portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

human & civil rights | katrina aftermath | sustainability

New Orleans Demonstrates that we can Only Trust Ourselves

In the aftermath of one of the most ravaging storms ever to touch US shores, the people of New Orleans remain stranded. Even with several days to prepare, the federal government failed to render assistance, and the local government buckled under the strain. While people die in the streets, the Lousianna National Guard is unable to help, because they were all sent away to Iraq. Meanwhile, as poor people of color suffer in the South, oil companies profit from their misery, cops guard rich people's possessions, and wal mart bitches about "looting." This is occupied earth, in a microcosm.
Some say the social fabric in the hurricane zone is tearing apart. Hordes of "looters" roam the streets, gunfire has been heard ringing out over the flooded landscape, and desperate bands of marauders step over dead people to assail mini markets in search of food and weapons. For my part, I'm not so sure the social fabric is breaking down, so much as it is demonstrating in spades the harvest of a social system already torn asunder. It is the inequities of American life, floating to the surface with the bodies.

But there is another story here. If one looks past the glitteringly blind coverage being propelled from the screens occupied by the corporate media, there is a lot more to see through the hole that the hurricane tore through our comfort zone. Because while the wealthy fled the city before the storm's wrath, the poor had to stay behind. And while the corporate media labels them looters and victims and gangs, the truth is, they are survivors. They have learned the brutal truth, that the police state is not really there to serve and protect them, that Homeland Security is not really about protecting the people of this country, and that a safety net is really just an illusion to pacify them. When they reach a time of need, there is no line from above. They must drag themselves out. And so they are.

It has been a brutal lesson, but the people in New Orleans are banding together to provide for themselves and each other. Striking out through the flood waters to provide for starving comrades, they liberate supplies from bloodsucking corporate chain stores. Stranded after the limousines all left, some banded together to liberate vehicles and make their own way out of the sunken city. They brave the guns of polite society to do so, and it is a cruel irony that the corporate media's watchful gaze snaps mug shots from above and labels them criminals. Even more cruel that the people stealing to save their lives are branded looters, while the people stealing for profit -- those at Exxon and Chevron and Texaco, who jacked up prices and stand to gain from all this -- are just labeled good businessmen.

A friend found what he describes as "the best coverage of New Orleans so far" (You can find it here:  http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor/). This isn't corporate spin, this is real people living through it, reporting what they see. And on Thursday, someone posted an interview with a Bourbon Street barman. He said he was one of the people whom the police had told to go to the Crescent City Connection bridge to wait for a ride out of there. So he walked there with thousands of other people. Three days later, he was still waiting. He said that they went without food, water, or medicine for days, and that when it finally came, it was chucked over the side of the bridge at the people below, most of it crashing apart as it hit the ground. He said that some people tried to go up to the bridge to walk the supplies down, but that "any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them."

In their desperation, some people tried to flag down passing police cars. (After all, isn't that what we've all been told? If you need help, ask a friendly police officer.) But, reports the barman from New Orleans, "Any attempt to flag down police results in being told to get away at gunpoint." The police, after all, had other things to do. They had to stop looters. The barman continues,

"Before the supplies were pitched off the bridge today, people had to break into buildings in the area to try to find food and water for their families. There was not enough. This spurred many families to break into cars to try to escape the city. There was no police response to the auto thefts until the mob reached the rich area -- Saulet Condos -- once they tried to get cars from there... well then the whole swat teams began showing up with rifles pointed. Snipers got on the roof and told people to get back."

So when we hear about "snipers" from the corporate media, and the dark, shadowy picutes they build in our minds turn to gangs of thugs, we need to remember that those thugs are wearing police uniforms and badges. Because that's something the corporate media has consistently forgotten to mention.

This account of life after disaster is also heartbreaking. Says the barman,

"The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.

The buses never stop."

It made me cry to read that. To think of people so hungry and so thirsty and so tired, going to all the effort of cleaning up around themselves in the middle of shit island, just so someone might help them, might see them as human beings. As if the problem is somehow located in themselves, rather than in a thoughtlessly indifferent culture, racist and classist to its core, that would just abandon them.

