Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The difference between the rest of the world and New Orleans is that we see Hurricane Katrina in present tense, while everyone else sees it as history. Katrina will never leave us because our lives were irreversibly changed by the storm and its aftermath. This week marks the four year anniversary of the giant wave that directed a spotlight on New Orleans, a new awareness of race and class in America, and human suffering in numbers not seen in this country perhaps ever. But we do not need an anniversary to remind us what happened here. Its mark is indelible. Its power is everlasting and most unwelcome. No one who lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina can ever truly feel safe again.

It was not just the water and the devastation that robbed us of personal security. It was not just the hunger, thirst and even deaths of those unfortunate enough to be left behind. It was really the full realization that we could not depend on our government to protect us. It was four full days of tens of thousands of human beings waiting for relief from the wealthiest and most powerful government on the planet. But night became day and then night again – and again – and again—before even water was delivered.

Think about America on those nights: In Sausalito, CA people dined outdoors on hillsides overlooking the bay. In New York City people went to Sardi’s and then to the theatre. In Washington, D.C., tourists strolled along the national Mall and the monuments. Life just went on, while the poor people of New Orleans saw their dignity erode and for some, their life forces wane. If you think I am overstating it, you are mistaken. If you think four years is long enough for New Orleans to just “get over it,” you do not get it. And if you think New Orleans is back on its feet, I encourage you to come on down and we’ll take you on what we affectionately call “the devastation tour.”

Only two national journalists fully committed themselves in an honest, determined way to covering Katrina. One is Anderson Cooper of CNN, and the other is Brian Williams of NBC. What follows is Williams’ hard and gritty look at the New Orleans he saw from August 29 – 31, 2005. He was in the Superdome when the roof threatened to collapse. He was on Canal Street in knee high water when lawlessness happened and people started looting all of the downtown stores. Williams stayed on it, and even today continues to report on New Orleans.

Please take 27 minutes and 22 seconds to watch a video that is sometimes very hard to see, and listen to Williams tell the story as it truly was. I want you to see what happened, and I want you to be reminded of the truth. This can happen anywhere in this country any time. The U.S. government failed its people, and even today continues to marginalize the entire Gulf Coast, much of which has been unable to restore itself. Much money that was committed and many Federal programs that were promised never materialized. By the time the 2008 presidential election came around, not only was the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast not a campaign issue – it was barely mentioned by either party. And when the current recession hit and unemployment skyrocketed coast to coast, while millions of Americans lost their homes – well, by then it was too late for New Orleans.

Do I believe New Orleans will ultimately be resurrected? I believe New Orleans will survive and forge ahead, but it will never be quite what it was. Watch and listen, and you will see why:

1 comment:

Mary said...

Thank you for this post. I haven't forgotten Katrina. I did put it in the back of my mind. I didn't want to feel the pain again. I didn't want to think of New Orleans or the small mess we had in Kenner. For 3 years I wanted to not think of it. Not think of those lost and those who lost. I didn't want to feel the pain of the Gulf Coast States. I wanted to pretend we were ok. But I know we never will be. It's always there. It's always in our minds. The people we lost, the people who wasn't there for us that should have been. The homes that were flattened. The rebuilding that has yet to be done. God Bless us. God rest the souls lost. God heal the hearts of us all.