I was doing housework last night – while listening to U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb CD – and occasionally drifting into the bedroom to look at the late and increasingly awful news from New Orleans. I bent over my speakers just as this line from “Crumbs From Your Table” rang out: “Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.” It came to mind again as I read this editorial from Jeff Sharlet this morning:
…But if this is a religion story, it’s not about an act of God or the banal use and abuse of the Bible as substitute aid for people dying of literal thirst; it’s about sin. And no vague, blustery “pride of man” stories about ill-preparedness or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers will address the original sin of this event. We need theologically-charged, morally outraged, investigative historical reporting to tell us why and how the dead of New Orleans died, and when their killers — not Katrina, but the developers and politicians and patricians who are now far from the city — began the killing. It wasn’t Monday, and it wasn’t last week. We need journalists, not just historians, to look deeper into the American mythologies of race and money, “personal responsibility” and real responsibility.
This isn’t a religion story because God acted, but because people acted. It’s not about what they didn’t do, it’s about what they did do, under the cover of civic development and urban renewal and faith-based initiatives that systematically eradicate the possibility of real, systemic response to a crisis that is more than a matter of individual souls.
…New Orleans, a major slave port, will be the place of death once again, for thousand of Africa’s descendents. In these states, persons of African descent are the ones who are most impoverished, hurting, and dismayed. Yet our news broadcasters continue to ask inane questions, such as “Why didn’t they leave?” Or, “Why are they looting?”
People are looting because they are tired of being at the bottom. If you don’t have gas money, or a working car, or the government check that would come on September 1, you could not leave New Orleans. Never mind the fact that New Orleans, as a tourist capital, never funneled any of that money back into impoverished communities. Katrina didn’t care that monthly stipend hadn’t come yet. She came instead.
The majority of persons in this desperate plight simply want to get out, anyway they can. And the help that was so delicately listed by our ever-vacationing president in his address to the nation is taking its own sweet time getting there. This started as a natural disaster, but the aftermath is genocide of black people, once again.
Then marvel over the Republican strategist (who had the good sense to speak anonymously) smacking his lips over the political “cover” offered by the disaster. And over RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who had the presence of mind, in the midst of this chaos, to send out a mass email urging recipients to call senators and tell them to repeal the estate tax. No kidding.
Which reminds me: I happened to catch part of the Al Franken radio show yesterday, while I was returning from a doctor appointment. The guest host was interviewing Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. I tuned in just as he was talking about how the Bush administration uses national distractions to do dastardly things or dump potentially damaging news stories. The two examples he gave for this past weekend are things I’d meant to link to but got, well, distracted. (1) As Katrina was arriving in New Orleans, they announced Susan Wood’s resignation from the Women’s Health Office (FDA) – in protest over the FDA’s continued delays on the “morning after pill” approval process. And (2) Bunnatine Greenhouse, the woman who went public with concerns over Halliburton’s no-bid contract for work in Iraq, was demoted for her efforts.
Have you read Molly Ivins, yet?