vaccines and championed by politicians including Kennedy scion/presidential candidate/noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Louisiana’s own Governor-Elect Jeff Landry. Landry even helped platform Kennedy in 2021 when they both testified against the state’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for K-12 students in 2021. Unsurprisingly, the anti-vaxx movement’s growing influence has contributed to increased misinformation, decreased vaccine uptake among both children and adults in the United States and worldwide, and, subsequently, increased risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

2. The Rise of the Animal Anti-Vaxx Movement
As if the growing influence of the anti-vaxx movement among humans wasn’t bad enough, it seems as though it now affects our animal companions as well. A recent study found that roughly half of dog owners in the U.S. expressed some level of hesitancy at vaccinating their pets, despite evidence that vaccines keep animals healthy and prevent disease outbreaks. This includes hesitancy to vaccinate against rabies, which has a fatality rate of over 99% in humans and other animal species once symptoms appear, and is 100% preventable with vaccination. The reasons for pet owners refusing to vaccinate their pets include fear of their pets developing autism, despite the facts that autism is a human diagnosis and it is now well-established that vaccines do not cause autism (plus, let’s not forget that fears of autism are inherently ableist).

3. Fentanyl-Laced Abortion Pills
In August of this year, Liz Murrill, Jeff Landry’s right-hand woman and Louisiana’s attorney general-elect, made the outrageous and wholly unsubstantiated claim that fentanyl-laced abortion pills are being sold online, combining the War on Drugs and anti-abortion movement into one moral panic. Of course, these movements have long been intertwined: Pregnant people who have past or current history of drug use experience stigma, barriers to medical care, and risk of losing their children and possible incarceration, which affects poor people and people of color most of all.

4. Fentanyl: Weapon of Mass Destruction
The moral panic over fentanyl has crossed over into military propaganda. In November, the ever-reliable Breitbart News reported that Israel’s health authorities had issued a warning that Hamas and Hezbollah might be planning to attack using rockets filled with liquid fentanyl. Of course, this is ridiculous propaganda used to further justify what United Nations experts state “point to a genocide in the making” in Gaza. This story, too, is just one example of a larger (and, again, unfounded) moral panic about fentanyl being used as a Weapon of Mass Destruction—which includes police propaganda about overdosing from touching fentanyl—illuminating the intersection between drug policy, colonialism, and military-police propaganda.

5. Cutting Crucial HIV/AIDS Program Dollars
As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, U.S. House Republicans have proposed $767 million in spending cuts to HIV treatment and prevention programs for the 2024 fiscal year. This includes cuts to the CDC’s Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) program, which was actually launched under the Trump Administration, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Even if these proposed cuts do not occur, they are part of the larger plan by extreme right politicians to politicize public health and slash public health and social funding, the effects of which would be devastating, particularly for communities and individuals who are already navigating barriers to care and resources. As we look ahead to the next year, increased strategizing and action against these efforts will be imperative. —Mary Beth Campbell

Top 5 Louisiana Apocalyptic Weather Events

This last hurricane season may have taken a quick breather from pummeling Louisiana, but 2023 is the year the weather finally got around to diversifying its portfolio. The bad news is that every conceivable force of nature has now declared open season on us sad, sorry, and ridiculously vulnerable modern humanoids, whose survival skills are plummeting about as fast as temperatures and sea levels are rising. The good news is that the people of this fine state are increasingly coming into agreement that we might have some sort of problem on our hands.

1. Drought
Thanks to a rainless start to 2023, the year’s unprecedented drought (whose manifold ripple effects include every item on this Top 5 list) was made official on March 8, when the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that 100% of the state was considered to be experiencing drought conditions. Hopes that this prognosis might get turned around were dead and buried by June, when the first of three record-breaking heat waves appalled Louisianans everywhere, a response that could only have been mitigated by knowledge of the other heat waves soon to come. If nothing else, the drought has offered some much-needed perspective about what sweaty Louisianans might have once referred to as the “oppressive” humidity. After a year living (if you can call it that) in the parched version of the merciless swamp heat, we are all begging for our beloved tropical humidity to transform our bodies into big, drippy salt licks once more. We beseech you, O Swamp Divinities—bring that sticky icky air back home where it belongs, and we’ll see what we can do about getting you the severed heads of oil executives you keep asking for.

