Maybe the cosmic forces don’t like the end August. Or maybe it’s just August in general as far as I’m concerned personally that major events happen.
This is also the beginning of the school year for many students, a time a shifting and transitioning. It is nearing the time that many farmers are doing final inventory of just what did the growing season produce as they look forward toward late September and October to harvest their crops. It is a month where things change.
There are more deaths in August on both sides of my family, by far, than any other month of the calendar year. This nears the death date of even famous people dying such as Aaliyah and Princess Diana.
But moreover, August 29th is the day Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and changed my life ever since.
I never wrote specifically about Hurricane Katrina and it’s impact on my life. Most people who’ve read this blog have piecemealed together that I have some connection to New Orleans so let me take this time to say exactly what it is.
I moved to da NO to go to Dillard University where I sucessfully finished three years of school. I had been elected, well, more by default, president of our NABA student chapter, which for me was a pretty big deal and was entering my senior year of college. I remember watching haphazardly the news during that week about storm about to hit Florida and it was barely the Cat. 1 storm when it hit and I really didn’t give it much attention. Why, you may ask? I was like all of the other New Orleanians–why take this storm any seriously than the other ones. In addition to that, it was relatively routine to evacuate. I had done so for two other storms, one my freshman year for Isidore and I actually stayed in New Orleans for Lily and then I evacuated in 2004 for Ivan.
So, why should Katrina be any different?
Me and my homeboy were supposed to go out Friday night, but plans had fizzled, he spent the night the floor of my apartment, and we both woke up on Saturday morning, August 27th and much to our chagrin, we turn on the local news and see Katrina knocking at the door. Now, my homeboy is from Plaquemines Parish and they usually are the first in Louisiana to evacuate–they’d evacuate if someone cried hard and the tears hit the ground–but for the first time I actually saw my friend worried and I said, perhaps this one may be the big one.
So, Saturday morning as the dorm directors started issuing the mandatory evacuation notice for the campus, I packed up all of my things that I planned to take. About four days of clothes and I took everything from my closet, raised my bed and placed them on the bed–something I hadn’t done for the other hurricanes–and placed what was left on the top shelf of the closet. And at the last minute grabbed my dirty clothes from the first week of school.
I left with a friend that I normally left with from Lafayette, well Carencro specifically and she dropped me off at my aunt’s house just north of Lafayette. She came back and we chilled on Saturday and then my aunt or someone cme and got me, and we got up and went to the church the net morning–some white parish they had started going to up the street from where they normally went. I sat through the service trying not to nod off, and we came back home. I was tied to the elevision screen watching weather reports that the outer bands had begun to show up on NOLA Doppler radar and what not on Sunday evening.
Then Monday came.
I woke up, and it was CLEAR and HOT where I was. Yup, they had forecast about 101 that day for the high temperature. But, watching the news between Lafayette and Baton Rouge were as different as night and day. Baton Rouge had already seen their population nearly triple and was dealing with tropical storm force winds and massive power outages–60 miles west, I was baking in the heat. And I know I’m about to lose all of my readers, but I went to Acadiana Mall on Monday night with my friends and found some Gibaud strap jeans for 30 bucks in my size (still have those till today) and bought a new pair of shoes–all of this while the levees were at their breaking point.
Of course none of us knew that concurrently we were about to witness live, in living color the horror that was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Honestly, I don’t really have some horror story to tell you all. All of my friends got out safely, and none of them lost family members as a result of this. But I remember going back Tuesday to my friends house in Lafayette and watching the first live aerial shot of Tulane and Broad streets looking at the courthouse steps, I realised that this was not about to go away anytime soon.
I sat and listened to Soledad O’Brien shudder in terror as she waited on the entrance and exit ramps of the 610 overpass on the Elysian Fields interchange and I you could hear the distant cries for help and anguish wrench at the heartstrings as hope dissolved into the darkness that befell the city of New Orleans on that week.
For interested parties…
My parents had to pay over $500 for a one-way ticket back to Chicago. I got a ride to Baton Rouge’s airport and I got an interview (which wasn’t used) from then ABC-7’s Rob Johnson and, Lawwwwd, I looked a mess really. I had on the Girbauds and for some reason, my cousin’s knew NO ONE WHO COULD BRAID HAIR! I mean what the buck?!?!?! How was I in ALL black section of town and NO ONE KNEW HOW TO BRAID HAIR!?!?!? I had taken it down with the intention of getting it braided, so I had my hair in some Bizzy Bone twists wit rubber bands and a white tee on–wow–wish I had a picture of that.
