September 9, 2007

The Katrina Anniversary & The Memory Hole

[I had intended this blog post to be a short introduction to a video from New Orleans, offered here as a reminder for you FotM readers of what we are losing down the memory hole. As I wrote, it expanded and grew angrier, and became, I hope, a reminder that, well, reminders aren't enough. So I want to encourage everyone reading this, in the strongest possible terms, to check out the article "Join the Fight on the Second Anniversary of Katrina" posted at the website of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization / OrganizaciĆ³n Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. It focuses not on lessons, but on the practical tasks Katrina and its aftermath put before the Left today.]

Today, only two lousy years later, it takes an actual mental effort to recall what a massive impact the devastation and death in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast had--or seemed to have--on the consciousness and the consciences of the people of this country.

People from coast to coast were stunned, and mobilized themselves to help. Comparisons with the 9/11 attacks were commonplace. Even that little toad George W. Bush had to speak about poverty and the legacy of racism! The cover of America the Beautiful, the City on the Hill, was not merely twitched back but torn right off.

In those horrifying days, some of us lamented the inability of the weak, divided Left in this country to respond with program beyond issuing fliers that pointed out the fairly obvious workings of racism and capitalism in the catastrophe. We hoped against hope that the shock was so great that many white folks would not drift quietly back into the fog of privilege.

We all know how things turned out.

Katrina did serve as a wakeup call, a kind of national-scale DWB (Driving While Black) incident for some Black professionals and youth who had been lured by the system's okey-doke. But the ability of the Black nation and of Black elected officials and their allies to deal with the disaster, let alone use it as springboard to advance the struggle, was just not there.

The Left, eager to criticize the criminal ineptitude and conscious racist neglect displayed by the Bush administration, did not cover itself with glory in terms of practical organizing. After the waters receded, the bodies were picked up and the teevee cameras had moved on, the white blindspot of too many in this country kept them from seeing what has been going on since. The ethnic cleansing of NOLA. The warehousing of many of the displaced in toxic "refugee camps." The failure to come to grips with the poverty, the racism, the environmental causes, the governmental neglect--everything we all saw in that uncovered moment.

Sure, two weeks ago we saw broadcasts and articles and photo ops on the 2nd anniversary, but I was struck by how much the sense that Katrina was a moment of historic change has eroded. In two lousy years. Contrast that with the bright line ---that was then, this is now--drawn between the world before 9/11 and the present day. You'll get plenty more of that as the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks engulfs us (and is trotted out by the administration to justify continuing the unjust and unjustifiable occupation of Iraq).

Apologies. I hadn't planned to post a rant, just a short introduction to a video, by Sess 4-5 (featuring L.O.G.), a NOLA native who uses images not of the flooding but of the subsequent struggle, in his conscious rap "The Black Man." (The project setting and collective spirit are reminiscent of the video by Glaswegian hiphoppers Steg G and the Freestyle Master that I blogged here in May.)

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