President Obama spoke at Xavier University today on the fifth anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. He began his address by thanking the politicians present, including Louisiana Governor Bobby "Anyone but Blanco" Jindal, Senator Mary Landrieu (whom Obama referred to as "better-looking" than her brother, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu), and Lisa "Homegirl" Jackson, the EPA Administrator. [Why Obama feels the need to editorialize on the part of his female colleagues is beyond me, but maybe The Patriarchy hasn't yet made it to the top of his "to change" list.]
It's been five years since Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. There's no need to dwell on what you experienced and what the world witnessed. We all remember it keenly: water pouring through broken levees; mothers holding their children above the waterline; people stranded on rooftops begging for help; bodies lying in the streets of a great American city. It was a natural disaster but also a man-made catastrophe — a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, and women, and children abandoned and alone.
Unfortunately, there is need to dwell on what was experienced, because trauma is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. "Shameful" is too tepid a word to describe what happened and is still happening.
Let there be no mistake: New Orleans is still really, really fucked up. So is St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and other parts of the Gulf Coast. Not only are lifelong residents of these areas still displaced in regions as disparate as Houston, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Boston, but they face mountainous barriers to coming back and reclaiming their homes. Not only is this a failing of the US government; this is a humanitarian tragedy.
A federal judge recently ruled that the Katrina-related federal recovery money managed by the Road Home program has been dispensed in a racially discriminatory manner. This is a pitiful, disgusting truth. But it is too late for many black homeowners to pursue recourse.
Spike Lee's sequel to When the Levees Broke addresses, among other themes, the BP disaster and its impact on small business owners in the Gulf. These people are fucked. Not only had their livelihoods been disrupted and, in some cases, completely ruined by Katrina, they now are facing another punch in the gut that, this time, may not lend itself to recuperation.
While many believe the invisible microbes in the Ocean are eating all the oil particles, and every White Sox game carries at least one commercial about BP's "Community Outreach Project," this problem is not going to go away anytime soon.
It is sad enough that the dolphins and turtles are dying in droves, but it is going to be much sadder when entire communities of people turn to already stressed food banks and housing shelters and walk away with a pat on the back and a grim piece of encouragement from the President. Even FDR did better in a national crisis.
Don't get me wrong: I am glad that Obama came down for the anniversary. I am glad that Anderson Cooper keeps showing up in his black t-shirt. The issue still needs attention. But rather than looking into the camera and waxing poetic about a fucking shrimp poboy, why not initiate a concerted and efficient effort to fix what's been desperately broken, and revamp the systems that caused the trauma to begin with?
For more Katrina photos, see my friend Lee Celano's work.