We flew out looking at miliary transport planes on the ground, perhaps by that time–8 days after Katrina struck–actually coordinating real relief efforts. I could only think that a mere 45 minute drive down I-10 was so much suffering and heartache and just utter misery–of which could have been avoided.
Now, I want to be crystal clear, I am not trying to tell the story of New Orleanians, there are plenty people from there who can tell their own story. But what I am about to say is my unapologetic uppity Negro point of view.
First of all, as I see it, something like this was bound to happen. Fact of the matter is, the city sits six to ten feet below sea level as a result of the Mississippi river not flooding every year leaving soil deposits and ultimately keeping the elevation at sea level or slightly higher. And which somewhat adds insult to injury allegedly, the center of the city, such as the Gentilly neighborhood for example, was actually dug deeper as a result of civil engineers back in the day using the dirt as landfill in order to shore up the French Quarter and other parts of downtown.
Levees or not, there’s always going to be the big one. The issue is that Katrina wasn’t the big one, and August 30th should have been the “All clear” day and it wasn’t. Something that Democrats and Republicans alike in Louisiana were quite clear on was hurricane and flood protection for SELA. As far as I’m personally concerned, that’s where the problem began, with the federal government.
I know this kind of talk doesn’t sit well with Republican ideologies of small government, but oh the hell well. Federal money was paltry compared to federal grants and monies (pp. 80-81, Dyson) that have been used to bail out airline companies following 9/11, or even other civil engineering projects such as the Big Dig up in Boston or even the Deep Tunnel project in Chicago.
Secondly, I do fault the then Gov. Kathleen Babineaux-Blanco. Only for the simple reason that I wish she had just had a bit more foresight to see that this was not about to be something small and easy to deal with. Although this is where Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and The Color of Disaster book began to shed some light on the politics at play. There was some backroom/smoke-and-mirrors/cat-and-mouse games at work between her, Nagin and Bush (and let the record show, I side with Nagin on all accounts).
Here’s a recap:
Bush showed his hindparts on ground level New Orleans that Friday, September 1st, not some scenic-fly over he had done earlier. He didn’t fly into Armstrong, but came in at Mobile and made his way west back to NOLA. The previous day was Nagin’s infamous WWL-AM interview saying
We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq, lickety-quick, to take care of New York and other places…[Editor’s note: COME ON TRUTH!]Now you mean to tell me that a pace where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique–when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody’s eyes light up–you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died, a a thousand more dying every day, that we can’t figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on man…I don’t want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don’t do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And thn come down to this ciy and stand with us hen there are military trucks and troops that we can’t even count. Don’t tell me 40,000 people are come here. They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and lets fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.”
Perhaps his was channeling his inner Rev. Wright, because I most certainly think that this whole situation was condemned (if not damned) by God–but that’s suuuuuuuch another post.
But the politics at play were that Nagin was desperate, of course and Blanco seemed to be slightly ill-prepared and naturally, of course at wits ends [Editor’s notes: Talk about wit’s ends? I remember watching Sen. Mary Landrieu develop a very noticeable nervous tick with her mouth during a press conference: the corner of her lip kept on going into a smile, but it would just never stay, repeat after five seconds]. So Bush, Nagin and Blanco have this Air Force One meeting (pp. 100-105, Dyson) and the politics at play were that Nagin wanted Bush to federalize the National Guard in order to guarantee the rescue of NOLA and civil order restored as quickly as possible–well, he prolly wanted it yesterday, or the day before that.
Now, Blanco had aught with Nagin–serious aught. He had crossed party lines and endorsed Bobby Jindal for governor in the 2004 elections, who was in 2005 a U.S. Rep and now of course he is the current governor of Louisiana, the first Republican in quite some time. The issue was kind of a bastard child of states’ rights advocacy and playing to true conservative ideals where the federal government is hands off at all costs. Bush would have come off as some bleeding heart liberal if he had wrested power a) from a governor b) from a governor who’s a Democrat c) from a governor who’s a Democrat and the first female governor of the state. If he had done so, perhaps it would have been his face in the front of Dick Cheney’s gun.
