Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav in New Orleans?: The Action We Must Take

In April 2007, I took a phenomenal group of students on a spring break service trip to New Orleans. Though it had been nearly 2 years since Hurricane Katrina and the man-made, government-sanctioned disaster that followed, we found a city in ruins, a people in limbo, and numerous dreams destroyed.

For weeks after, I was depleted not by the work we had done or by the logistical gymnastics required in a city with a devastated infrastructure, but by the realities of a profound failure on the part of our federal government and the strain conveyed by the people who were trying to rebuild their homes and lives.

I had helped to build houses and sheds and shuttled students across the city. I'd spent an entire morning struggling on behalf of a destitute Honduran American to get answers from taxed representatives on the "(Long) Road Home" hotline and weary telephone attendants from CVS pharmacy.

But when I returned to life in Los Angeles, those I left behind continued to struggle. No matter what I did, I could never truly understand the tragedy my fellow Americans were living.

When I traveled to New Orleans summer, and finally found the strength to leave the hotel room, I found a city little changed from the one I'd last left.

I know many of us have stories like this one. Some of us have friends and family members who are once again compelled, even as they mourn the loss of their loved ones and their city as knew it, to prepare for yet another catastrophe. Some of us are those friends and family members.

Those of us watching satellite images of the category-4 Hurricane Gustav path pause, stunned by disbelief into shock, or anger, or prayer. Or all of these. But our brothers and sisters in New Orleans have no time to reflect, no time to and ponder.

They have to pray with their feet.

I saw first hand the levees that can't hold back a disaster like Katrina. I'm still seething with anger toward an administration that can't bring itself to allocate funds to shore up cities in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, but finds billions upon billions for military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan while even our loved ones in the forces are overlooked. One that doesn't think it's important enough to restore the Gulf's wetlands, lessen the oil drilling that heats the Gulf's waters and emboldens hurricanes, or adopt responsible environmental policies to slow global warming.

We're all indignant. But that doesn't change what we must do.

We must see about our loved ones in the gulf region and the survivors of the storm in Haiti, Jamaica and elsewhere. Then we must mentally and spiritually prepare to return and aid in the rebuilding, even if our government fails again, and even if we have to shake off apathy to move toward fixing a broken system.

We can't just sit still before the harrowing pictures on the television, Y'all. We have to do something if we don't intend to see best precepts of our country just wash away. We have to reclaim our state and federal governments and hold them accountable.

Because if we see the same kind of indefensible disaster in our gulf states, we might as well call it Hurricane Bush.

On a personal note, I'm sending love to folks who have made New Orleans like home in my trips to the city: Chris & Shana, Arthelle & family, Mr. Dilbert & family, the students and staff of Xavier University, and the children and young people of the city.

You'll find credits and relevant media below.
[Photo Credit: Richard Perry -- NY Times (evacuation station in New Orleans 7th Ward)]

As the storm approaches, the AP and other new sources are questioning the city's readiness:

In the meantime, those grappling with the reality are trying to make sense of it all.
I leave you with videos from 2 teens and a young comedian.

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