What the fuck are we watching???????? While we still can, that is - I assume everyone has noticed that the media is now turning to repeat footage, since the media is either fleeing or cannot get its footage out and on the air.
When I read these two things together, looking at what is now 72 hours after the City of New Orleans began to flood on Monday night, here is what I see:
1. The faces of those who in their desperation are waving sheets, teeshirts, signs made out of cardboard and shingles, trapped at home, saying "Help Us."
2. Virtually the entire police force of New Orleans being diverted to "stop" looting - and Dubbya's zero tolerance looting policy so aptly re-articulated by his minion Scottie just a few moments ago.
3. The disintegration of what is left of people's humanity as days go by with no news, no information and increasingly no hope. To the point where it is now kill or be killed, survive by whatever means necessary, or die, because the ongoing absence of help means that you are on your own.
4. My disabled next door neighbor, whose daughter, grandchildren and most of his immediate family are (were?) in his hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, sitting on his back porch where he has been since Monday night, on the phone to everyone and everwhere, trying to find his family - occasionally putting his hands in his head in sheer fatigue - who he has not heard from yet, who nobody has heard from yet.
5. The dead or dying faces of thousands as the brutal sun finishes, one life candle at a time, what the rains started days ago.
6. And the slow federal boats from China (or DC, this case) loping majestically under our flag through the seas to "help" knowing full well that a ship that sails two days too late is a ship that arrives too late to really save anyone (even Frank Zappa's infamous drowning witch) who hadn't already done what it took to save themselves.
I raged in tears last night with the DAH, who is frankly in shock. He asked how it is that folks can be *raising prices* for gas, for food, for everything? He asked how it is that there can be EMPTY hotel rooms that are not teeming with refugees because folks can't pay for them? How is it that Houston can TURN away refugees who made it there through hook and by crook merely because they didn't happen to have previously taken up residence in that hell otherwise known as the New Orleans Superdome? Why aren't we seeing every single private hotel/motel business, every single grocery chain, every single provider of clothes, NATIONWIDE, not fighting in line to be the first to *give* free, without charge, without profit motive, what is needed to help those still fleeing? Why are we seeing images of private (white) citizens who are obviously -- unlike those teeming the flooded streets around them -- well fed and well drunk enough to now be able to stand guard over their property with their own guns, instead of the police hustling them out telling them that their sense of property ownership is fundamentally misplaced right now and it's not all about THEM and their material possessions? It's about the dead and dying at the Superdome, in the Convention Center, in the flooded cities. From the heat, from shock, from hunger, from disease. They are dying.
And yet FEMA is suspending the most efficient form of rescue operations.
The DAH swears that it is different where he comes from. He swears that his country's citizens would never tolerate what we are seeing here in terms of the response of our so called benevolent business community and so called protective government.
He probably sees this through the lens of one who is loyal to country, but I honestly don't know - I'm not convinced that anything but the most base third-world government could be doing a worse job than we are seeing done right now. The DAH demands to know why. I have no answers for him, other than the trite ones: our country cares nothing for the poor; our government cares only for the rich.
How can those answers possibly be enough? God help them all. God help US. What have we become??? Who are we?
Fuck politics. I don't give a shit right now about the blame game if it detracts a nanosecond's energy from what this is supposed to be about: Saving people. Feeding, clothing and housing people. We can raise holy hell later - and MUST raise it later or we have failed.
And we all know what the press will be: "THOSE PEOPLE" are at fault. The ones shooting. The ones stealing. The ones who didn't get out.
Those BLACK PEOPLE. Those ANIMALS.
It will never be said. But that's what I bet Middle America will be thinking even as it beats itself up with guilt for doing so.
Let me pass on something about many folk living in abject poverty, and about many Black people. For the first group - the abject poor - life itself is defined in terms of SURVIVAL. It is every day, day in, day out. This is true even though it it is now being presented in far more stark terms than it ever has been before, even for the poorest of the poor. When you've raised up tens or hundreds of thousands to view life only in terms of their own personal day-to-day survival, lecturing them about the rules of "civilized society" are meaningless. Telling them to wait is meaningless. Telling them that help is coming "soon" is more than meaningless - in some places, it's a recipe for getting your head blown off for sheer ignorance.
So no wonder reporters are being told not to be seen eating, or drinking, in front of those whose faces we see on TV. Not because it's "insensitive" as some claim, but because those folks would be risking their lives, at some point. If it were you or I, and we were parched and hungry for days and saw no evidence that this condition would do anything but worsen, we would likely respond exactly the same way. Because it's all about survival - everything else comes later.
Now, something about Black folks: contrary to racist myth, we ain't stupid. Black folks, even the poor and uneducated, know that the government and most of the citizenry of this country really don't see them and their needs as priority. And that has left many in the ghettos, urban and suburban, living in a state of suppressed rage. You can see it coming out now, the rage, in the interviews being done in front of the Convention Center. They are getting louder, angrier, more "in your face." You can see it even in the faces of the few who are still sitting on their roofs - who two days ago looked hopeful and optimistic, but now look increasingly frustrated as they still hold up signs that are increasingly brief, but stark, in their messages:
"WE NEED HELP"
The anger, in many Black folks, is usually first expressed by the youth, most who do not have the maturity to know that suppression of Black rage is a necessary survival tactic in this country. They will, left to their own devices, transpose that rage no matter what their parents and grandparents say to them - because they are young, and we all know the young are foolish. It plays out by looting, by fighting, by territorialism. By the AK-47 and the Glock, if available, by the machete and the switchbade, if not. Because they are youth, who are not idealists, and who don't have a sense of future because they are too young to understand the past. After all, for them, the images of racial harmony that we all reminisce about are history. All they know is that they are the have nots in a sea of haves.
You take those two, very different, ways of seeing life and mix them together, and you have a pretty good idea of what is beginning to happen in New Orleans (and, I imagine, those parts of Mississippi that are being almost completely ignored by the media right now; they too are suffering and we mustn't forget them.)
Thus, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of folks still trapped know that they are likely to die if they don't save themselves - by any means necessary. Nobody is telling them differently, are they? Where are the folks whose job it is to keep them informed? To keep them hopeful? Since the most basic human instinct is survival, they will fight, more and more as time goes on. Yes, even if it means using guns, killing for cars, for boats, for food. Killing to survive.
And to a man and woman, I bet they would tell you this: the hell with what they "look like" to those of us with the luxury not to be in their shoes. Stand in their shoes first, and then tell them that what they are doing to survive is "wrong."
Will we judge them, safe in our worlds shielded by nice wallpaper, cars, computers, when they do?
If we do, instead of ourselves as a nation largely composed of the spoiled and privileged, God help us all.