There was also the issue of the Insurrection Act that actually would have required Blanco to cede power to the federal authorities and it was determined that they did not want the equivalent of federal marshal law roaming the streets of New Orleans. For the last time in the US that that happened was following the Rodney King Riots in 1992.
Ultimately, it was a Bush power play, straight from the Karl Rove, Of Many Chins [thanks AB] playbook. If the feds could take power, then everything that fell to crap they could blame on local mismanagement both at the state and municipal level.
This where I get off the Dyson bandwagon and speak for myself.
I think the main problem that made Katrina such a classic case of neglect and despair was the fact that New Orleans was a typical American city with no money and no resources–simple as that.
Now, I could wax on poetic and make this post even more epic than what it is, but I really think it boils down to that. By 2005, the surplus of the Clinton era was quickly going into the good night and in impoverished city centers like Hollygrove or Gerttown in New Orleans, Chester, Pennsylvania, the Lawndale and Roseland communities of Chicago, that surplus barely, if ever, made it to these all black communities in the first place. Coupled with the New Orleans culture of hurricanes, if after 40 years no hurricane has come, and the residents that remembered that one and remembered the federal response following it–why leave for this one.
As I said in the front part of this, my friend from Plaquemines parish was the only one really worried about this storm. I mean all of my friends from the Gulf Coast laughed at me my freshman year because I was REALLY freaking out about Isidore. Street flooding is normal in New Orleans, you just park your car on the median strip neutral ground and call it day and this is just from a heavy rainstorm or just a tropical storm or a Cat. 1. So, combined with the fact that people aint got money to be evacuating two or three times during hurricane season–come on now, let’s use common sense.
The residential issues about hurricanes were actually set aside for the other remaining 11 or so months out of the year when hurricanes weren’t even a threat. The city that has received the “murder capital” status numerous times (not to mention that a kid shot up John Mac back in 2003 execution of a kid in an auditorium that I had to go paint for community service, something so big it has it’s own Wikipedia entry, yeah even that shocks me.) and that New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) were a HAWT ass mess between the then school superintendant Anthony Amato (who I wanted kick his ass everytime I saw him on TV) and the heckling from Sandra Hester and her The Hester Report (does anybody from NOLA remember that she made Public Access worth watching just to see her go off on the school board, and remember when she got arrested for domestic abuse!!!!!!! By the way this is the only clip I could find of her, but this pales in comparison to her doing the Hester Report). Not to mention there were infrastructural problems that needed to be dealt with–the roads were horrible–and much of NOLA’s money did in fact go maintaining a world class sewer and drainage system. Remember, every drop of water that falls within Orleans parish has to be pumped out–something we all saw on television as they began the gruesome process of draining the 9th ward.
So with those problems plaguing the city every day, not to mention a city, just like all of these other American cities that have ZERO money and beginning to cut city services and freeze hiring and cut back on city workers, why would they spend money on resources that for the last 40 years were of no real need?
Hell, in my opinion if the federal government had done their effin’ job of keeping up with the Corps (a federal agency, not state or local) this catstrophe wouldn’t have happened! There would have been no need for the aggregation of resources that were sorely needed following the aftermath of Katrina.
Yes, it’s really that simple.
The frustrating thing about this was that Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans could have and moreover, should have been prevented.
To speak on Ray Nagin specifically–that’s my nigga …uppity Negro. I think he really embodies the perfect blend of what it means to be an uppity Negro. The uppity Negroes are the one’s who are the middle class blacks who have a little bit of understanding of white culture and every once in a while indulge in some “white things” that really come off as elitist around other blacks. But what makes the uppity Negro such is that they shuffle elitism and they then challenge the status quo in favor of others who don’t have the platform that they do.
Yes, Nagin prior to Katrina when he was newly elected in 2002 just didn’t strike me as all that, in fact he was giving me the Barack O’Bama vibe of being “incidentally black” but his ability to just go off–well, that was an ad-mixture of angry Negro and uppity Negro threatening militant Negro–in the interview, call New Orleans “Chocolate City” and to be candid with Miss Sally over at WWL in a interview earlier this year screams uppity Negro. I’m not saying Nagin has been right on everything prior to Katrina, I’m certainly not saying he’s done everything right since Katrina, especially when directly following Katrina it seemed as though he were about to cater to the big businesses (read: Halliburton) without putting up much of a fight, over the interests of the residents and now former residents. And I certainly haven’t heard the details of Nagin’s second term in office, but I will say that if was instrumental in bringing Paul Vallas to the city, then I’ll say Nagin’s headed in the right direction.