As I said, though, there is another story here. Because the people who survive down there will survive anything that comes now. They will survive peak oil, and hard times, and revolution. Because they have learned that solidarity, mutual aid, and community are their life lines. Not the government, not the "authorities," not the police state. Those things are only here to save rich people's cars and the aisles and aisles of tv sets at Circuit City. Salvation comes from each other.

we know where we're headed 03.Sep.2005 11:07

--

by those we leave behind.

a lot of the pictures posted to this site (  http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/hurricanekatrina/?page=14 ) are great but look like they're from people viewing the catastrophe close enough to see it, but in relative comfort... a lot like most of us. it took some searching to find indications of the tragedy inflicted by nature and the criminals in power. looks like not too many people in the refugee camps and in the ghost streets of New Orleans have digital cameras or net connections. yeah, i know. fucking duh.
The water is rising. Please help.
The water is rising. Please help.

excellent article CatWoman 03.Sep.2005 11:13

--

you never fail to pierce the apathy shield

Where's the next empty sports stadium? 03.Sep.2005 16:25

JR

It's estimated that tens of thousands of New Orleans refugees made the 350 mile trek to Houston, because there's a big sports stadium there, and the sports stadium in New Orleans became uninhabitable after a few days. This kind of sums up, for me at least, a big part of the problem down there. Or at least one aspect of the problem: you have probably between 50,000 to 100,000 people desperate to get out of the core of New Orleans. Is it logical then that San Antonio, Texas, would be a destination point for them?

The Houston Astrodome reportedly began rejecting refugees once the 11,000 mark was hit. Well, you have tens of thousands of people stranded in the middle of one of America's biggest cities, with a population of 2 million probably, yet the major task then becomes how to get those people OUT of the city, because there's too many refugees in the sports stadium! The priority isn't, "How can this population of 2 million people look after the tens of thousands of refugees" but rather, how can we get these people out of here quickly, so business can be resumed?

Another thought I've had about the crisis is that the focus on foreign conflicts and events, whether it's Iraq, Afghanistan, or Israel and the settlers, or Israel and the Palestinians, leaves a lot of people unable to reasonably handle a crisis like this. I'm thinking here of media and government conditioning, which hands us foreign conflict and events as a kind of proxy scenario, whereby Americans can work out various differences, conflicts, inequalities, and such here at home--not by actually dealing with them, but just by working them out through different proxy forces or ideologies across the globe.

Having said that, the disaster in Iraq is a lot more than a proxy battle. But one wonders what this country could be capable of were it not for the senseless meddling and destruction in foreign lands.

Bureaucracy and Corruption in NOLA 04.Sep.2005 03:30

Boyd

Just a few thoughts on the hurricane Katrina disaster...
The police in New Orleans were notoriously corrupt (possibly accounting for many of the murders which took place in this town) and they probably will remain corrupt throughout this crisis. As for the national guard... they are poorly trained and inundated with anti-human (corporate) propaganda like the rest of us (only they are given weapons and shoot to kill orders) -- it's a shame that there aren't more respected peace organizations that could bring in the relief supplies, but these young soldiers will have to do.

Obviously the buses not being commandeered earlier for the purposes of evacuation was THE horrible mistake. A mistake that could be expected in our greedy bureacratic society, but a mistake nonetheless (which I'm sure is regretted at all levels of government if only because of the bad press it has caused them to receive).

I don't know how much faster the relief supplies could have arrived, but Bush playing guitar and laughing the tuesday afterwards (photo:  http://news.yahoo.com/photo/050830/480/capm10208301856) seemed less than stoic -- as did Secretary of State Rice at Spamalot. If these people had been a little more serious the problem might not have been as bad a fewer people may have died. Again, however, this is the nature of bureaucratic power.

To wrap on the note of bureaucratic power in our society... This is turning out to be a horrible environmental disaster due to the chemicals and sewage that exists in New Orleans. Our world is set up in such a way that toxic catastrophes are inevitable. It also shouldn't be forgotten that this storm may have been strengthened by fossil fuel consumption which has caused global warming of the earth's surfaces.