2. Swamp Fires
If you have ever comforted yourself while watching wildfires engulf the planet’s forested regions by thinking of South Louisiana’s wetlands as a protection from the hellscape alternative to hurricanes, swamp fires are for you. From the 200-acre wetland fire in New Orleans East to the smoldering ruins in Jean Lafitte National Park, the swamp fires are here to say that there is no either/or in this cataclysmic free-for-all. Like diners at a prix-fixe restaurant, we residents of Louisiana’s 21st century must resign ourselves to whatever natural disasters that hellhound chef sends out from Beelzebub’s kitchen.

3. Super Fog
This October has taught us that where there are swamp fires, there will soon be super fogs. A deadly tango between the pearly autumnal mists that used to make their lovely evening descent without incident, and the noxious smoke and fumes from the peat burning away in the swamps (joined for all we know by whatever Cancer Alley’s airborne carcinogens got recruited by the diabolical miasma along the way), super fogs are proving to be real workhorses in Louisiana’s catastrophic reaction chain. Besides evoking terror with their impenetrable gray haze and brimstone smell, they successfully amplify the impact of environmental disaster by striking at the state’s most well-trafficked vehicular arteries. The super fog’s most impressive accomplishment as a temporarily deputized apocalypse horseman was, of course, the ghastly 158 vehicle pileup that claimed seven lives, injured another 25, and shut down Interstate 55 in both directions for days.

4. Heat Waves Part II and III, Otherwise Known as July and August
This summer, the Guardian, always a hotbed of earnest, dead-on-the-nose climate crisis reporting, produced an exhaustive series of news stories to dutifully alert citizens of Planet Earth that temperatures have become very, very hot. This summer, they reported, it was hot in the ocean, it was hot in the Andes, it was hot in Europe, it was hot in China, it was flaming hot in Canada, and it was very, very, most extremely hot in Phoenix, Arizona. But for all that international thermostat coverage, Louisiana’s very own heat hellscape was still notable enough to make us a Guardian headlines regular. As one New Orleanian was quoted as saying of the July heat dome that put us all into straightjackets made of hellfire,This heat is disrespectful.” As I’d happily have told the Guardian if they’d asked, the July heat wave found me fleeing the naturally occurring bad acid trip that was life in my completely uninsulated, two-rickety-AC unit-having unrenovated 100-year-old shotgun to a friend’s place with central air. Once there, however, I was still disrespected enough by the heat wave that during daylight hours I could do no more than huddle on the couch muttering to myself about the heat’s unholy malice, which my feverish brain perceived in the form of a full visual hallucination. Worried for my sanity, I fled again in August, this time to the Oregon woods, where a couple times it also got very hot. But at the sight of the demon-haunted looks in the eyes of my friends who survived the month in New Orleans, I wisely refrained from mentioning that part upon my return.

5. Saltwater Intrusion
Has all this talk of drought, swamp fires, and toxic fumes suddenly made you extremely thirsty? If you live in Plaquemines Parish, by now you will almost certainly have learned to curb this impulse according to available supplies. In the months since the saltwater wedge first crept into the Mississippi (by invitation of the drought), this intrusion has been on a havoc-wreaking tear through the water supply of some of the state’s southernmost, and as such, most vulnerable residents. Their tap water was first rendered undrinkable by salt levels (and let’s face it—Louisiana tap water is only so potable to begin with). Then, the water disinfection process necessitated by increased salinity levels only released further contaminants—in the Port Sulphur water district, disinfecting chemicals went almost 10 times over the maximum amount. Knowing that the problems caused by the intrusion would only receive the attention they deserved once the salt wedge reached New Orleans, they waited patiently for their plight to make it upriver and onto the environmental calamity mainstage—in vain, as it turns out. So for all the New Orleanians out there who still think of the saltwater intrusion as a near-miss, the people of Plaquemines would like you to know that bathing in toxic salt for months has given their children rashes and made whole clumps of their hair fall out. —Holly Devon

Top 5 Restaurants in New Orleans Not Listed in the New York Times

Recently the New York Times published a list of the best 25 restaurants in New Orleans, or something to that effect. Written by longtime Times-Picayune food critic Brett Anderson, it provides a current snapshot of dining in the city. Now, I usually eschew lists of these sorts. I also dislike the use of “best” when it comes to writing about the dining scene. Inevitably these lists carry more weight than they should and reflect the list-makers’ preferences more than anything. They also don’t really account for class or race, as it’s almost guaranteed that a Black or Vietnamese New Orleanian would have a totally different understanding of “best,” in many cases, than a white New Orleanian. Of course, this doesn’t invalidate the list, but qualifies it. And inevitably some really good places get left out. As someone who has spent almost half their life in a professional kitchen, I know how it feels to be on the wrong end of the press. So I’m not going to tell you what the “best” are, but I will tell you about some places that I think are worthy of mention.