I got home the day before Labor Day 2005 and called around to schools across the nation. And I realized I wanted to go back to an HBCU, I seriously didn’t even call any white schools. The world was our oyster–seriously, Harvard and Yale had opened their doors to the college students from NOLA. I had one friend go to Stanford and another go to MIT during their semester away from Dillard.
I called up Tennessee State University which was my first choice and Southern University because they were waiving tuitions and whatnot–yeah, you’re reading this right. After most of us had had a week of school, and paid check and signed away the following 10-15 years of our life with Stafford Loan signatures, many schools were merely opening their doors, but not their pocketbooks. The problem was that both TSU and Southern couldn’t guarantee me housing. Well, for me to spend another two or three hundred dollars on a one-way plane ticket, I needed some guarantees over the phone.
Getting in contact with my church, and hearing about the Tom Joyner money that was given to us, I arrived at Fisk University where I ultimately finished up my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management, which was somewhat of a let down because I was supposed to be a straight up Accounting major (go NABA!)
There were a number of reasons I stayed at Fisk. One of which was I needed to expand my social horizon, and Fisk was the perfect place to do so. Going back to Dillard, which was nicknamed the Hillard because they set up shop in Hilton on the Riverfront between January 2006 and June 2006, would have put me back around the same people and I would have reverted back to some old habits. Additionally, to address KIT’s question from the Uppity Update post earlier this week, there were rumors that they were going to set up Dillard in a cruise ship and I simply said hell naw. I be damned if I board a ship in the port of New Orleans where so many slaves were dropped off at–to be a ship holed up together with other blacks with the watchful eye of a white government–no I’ll pass on that one.
But I had to go to summer school at Fisk for one class, and I made the drive to New Orleans on June 30th, driving down there for the graduation ceremonies on July 1st on the Avenue of the Oaks (yup, check out the main picture on the page) to see my class that I had done three years with walk across the stage.
I didn’t cry about Katrina until I saw Spike Lee’s “When the Levee’s Broke” here at ITC in commemoration of the one year anniversary. By that time in 2006, I had been in three cities, from NOLA to Nashville and then Atlanta and I was just tired and it finally hit home to me that I too had suffered from Katrina.
No, I didn’t lose a house, just all of my clothes, a few childhood memorabilia that I has just brought down there for sentimental reasons, I didn’t see my city destroyed like the thousands of others did, but I nonetheless feel myself a part of that which was New Orleans culture.
It was the first place where I was on my own, doing what I did for myself, not under the watchful eye of my parents. It was caught up in going downtown to the Zulu parade for Mardi Gras and seeing a friend on the float, it was walking up and down the French Quarter and Canal Street as broke college students because we didn’t have anything else to do on a weekend, but spending what you did have on a jello shot. It was even me catching the Broad Street bus (now that waaaassss and experience the first time I did it, lol) to the Canal street car line up to the Cemeteries to catch the Jefferson Parish bus just to go to Lakeside for a day.
John McCain made the world’s dumbest statement that “We are all Georgians” following the Russia and Georgia conflict and I think the Democrats missed a prime opportunity to call him out on it. Where was John McCain making such a broad sweeping statement when New Orleans was underwater–not one time did I hear a politicians say “We are all New Orleanians.”
But I think it’s safe to say that a good chunk of me misses New Orleans. I’m not sure what it is, but I do. I miss the friends that I did make when I was down there, we talk every once in a while and of course there’s always Facebook and MySpace, but yes, there’s still a bit of me in New Orleans, and I guess it will stay there until I go back and reclaim it. (And no, I’m not talking about some college girl who was my sweetheart, lol)
I don’t have a real closing to this post. I just always said I wanted to do a post on Katrina, and I knew it would be pretty epic. But seeing the cosmic convergence of the end of August with Obama’s speech yesterday and MLK’s speech 45 years ago, it just seemed that for this post, “now is the time.”
Just leave your comments if you feel so moved below. Where were you when you found out that the levees broke? How well do you remember how you felt? What did you think could have been done differently? How do you really feel about Ray Nagin? Seriously, if you live in New Orleans, let me know how is Nagin doing these days, because clearly I have a one track mind as far as he’s concerned. Are any of y’all inspired to read Dyson’s book? Lol.
Keep it uppity and truthfully radical, JLL