Thursday, September 08, 2005

No one in the world can ever convince me that what we've seen in the federal response to the Gulf Coast hurricane had nothing to do with racism.

It was blatant. It was criminal neglect. Katrina exposed what we all knew but what only the honest among us will admit. We're still a deeply divided country -- first by economics and ultimately by race. In the deep south, the two are most clearly connected. For the most part -- the poorest among us are African American. In New Orleans, particularly, a lot of those who were "apparently" white suffered along with their darker-skinned relatives without being recognized as "black" by viewers who watched their misery and tried to share their pain. This is not to say that there weren't poor whites and a few not-so-poor mixed in with the hordes of displaced citizens. Of course there were. All suffered similar fates -- all horrific!

The awful stories that will come from those who lived that horror will work their way through the country over the next months, and they will equal those images and stories that drove the Civil Rights Revolution of the Sixties. And well they should. The pictures of people screaming for help and being ignored equal those of fire hoses and dogs and police out of control at Selma years ago.

After days of worrying and wondering about family members who were caught up in the tragedy I had a moment of triumph last night. Was listening to the African American chief of police in a CNN interview. He was lauding those officers who had held tight and remained on duty despite the awfulness of their personal situations and concern for the fate of their own families. In a moment that flashed by he mentioned the name, " Officer William Charbonnet," who had defended him in a moment of stark danger. This had to be one of my young cousins. I didn't even know we had anyone on the police force, yet here he was -- and one of the heroes, at that. It felt so good to know learn about him in this way. It didn't matter that I wouldn't have recognized him if he'd been shown on camera. No problem. This was a Charbonnet. And I knew where at least one was in that corner of Hell and maybe before the week ends, I'll learn of others.

Oddly enough, my daily work at the National Park Service is going extremely well despite the day-to-day dives into depression. Keeping life in balance may be the greatest challenge. The highs are so high and crashes into the lows each night when I watch the days happenings in the wake of Katrina are so hard to manage. It's dizzying ... .

Despite all I'm feeling hopeful. Others are seeing and feeling and reacting to the same reports and images that I'm seeing and feeling and reacting to. We are not alone. It's possible that the reaction of reawakened news teams and a stiffening of the spines of Democratic leadership in Washington is taking place. Maybe this is where the country turns around and hits an upward spiral. Maybe this is the place where we've hit absolute bottom and can kick-start ourselves up into the next phases of positive change.

Noticed something else: Because of the disgraceful and life-destroying conduct of FEMA and the failure of traditional institutions to function -- ordinary human beings stubbornly moved in and by-passed where they could. We finally got sick of having our human responses acted out through privatized corporate systems and went back to taking care of our brothers and sisters ourselves by any means necessary. Each time I heard one of their heroic stories -- like that 18 year old kid who stole a bus and drove a full load of survivors to Houston -- and got arrested upon his arrival -- I feel pride and victorious for us all. Or the many who headed directly into Hell from wherever they were to ferry people out or bring food and water in -- despite prohibitions that threatened their own freedom and safety. There were probably more heroes than we'll ever know.

Surely a new day of freedom will grow from such deeds.

I cannot believe otherwise and remain sane.

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