When It All Changed, Again

I’m still reeling from last week’s tragedy in New Orleans. Like many people, I’m deeply troubled by the lack of an immediate and decisive (G Zombie’s right–this should be required reading) response on the part of the Bush administration. I am saddened that the President of the United States fiddled while New Orleans drowned. The complete disregard for the lives and needs of New Orleans’ black and working-class people is astounding, as G Zombie’s entry and this New York Times article illustrate:

Twenty-eight percent of the population of New Orleans lives below the poverty line, compared with 9 percent nationwide, according to census figures. Twenty-four percent of its adults are disabled, compared with 19 percent nationwide. An estimated 50,000 households in New Orleans do not have cars.

It’s not easy to evacuate when you don’t have a car or when you can’t afford a plane ticket out of the city or when everything you own is about to be washed over by flood waters. For Bush to equate, or even compare, the destruction of one of Trent Lott’s houses with the experiences of the people who lost everything (or to joke about his hard-partyin’ days in the Big Easy), demonstrates a lack of concern for others’ suffering that is remarkable. In short, the handling of Katrina was incompetent at best and quite clearly racist.

But against this background, I cannot help but ask the question: Where do we go from here? As Matt notes, Katrina will inevitably be narrativized and compared with 9/11. Like the September 11 attacks, we have a massive tragedy in one of the nation’s largest cities. And like 9/11, the event conjures up any number of questions about national identity and national purpose, of who we are as a nation and what governments ought to provide for their people, what it means to be a civil servant.

Here a few questions we can ask: We can talk about why cutting taxes to line the pockets of rich people isn’t always a good idea. And to be perfectly clear, I’m not just blaming Republicans for this one. Clinton slashed funding for the levees, too, but Bush’s budget cuts (and his spending on the war in Iraq, which continues to take its toll). We can talk about the ways in which the war in Iraq weakened the ability to respond to Katrina. We can talk about the cronyism that allowed someone like Michael Brown to assume the leadership of FEMA when he had no proir experience and had been fired from his previous job for incompetence. We can also talk about the racist characterization of the New Orleans survivors.

At the same time, we should look into the face of this tragedy, to see the faces and hear the stories of the people who were so deeply affected by Katrina (and by Katrina, I no longer mean the storm itself, but the government’s response to it, on all levels). These Flickr photographs, taken when the so-called “Renegade Bus” arrived at the Astrodome in Houston, provide one starting point for that. As the photjournalis, “slight cutter,” notes, the bus , which was greeted by the news media (I find the spotlight shining into this young girl’s face incredibly powerful), was filled with children, who were forced to confront things that many adults never have to face. These images capture the real state of emergency in a way that might be inaccessible in other media (Ted Barlow has a personal narrative from the Houston Convention Center), although Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera’s breakdowns on FoxNews comes close).

2 Comments »

  1. Bush is Incompetent Said,

    September 5, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

    The Chutry Experiment gives an idea of where to go

    Here a few questions we can ask: We can talk about why cutting taxes to line the pockets of rich people isn’t always a good idea. And to be perfectly clear, I’m not just blaming Republicans for this one. Clinton slashed funding for the levees, too, b…

  2. Webdiva Said,

    September 5, 2005 @ 1:56 pm

    Hurricane Katrina

    The Weather’s taken a turn for the worse today. Yesterday and this morning was a blaze of beautiful but humid sunshine, making sunglasses a must have accessory. By 4pm today it had turned into overcast and drizzly rain. Perhaps it’s the ta…

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment


Warning: Illegal string offset 'solo_subscribe' in /home/chutry/chutry.wordherders.net/wp/wp-content/plugins/subscribe-to-comments/subscribe-to-comments.php on line 304

Subscribe without commenting