“We tend to think of natural disasters as somehow even-handed, as somehow random, yet it has always been thus: poor people are in danger. That is what it means to be poor. It’s dangerous to be poor. It’s dangerous to be black. It’s dangerous to be Latino.” –Martin Espada
Monday, August 29 – Hundreds of African Americans and other poor people lost their lives in Louisiana and Mississippi to Hurricane Katrina. The nation then watched helplessly as tens of thousands more continued to suffer benign governmental neglect and outright racism. To witness so plainly how the lives of American people of color were just not valued by their very own government seemed even more horrifying than the ravages of the original storm.
Tuesday, August 30 – One day after Hurricane Katrina struck, President Bush announced he had decided to cut short his “vacation.” Still, he only arrived “back to work” at the White House the following Wednesday afternoon. As Michael Moore and Bill Mahr will most likely tell you, the President has managed to beat his own September 11, 2001 record (i.e., seven minutes of public indecision and inaction) ten-thousand fold.
“Don’t Buy Gas If You Don’t Need It”
Thursday, September 1 – Three days after the storm, the President surveyed the devastation from Air Force One, and went on to publicly chastise survivors (i.e., those stranded with no support and blocked from leaving the city by armed state troopers) with talks about “zero tolerance of people breaking the law” and the need for “personal responsibility.” His advice to the rest of the nation? “Don’t buy gas if you don’t need it” and “Hang in there.”
Despite video footage of thousands upon thousands of people milling about or sitting idly on the streets waiting for help, the national (and international) media fed the racism with crimson-red headlines sensationalizing random cases of looting and rapes. One can’t help but wonder how they managed to conduct those hundreds of interviews and to gather so much walking footage amidst all that “lawlessness.”
Friday, September 2 – The issue of government inaction finally became the focus as progressive columnists had begun to gnaw at the media’s collective conscious. But even those that did mention the inadequate support never questioned the government’s order that national guardsmen and police abandon rescue missions to concentrate on “stopping the looters.” (Of course, most have also failed to consider whether perhaps we might consider recalling several thousand of those guardsman feeding the war machine in Iraq.)
The racial disparity was roundly criticized by Black and Latino leaders across the country. At a Friday press conference, Congressman Charles B. Rangel called the crisis a “disgrace … made all the worse by the failure of government officials to have planned.”
White supremacist websites, meanwhile, are still banging away at their keyboards – littering the Internet landscape with hateful remarks about the hand of God coming down on “deserving” blacks (and gays).
There were also the usual attempts by conservatives to dismiss anyone who critiqued our failure to provide more immediate support as members of the “crazy left” (whatever that means). But this is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of incompetence, at best and callous disregard for human life, at worst.
In fact, it was New Orleans’ own finest who first initiated the call for more federal aid. It was Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans, who first shamed the President on national television for ignoring repeated requests for assistance. It was writer Anne Rice, who blasted the media for their racist coverage in a New York Times editorial. It was New Orleans native Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis who issued a call for more support and racial tolerance on CNN’s Larry King Live. It was the city’s own newspaper, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans that blasted the inaction with a front page editorial. And it was performer Harry Connick, Jr. who immediately flew in to lend a hand to his neighbors.
There is simply no way to excuse the fact that President Bush chose to spend the day AFTER the storm, which had killed hundreds of American citizens, playing the guitar at a California fundraiser. Nor the fact the he did not return to work until Wednesday, and that he failed to call in the National Guard (and other federal support) until after Thursday.
Here in New York, our own Republican mayor condemned the late response. And while Bloomberg also promised that the city has evacuation (and rescue) plans in hand, should the hundreds of thousands of poor and working folks who live on flood plains that runs along the East River – from Loisada to el Barrio rely on the government to save them if a similar disaster were to strike here?
Well, if I had to go by the nonchalant attitude on the part of many New Yorkers – most of whom seemed more concerned with their holiday plans that week than the tens of thousands of African Americans suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere – then we had better prepare for a storm of our very own come the next local disaster.
HOW TO PREPARE
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Catholic Charities USA – Catholic Charities USA is collecting financial donations to fund emergency and long-term disaster recovery efforts. For more information, call (800) 919-9338 or visit their website.
Hurricane Housing – MoveOn.org’s housing drive found over 160,000 beds for hurricane evacuees. If you know of someone that needs housing and they don’t have access to the internet, give them this toll-free hotline number to call: 1-800-638-4559 or visit their website.
Local Grassroots Movement Relief Efforts: Chica Luna Productions along with The Malcom X Grassroots Movement, Sisters on the Rise and The Caribbean Cultural Center are Sponsoring a relief food and clothing drive for our brothers and sister of the gulf coast. You can drop off your donation items at any of four locations in the city.
Examples of Items Needed:
Food: Non perishables, canned goods, water, baby formula, dry animal food, etc.
Clothing: New socks and new underwear, baby clothes, next to new footwear, any clothing that is in good condition, etc.
House Supplies: Flash lights, batteries, candles (the ones in tall glass preferred), matches, sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, plastic utensils, towels, air mattress, garbage bags, etc.
Medical/Health: First aid kits, medicine for elderly, Vitamins, disinfectant wipes, etc.
Toiletries: Diapers, feminine products, toothbrushes, deodorant, insect repellant, etc.
Chica Luna Productions
1690 Lexington Ave., 2nd fl. (Corner of 106th)
New York, NY 10029
Drop off Hours: M-F: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Caribbean Cultural Center
408 West 58th Street (bet. 9th & 10th Ave.)
New York, NY 10019
Drop off Hours: M-F: 10a-6p
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement [MXGM]
388 Atlantic Ave 3rd Floor (bet. Hoyt & Bond)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Drop off Hours: M-F: 10a-7p
Sat & Sun: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
IN THE BRONX
Sisters on the Rise
835 Dawson Street (bet. Intervale & Rev James A. Plight Ave.)
Bronx, NY 10459
Drop off Hours: M-Thu: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm