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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

thoughts

I've been trying to sort out some things the last few days. Let me share them.

For one, I am pretty sure, at some point, that we are going to see something in this country that is going to open some eyes: a unified African-American response to the events in New Orleans. And I don't mean an "old guard" civil rights response. I mean a "new guard"...as-of-yet unheard voices, including survivors of Katrina, and strategies...kind of response.

I expect it to be political in some way. I expect it to create a new generation of leaders. And I don't think it's going to come fom a "place" that involves white folks, or liberals, or the Democratic party. I'm saying, simply, that there will be a "black response" to Katrina. And to be perfectly clear, because people 'hear' so many things on this subject. I'm not talking about 'disturbance'. Not at all.

I am saying that I expect that Black Americans...parents, young people, leaders, thinkers, 'celebrities', Iraq veterans, Katrina survivors...the whole community....will get together and work it out...will send a message to this country. People have children to raise. People have lives to lead. I don't know what the message will be...or what direction it will lead. But Katrina will not be a business-as-usual moment in American life.

Number two, I think one of the callous things about this whole event in New Orleans is that folks don't really consider for a second how people felt to be left behind, what the experience of that was. We tend to talk about how it looked.

But how it looked is different from how it felt, what really happened there...what the experience of it was. I've heard that folks at the Morial Convention Center, after days of outright neglect, became convinced that they'd simply been brought there to die. No one was doing anything for them. Just driving by. Or dropping more people off despite the lack of food and water.

There were ten 'gathering points' in the city of New Orleans. No one has done a full accounting of what happened at each of those sites...at least that I've read. There were hospitals and nursing homes, that had immobile patients who were left behind with attending physicians and nurses. I've yet to read a full acount of what happened there, what that experience was.

I don't think anyone has fully grasped what happened in New Orleans yet; the magnitude of it, the tragedy of it, the failure and disgrace. (The ongoing failure and disgrace.) The least thing we could do, would be to begin to treat the experience of those who were left in the city with the dignity they deserve. They experienced something that merits a full recounting; they are survivors. Remember that.

And finally, number three. I have said that ultimately the neglect visited upon those left at the Convention Center and the Superdome will be judged to be a violation of their civil rights. It was, undoubtedly a grave violation of the social contract. Our governent is supposed to risk itself for those most in need. That did not happen in New Orleans. The municipal government of New Orleans was left to fall apart in the face of the catastrophe. If anything, the national press, State government and FEMA compounded rather than solved the problems Ray Nagin faced. (The Coast Guard, and, apparently, the Fish and Wildlife Service were lone official bright spots.)

That poses an enormous question to the mayors of every large city in America. How we think about this is significant to all of us urban democrats. If our nation can abandon those poorest and least able to fend for themselves in New Orleans, that is undboutedly equally true for every city in this land.

I think, as a result of Katrina and New Orleans, that cities will have to respond to and engage with the nation in a new way. I cannot but think that New York, Los Angeles and other major metro areas are already redrawing their set of expectations from the nation as a whole.

This country needs its cities. Much more than the Bush Administration or the GOP even begins to realize. There's something about the conservative mindset that just despises us. And, given that contempt, we have gotten a raw deal in return for the good things we do...the vital function we serve. We owe it to our citizens, to our people, to do better by them, to carve out a new strategy for repairing this atrocious set of circumstances.

Everyone who lives in a city, who has come up in a city, who raises children in a city, knows how interdependent we all are. Any of us could easily have been, given the circumstances, one of those left behind. Our nation let all of us who live in cities down this last ten days. We, too, all of us, must come together and prepare a response.

6 Comments:

  • I wish I were as sure as you that there will be a black response beyond some of the absolutely devastating commentary I've heard from a few black leaders. I think what we're going to see in the next few weeks is a deeper abandonment of New Orleans than the five days of indifference and continuing incompetence we've seen so far.

    By Blogger Meteor Blades, at 12:25 AM  

  • In High School I used to catch a bus to the University for some college classes....and I would stop at a White Castle on Lexington and University in St. Paul for a coffee.

    There was a whole community of people who went there...predominantly African-American...for breakfast...just to hang out. To see friends. Chat.

    I know, that's America...people do that all over, this was no different....other than, well, White Castle isn't exactly a wealthy restaurant. It's not the suburbs.

    I remember one day after the Super Bowl one regular...a middle aged woman....was talking about the game. Her son was a wide receiver. He'd caught the winning touchdown.

    Everybody knew that. It was just a fact. But the day after the Super Bowl, she went to White Castle like any other day.

    So, I guess that taught me that you can be a high-paid athelete in America, with hundreds of millions of fans adoring you on TV....and your mom might still live in the neighborhood you're from. She might still just, you know, live her life in the neighborhood you grew up in.

    America loves football, America doesn't care too much about urban neighborhoods, or about investing in improving the lives of communities of color.

    What happened in New Orleans was a violation of the basic social contract. We left a city to drown. We left the poorest and most frail and the elderly to die.

    When I say..."People have kids. People have lives to lead."...I guess what I'm trying to say is that people have mothers, and brothers and cousins too. And, while, a lot of times you can shrug things off and focus on living your life...which is what all of us want to do.

    Sometimes America, through action or inaction, won't let you do that.

    It seems to me that New Orleans sent a message.

    And I am betting, whether in involves hip hop or sports or returning veterans or religion or essayists or activism: that America will get a message back.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 8:22 AM  

  • the time is ripe for a new paradigm of politics...not just a black response. especially if the major economic eruption that many are forecasting comes to fruition.

    By Blogger NYBri, at 7:50 PM  

  • [here's http://www.k-otix.com/] a new song out using kanye west's "bush don't care about black people" as a sample.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 1:04 PM  

  • oops, html troubles once again.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 1:05 PM  

  • I can point you to an account of what it felt like to be left behind in one of the hospitials. It begins here. Very frightening and unsettling. In the end, I was most struck by the author's realization that, having come through this extreme experience, she would probably never be together again with the coworkers she shared it with.

    I do hope a new generation of African American leadership, like Van J., can point a way. Historically African Americans have acted as this nation's moral compass -- we sure need one.

    By Blogger janinsanfran, at 9:02 PM  

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