When the Levee Breaks

Almost three years to the day, Hurricane Katrina survivors find themselves facing yet another disaster and everyone seems to be asking the same question: Is this really happening? The Gulf Coast is still reeling from both Katrina and Rita with tens of thousands of New Orleans residents left homeless, displaced or housed in over crowded FEMA trailers where many were unknowingly exposed to the toxic gas, formaldehyde. It comes as no surprise that the federal government’s idea of righting past wrongs is quadrupling police presence and dispatching thousands of National Guardsmen to prepare for “search and rescue” missions (read: arresting “looters”). However, with today’s breaking news of Bristol Palin’s teenage pregnancy and Ragin’s preemptive criminalization of potential post-Hurricane “looters” eclipsing the coverage of Hurricane Gustav, I’m not entirely convinced we’ve learned our lesson (and by “we” I mean the federal government). Apparently, the National Guard (NG) were encouraged to use “strategic” fear tactics to mobilize folks for the mandatory evacuation by asking “stubborn residents” to give them their social security numbers to help the NG identify their dead bodies in the Hurricane aftermath. Yikes, something tells me these were not the improvements Katrina survivors envisioned…Perhaps what I find most disheartening is how little work has been done to secure the levees since Katrina. Everyone (even conservative pundits) admits that the levees remain extremely vulnerable (they can only hold up to 9 ft of water, if that). The excuse? That the initiative to strengthen/rebuild levees was given a 2011 deadline…wow. I don’t think anyone quite understands the urgency of these situations. Did the government honestly not anticipate another hurricane until 2011? Do they lack common sense? No, it’s simply not a priority. And now Hurricane Gustav will become another spectacle in American politics, a new platform to accrue votes, an excuse to turn the RNC into a heroic telethon/fundraiser. Sigh, it amazes me how little we are invested in prevention. To be honest, I got the feeling that CNN reporters were disappointed when Gustav was downgraded to a category 2 storm from “the storm of the century”. There is something exhilarating in high stakes for these so-called journalists that leaves me hungry for Amy Goodman, John Stewart and even Stephen Colbert. I’ll be listening closely over the next week to see how this all plays out. I trust you will too…

Here’s a poem from the New Orleans team @ Brave New Voices:

“Day after day
seems like I push
against the clouds;
They just keep blocking out
the sun, the sun.”

When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move (Led Zeppelin)

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