Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Our own dam nation: Remembering Katrina

Two years ago, on August 29th, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near Buras, a small town in Southeastern Louisiana. The storm moved along the Gulf Coast leaving a path of devastation in its wake. In New Orleans, the surge overwhelmed the city's levees in 53 places and the flooding that resulted destroyed homes and displaced thousands. There were over 1,800 deaths confirmed in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The images of the chaos in New Orleans that followed the levees breaking will flood back over our collective minds to mark this anniversary. Two years later the city and region are still recovering from the physical, emotional and psychological damage suffered. George W. Bush likes to conjure the spectre of 9/11 to coerce absolute cooperation with his radically anti-democratic agenda, but it is this tragedy — the abandonment of Katrina's victims — that should act as the alarm that shakes us from our political slumber.

It's difficult for many Americans to make common cause with those folks we saw frantically flagging down rescuers from rooftops transformed into islands. They can't see themselves mirrored in the cot rows of shellshocked faces that peeked out from the refuge of filthy blankets in the Supderdome. Maybe they think that those ill-fated survivors were much poorer, were much darker, had much less to lose. Little do we priveleged many realize how precarious our own position in the world is becoming; how the walls of our own dams have thinned.

Various global tides have started to rise while we've been comfortably enclosed within our once-strong barricades. The American people have fallen into a drowsy complacency and ignored the many warning signs, convincing ourselves that good times last forever. We've opted to play a game of chance, blithely taking money from our rainy day funds and hoping that a big storm never hits. When adversity does arrive, the echoes of Katrina will certainly haunt us once more.

Today, the President made a show of sympathy with the city his federal government left to its own meager devices until too late (see the Washington Post's Bush Touts 'Strong Commitment' to Rebuild New Orleans). Bush's empty rhetoric won't fool the people of Louisiana, who know very well what to expect from him after two long years of little progress. They learned the hard lesson that the federal government no longer cares whether they live or die. It serves a much different master these days, one coldly disinterested in the well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged.

It's time that the rest of us recognize our plight is the same, no matter how secure our finances may currently appear. If we don't take back our government, making it truly representative of us all, we'll soon see our own fortunes sinking as quickly as the flood waters rise.

To quote Louisiana's own Buckwheat Zydeco and his song Make a Change:

Make a change in your life
And make it for the better
Don't you wait no longer
It'll just set you back further

It's not for the black and white
not for the young and gray
not for the sick and homeless
not for just one race
not for one generation
for the whole damn nation
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