Gabrielle is my favorite restaurant in the city. I say that without any qualifications. It is a throwback of sorts, a family-run restaurant deeply rooted in the ingredients and flavors of New Orleans and Louisiana. Chef-owner Greg Sonnier, along with his wife Chef Mary Sonnier and their daughter Gabrielle (the namesake of the restaurant), provide a casual yet elegant dining experience—and the dishes are iconic. The slow roasted duck in a sherry sauce over shoestring potatoes and the smoky, silky pheasant and andouille gumbo are two of the best dishes not just in this city, but any city. And the fairly-priced menu and eclectic wine list give good value. But more than anything, this is a neighborhood joint run by locals for locals. Chef Greg came up under Chef Paul Prudhomme and carries on his legacy in every bite, while forging his own. It is a can’t-miss dining experience.

Jamaican Jerk House
Richard Rose, a former refinery worker, and his wife Jackie Diaz started out by selling jerk sauce to his coworkers at Marathon Oil. It was so popular that they began contemplating  opening a restaurant, and did so in the former Sneaky Pickle spot on St. Claude Avenue. Rose, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, serves generous portions of smoky, spicy, jerked chicken and jerked ribs, smothered oxtails, and other Jamaican classics alongside some Creolized New Orleans style dishes. The portions are easily enough for two meals, and the ebullient Diaz and laid-back Rose add flavor and charm to the neighborhood.

Mona Lisa
This small French Quarter red sauce Italian joint with checkered red tablecloths is evocative of the restaurant in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. It is a great place to take a date, as it’s convivial and inexpensive, with every entrée under $20. The walls are decorated with various handmade drawings of Mona Lisa in different incarnations, and the food is comforting. It’s the kind of place where you know exactly what you’re going to order when you walk in—I always get the chicken parmesan—and you always walk out feeling satisfied.

Beignets and More
Technically, this place isn’t in New Orleans, it’s in Chalmette. But as a 9th ward resident I often find myself in Da Parish and when I do, I always stop by this curiously named, family-run Vietnamese spot for a bowl of pho or a chicken vermicelli bowl. While places like Tan Dinh have more range, Beignets and More (and yes, they do have beignets the size of your head—and more) is the perfect lunch or early dinner spot. Banh mi, pho, and other Vietnamese items are well-prepared and it is possible to get in and out for under $20. Save room for a Vietnamese iced coffee in lieu of dessert.

Café 615 (Home of Da Wabbit)
Located in Gretna, this classic neighborhood restaurant is red beans and rice on a Monday and fried fish on a Friday—oh so New Orleans. The portion sizes are overwhelming, but so deliciously prepared that you don’t want to stop eating. And the neighborhood vibe is second to none. One longtime AG staffer used to take his grandmother here once a week; it’s that kind of place. And the expansive menu can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. The roast beef po’boy requires at least five napkins, the fried chicken is delectable and crispy, and the fried seafood platters are classic New Orleans. It is worth a trip to the Best Bank. —James Cullen

Mayor Cantrell’s Top 5 Travel Tips

Traveling for work can be a real pain—but it doesn’t have to be! There are plenty of ways you can turn a business venture into a business ADventure. Here are some of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s best-kept secrets for making any work-related trip feel like a vacation.

Always, Always, Always: Fly First Class
I know this goes without saying, but life is short—spring for first class travel. Nevermind the fact that the average New Orleanian makes a little more than $26,000 a year and your trip to France costs more than $43,000. You deserve this. You’ve been working hard and self-care is important. If anyone questions it, tell them something insane like, “It’s a matter of safety, not luxury,” or say you have a specific form of anxiety that can only be cured by first class travel accommodations.

Get Yourself a Sister City
Cultural ambassadorship is important, so be sure to find a few cities around the world you can visit as part of your outreach efforts. We’ve got a few here in New Orleans: Caracas, Venezuela; Durban, South Africa; Matsue, Japan; and of course, Orléans, France. Don’t limit yourself! Ideally, you want luxurious and picturesque places, like Antibes, France, a resort town on the French Riviera about 15 miles away from Nice, France—now that’s what I call nice.

Take a Special Someone Along with You
Those long transatlantic flights can be lonely! Not to mention all the signings, ribbon-cuttings, fine dining, jazz concerts, museums, regattas, rowing races, festivals, walking tours, and countless other tiresome events. You’ll want someone there to keep you warm, safe, and secure. In fact, here’s a bonus pro-tip: You can designate them as “security.” That way you can add their flights, meals, and per diem to your trip’s expenses—as well as throw off any of Lee Zurik’s raised eyebrows.

Upgrade Your Lodgings
It can be tough staying in the drab, tax-payer funded hotel suites of the Pullman Hotel at the foot of the Eiffel Tower—but hey, somebody has to do it. But in the event that you find yourself traveling somewhere outside of Europe for work, definitely upgrade for the king or executive suites. And never underestimate the power of the staycation. You don’t have to leave town to live the life of luxury you deserve. If you don’t have a Pontalba in your life, you need to get yourself one!

Ignore the Haters
People love to ask pestering questions like, “What is the purpose of this trip?” “Can you please address some of the problems in New Orleans?” and “Who is paying for this?” Don’t let it get you down! And don’t feel the need to respond to the press, City Council, or residents of your city. If need be, you can ban reporters from press events, or reassign security personnel from uppity City councilmembers to remind everyone who’s in charge. Poverty, food insecurity, housing crises, natural disasters, air quality, contaminated drinking water—look, New Orleans has a lot of problems. But it’s important that you prioritize yourself and protect your peace. —Drew Hawkins

Top 5 Reasons To Be a Little Optimistic, Despite the Far Right’s Threat to Democracy

1. Mike Johnson’s Ascendence to House Speaker Might Have Unintended Consequences for the GOP
Mike Johnson has ties to shadowy right-wing extremist groups. He once worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom: one of the main groups pushing Christian Nationalism influencing far-right policies on the state level, including helping craft legislation that bans gender-affirming care. However, due to Johnson now getting attention, the media is talking about his fringe religious politics, which in turn, is leading to more outlets talking about Christian Nationalism. In his short time, we’ve learned a great deal about Johnson, including his phone call with a Christian Nationalist pastor, where he stated that America needed “God’s wrath.” The longer Johnson stays on center stage, the more Americans will be reminded of just how far right the Far Right can get, and will lead to more people pushing back against it.

2. SCOTUS is Getting More Scrutiny
The Religious Right discovered years ago that their public policy opinions were not popular and abandoned democracy, instead opting to use the judicial system as a weapon against secular society. The “white whale” for them was always the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and they got it. However, this overreach has caused Americans to question why nine unelected officials have so much influence, and how it is that they got that influence. Thanks to the good work of investigative journalism outlets like ProPublica, the nation is getting a good look at the Religious Right’s influence on the judicial system.

3. Democracy Keeps Winning at the Ballot
Election deniers lost big in battleground states in 2022; a contentious Supreme Court race in Wisconsin, which could’ve had national implications, was won by a left-wing justice, despite the opponent being heavily funded by an out-of-state billionaire. Reproductive rights have been protected every single time the issue was put on the ballot since the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Again and again, when people show up, no matter how much the far right spends or meddles, the people win. People just have to show up!

4. With the Rise of Far Right Extremism Has Come a Rise in Opposition, Especially From Younger Voters
No voting bloc hates far-right policies more than Gen Z. That Wisconsin race I mentioned earlier? It was largely won due to young voters turning out in record numbers—for a Supreme Court race. Even the GOP knows they have an issue with getting support from Gen Z voters. Maybe the GOP should’ve considered that a generation who grew up fearing they would be shot to death in their schools may not want to vote for the party who helped make that fear possible.

5. The GOP Has Gone Too Far to the Right and Has Nowhere Else to Go
It’s a fact even known by some members of the GOP, leading to those members admitting that they need to soften their stance on abortion, for example. Voters keep showing up to the voting booth and telling them that they don’t want “anti-woke” politics. Attacking drag queens and going after queer youth has not merited many gains for the party, and it feels like a last grasp at power by a party that is largely out of step with Americans. As the young Democratic Texas State Rep. James Talarico told the Washington Post, “I think this is the death rattle of a dying worldview.” —Danny Cherry Jr.

Illustrations by Anneliese DePano

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