A Particularly Unhappy Anniversery

I think it fitting that my recent interview with Category 5 coauthor Judith Howard occured this week as we settle down to reflect upon the 2nd anniversary of a particularly grim event in our nation’s recent history. I would like to give pause for a few moments as we look back at that terrible time, a time that saw so much death, and revealed to a nation the ugly underbelly of its deep running maladies of race, and class highlighted by the storm.

When asked about Katrina in our interview, this was Judiths’ response:

Race remains an “elephant in the living room” issue in American society. Many blacks we interviewed about Camille called it “a white folks’ hurricane,” because they themselves got little attention afterwards. As I watched all the black faces after Katrina, I kept thinking how different the response might have been had they been white faces on roofs around Kennebunkport.

Much of the attention after Katrina has been on blacks in New Orleans so that whites may be wondering if this was “a black folks’ hurricane.” Tens of thousands of whites also lost homes not just in New Orleans, but also in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Of course Katrina completely overshadowed Hurricane Rita that came just a few weeks later and destroyed southwest Louisiana and parts of Texas. Those people have really been overlooked.

The widespread destruction of Katrina was not just due to a category 3 hurricane, but to political shortsightedness and shennanigans long before Katrina. For example, political considerations are a part of the calculus when the Corp of Engineers makes decisions about levees and floodwalls.

There is so much more I could say here, but I’ll share just one more thing from a personal perspective. In the few days prior to Katrina’s landfall, I was pacing around in my den, glued to the television. I kept screaming at Mayor Nagin, “Get them out. Get all those people out!” I know it sounds ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop pacing.

I kept thinking about all the old pictures of Camille’s destruction that I had examined, and I had an awful feeling that those same areas were about to face the same devastated landscapes again. I also thought about the psychological trauma Camille survivors had lived with all these years and feared for those in Katrina’s path who didn’t evacuate.

The full story of Katrina is yet to unfold and will eventually be written by someone. The political aspect of this story will be huge if anyone is ever successful in uncovering it and putting it all together.

As far as what was done right — many people took the initiative to leave before an evacuation was called. When the flooding began, locals (called the Cajun Navy) from all across south Louisiana took their boats in to rescue people. The Coast Guard was there almost immediately. I’m sure there were other things that I don’t know about because I wasn’t there and because positive things don’t always get reported.

Indeed, one of the largest social impacts nation wide regarding Katrina was that it seemed to display for all to see the wide racial gap that still exists in this country, in part prompting this controversial statement by Kanye West:

“George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Whether you believe that or not, it is at the very least understandable when you sat down and watched the devestation and were treated to this stuff twenty four seven. I never agreed with Kanye West; my believe was that the real tragedy lay not in Bush not caring much about black people, but more that the system, the government, this entire ownership society conceptualization failed to care about poor people, who managed to be mostly black.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to see the point of view. The next clip, I warn, is tough to watch:

It was vogue at the time to blame Bush, though, as I’m sure experts would agree, the failures of Katrina spanned all levels of government. However, the failures of this administration can hardly be over emphasized:

And this:

I the second video, I looked up the website provided, and while I could give you that website alone, I think if you go here, you’ll find an adequate documentation of just how fucked the Katrina response has been.

Indeed, there has been more since regarding this administration and its treatment towards the survivors. In a weird sort of parody of the old “War on poverty” meme, it seems almost as though the administration has engaged in the much simpler war on the impoverished by engaging in things like veto threats for money that is intended to go towards the reconstruction effort in the Gulf Coast, as well as showing preferential treatment towards investors in building as opposed to, you know, the poor people that could probably actually use a home.

Me personally, I remember watching it. Just the year before my wife and I had stuck through Hurricane Isabel when it hit here in Virginia. While we got hit pretty good, power was lost for a few days, and there had been some casualties, it was for the most part pretty easy, like riding through a particularly nasty storm, the kind of storm that seems to show up every afternoon around here anyway.

Watching what happened down in Mississippi, however, that was an eye-opener. I remember the dark water that had risen up to the eaves of the houses, roofs only staying above water, families huddled on small patches platforms with makeshift signs begging for help. I remember watching men with their shirts off wading waist deep in disease infested water trying to hold up whatever supplies they could salvage above the surface.

And all those poor people stacked into the Superdome.

It hurt me a lot to think this happens in my country. This isn’t the kind of thing that goes on here. This happens in third world countries with governments that barely function if at all, where their leaders are corrupt and uncaring. Not here, not America. And yet, there we were.

And here we still are. I agree with Judith, we don’t know the full story of Katrina yet, that is a book to be written some other day, and you better believe I’ll be first in line to buy it. But for right now, however you feel about it, whatever you think the causal factors were, whether you think Bush is to Blame or Nagin, Chertoff or Brownie, none of this changes the fact that the tragedy continues. Families are still split up or without homes, and in the aftermath of the storm, crime has surged in The Big Easy. There’s still so much left for us, as a national family, to do.

Positively Barack 2008, a blog that is obviously dedicated to Barack’s presidential hopes, has taken time out of focusing on the Democratic Horse race to provide a list of links you can go to to help, I suggest you check it out and see what you can do. Remember this, folks, we are one family. Even when we disagree, even in this ugly, tempestuous Blue vs. Red political war of ideas that is waged everyday, that makes us no less each other’s brothers and sisters under the stars and stripes. And now, two years after the fact, some of our brothers and sisters are still fallen, are still in need of our help. What kind of siblings are we to deny it.

I’m gonna end this post with one last video, one that really got to me, and so I’m going to share it with you:

Thank you.

3 Responses to “A Particularly Unhappy Anniversery”

  1. Macswain says:

    Great piece, Kyle. Though sad, it’s definitely a must read. We can not forget this sad chapter in our recent history lest we leave ourselves open to repeating it.

  2. Thanks so much man. I actually had a hard time doing this one.

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