David Anderson on Lessons from Katrina
August 25, 2006
I have thought a lot recently about hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I have thought about watching with frustration as Gov. Blanco did not activate the National Guard to drive buses and evacuate the people of New Orleans. I have revisited my thoughts about the devastation of Gulfport I saw when our plane flew in... I have thought about the larger issues about poverty and government lethargy and incompetence. I remember the greatness of the American Spirit and the unity of our people in face of the largest natural disaster in American History.
I was watching speeches by great Americans, Dr. King, President Kennedy, President Reagan, and Senator Robert Kennedy. These men called us to a vision greater than our every day lives. They called upon us to rise to greatness as a nation without regard to race and class.
President Reagan said in his first inaugural address the following: “Well, this administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunity for all Americans, with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work.”
He was correct. Unfortunately, in spite of the progress we have made, we still have a long way to go. We have a Congress that complains it is hard to make it on $140,000 a year and gives itself $25,000 in raises while the minimum wage is stagnant, and they refuse to give us permanent comprehensive tax relief. Few want to even speak of poverty in America.
One year ago we saw that the poor were not just forgotten in rhetoric, but in fact. For all the neosocialist urban planning to get us into public transportation, it fell apart for those dependent upon it. If you worked for $7.00 an hour and couldn’t afford a car, mandatory evacuation meant don’t drown Tyrone. We’ll get to you when the important people are safe. Yet when the Landrieu’s and Gov. Blanco’s political campaigns need buses in 2002, they had no problem getting them.
It showed that if you bought into government providing for your needs, you will need. The feds were confused and their brand new upgrades were nice for a tornado, but not for a widespread disaster with no power, phones, or cell transmission. There was not a sat phone sent to the field. The FEMA field staff could not communicate the needs to higher up. When then FEMA Michael Brown went out to see what was happening the new Secretary of Homeland Security demanded he stay put because the Sec. could not get through to Brown’s cell when he was on the helicopter. Imagine how Mr. Brown felt not being in contact with the entire operation! Mr. Brown became the greatest scapegoat this century.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of people were stuck in the Superdome and civic center. People in rural Mississippi were crowding 15 and 20 into relative’s single wide trailers. Water was not pumping and electricity and phone were not operational.
Our hearts went out to our fellow Americans. We demanded action. The states sent volunteers from the National Guard (of which I was blessed to be one) and the people in the area took heart. The Churches and faith based groups stood up where the government and the now bureaucratic Red Cross failed (it actually turned away tractor trailer loads of desperately needed aid). We made it through. The President outlined bold action to address the root of the problem and unleash free enterprise and money to rebuild. He addressed the issues of latent racism and poverty, the federal government has allocated $100 billion and private insurers have paid $45 billion.
I wish the story ended there. One year latter, we still have not even gotten a plan for rebuilding from New Orleans government, and the gambling interests are scoping up the Mississippi gulf coast at a bargain. As usual, the struggling among us are forgotten again, not just in the gulf coast but all of America.
Even in our local community when the Rico Chemical car leaked, where were the civil defense sirens for those who can’t afford telephones (I am grateful for the emergency call telling me to stay inside, but we had to go out to tell our neighbors who had to choose between electricity and telephone service.) If we needed to evacuate, what about those without cars? We could smell the chemical. I couldn’t help but wonder if a real disaster occurred would we say sorry about your luck Ty, my man?
We have thousands of people working for less than $8.00 an hour in our community-- many trying to raise families on less than $250 a week before taxes. They have no margin for life’s curveballs because they are already behind the curve. They have to choose between rent taking 60% of their take home or living in Manchester Square where one friend just had bullets go into his family’s apartment one night or capitol Greene where another friend was threatened with a gun for asking people not to sit on his porch and meet for drug pick up. What are they suppose to do? Does anyone even care? So people move, the old car breaks down and they end up at title loan. They pay the loan twice over and still lose the car because the interest is 500% or 40% a month. They have to take a bus which does not match the retail job hours or temp firm hours they have to keep and if a disaster occurs…. God better love you because no one else cares.
Friends, we can not only do better—we have to be better. Over the next few months, I hope to start a conversation of solutions in our community and maybe drive the politicians nuts by doing it in an election year. Please join me in making it happen.