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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Thursday, September 01, 2005

bars on windows

As I write this tonight in Oakland, like so many folks in this city, I'm sitting in a room with bars on its windows. Poverty does that. I'm not poor, but that's how the reality of the city gets reflected right here in my apartment....how it makes itself felt.

Bars are the cheapest way to protect your house. No alarms. No front gates at the end of the drive. Bars on the windows. Keeps burglars out....and, if an earthquake or fire happened the wrong way...those same bars would keep me and a lot of other folks...in. (Don't worry about me, I'm aware of how to escape.) It's a story repeated in every big city....mainly through fires killing children and old people...time and time...and time again.

Michael Brown, director of FEMA, told us today to expect stories of folks trapped and drowned in their homes in New Orleans. That doesn't surprise me. In fact, it makes me ill.

It's about poverty and violence. It's about folks who've found a way to live at a precarious peace with their surroundings. It's about people powerless to make choices that would save their lives....like leaving their homes...like taking precautionary measures...like making a bold choice in tough times.

As I write this tonight, I can hear the sounds of every Thursday night. We put out our recycling on my block, and homeless people....almost always poor and black...work their way through it. Crunch, clink, clank. When I wake up tommoroow, I'll see them at Safeway turning in their hard night's work for a few dollars at the recycling truck.

These folks may not have much, but they've figured out a way...a strategy for how to survive in this city. It's not an easy life...or even an acceptable one for anyone to live really...but it's theirs, and they know it. They know how to do that.

My dad, someone whose voice and wisdom I trust...spelled it out for me tonight. When you are truly poor, you become a genius at surviving in your environment...a skilled practicioner at figuring out some routine, some pattern that "get's you by." Every big city in America has tens of thousands of people living just that life...in a carefully elaborate ecosystem of poverty...of getting by.

All that's gone for the poor of New Orleans now. And folks don't have credit cards or trust funds to fall back on. They have what they knew...and what they knew is gone. It's underwater now...and even if you dried it out...that fabric is never coming back. It's gone.

Can you blame the folks who did what they were told...who went where they were supposed to go....for feeling utterly betrayed by their mayor, their governor and their president? They put their trust out, in a world where they've been taught NEVER to trust...and they got kicked to the curb. Different day...same lesson. Nothing new. Just heartbreak. Dead babies. Dead old people. A new generation taught an old lesson.

I write this tonight in a room with bars on the windows knowing that so many are dying, or have died, in homes with bars on the windows too. I write this knowing that an entire fabric of support, of "getting by" that kept so many who were poor, who had almost nothing...going...is gone...that these folks are refugees who will have to start anew. There really is nothing to say.

But, let me tell you something...something those of us who live in cities know, just because...or, I guess because it surrounds us day to day. It doesn't matter where you live, or who you are, or whether you really know it or not...on some level, you've got bars on your windows too.

It's something to think about, and remember, as we all work to help the victims of hurricane Katrina.

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2 Comments:

  • Thanks for speaking truth k/o.

    By Blogger Man Eegee, at 9:14 PM  

  • Speaking of the mayor, he did an interview recently on WWL radio. It is being replayed in various places or you can download it from http://rapidshare.de/files/4632564/nagin.mp3.html
    (click on the FREE button at the bottom of the page).
    Beware, he is angry and doesn't hide that fact. But he obviously cares deeply for his city and its citizens, and is aghast at the lack of help from outside.

    By Anonymous bassclef, at 5:38 AM  

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