Katrina. It’s a sentence, a novel—APOCALYPSE. Having grown up partly in New Orleans and nearby Slidell, I wasn’t shocked by Katrina, only outraged. Days before the storm, I remember sitting in my living room yelling at the TV, “Where are the fricking buses? NOLA people don’t have cars.” After the levees broke, I sat there yelling, “Where’s the Coast Guard, the Navy, anyone?” And when I saw no relief coming to the refugees, like so many other past residents, I got off my duff and organized my community, Bryan, Texas, to help. I’m still ashamed that it took me so long.
New Orleans’ tragedy should be a massive warning label for everyone, “You’re next.” It should be in your mind as you mark your votes, walk into a city council meeting or volunteer in your community. Don’t think so? Tell me this, can you honestly say that these things don’t happen where you live?
Construction fraud and payola
Born in nature, Katrina grew on a steady diet of hypocrisy, beginning with graft during the construction of levees for one of the most vulnerable cities in the world. Have you paid attention in your town? Whether its earthquake-proof structures in LA or tornado shelters in Oklahoma, did you get involved? Sure, it’s the job of your city leaders, but did you even research their records when voting for them? Did you even vote?
Pay attention to city politics. Most communities broadcast city meetings on community TV. Try watching for an hour each month. That’s probably going to make you angry. You’ll get involved. According to Governing.org, local elections attract only 21% of eligible voters. If more that 50% of citizens would actually vote in local elections, that alone would incite change.
The elephant on the courthouse lawn
The possibility of a hurricane was no surprise to New Orleans city leaders. Resources had regularly been set aside to prepare. But was it enough? Did those resources even go where they were supposed to? Hindsight tells us no, but more important, it brings out a bigger issue: the lack of responsibility everywhere.
When I tried to get involved in Katrina aide, I found out that in our metropolitan area of over 100,000, nobody was organizing. Each church or aide group figured someone else would do it. The situation in New Orleans had turned violent and ugly. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for an aide caravan. Like the city leaders in New Orleans, everyone had a pressing matter to distract them from the largest crisis in American history.
What’s your city’s impending crisis? Landslides, tsunamis or drought? If you think a sense of duty and morality is guiding the decision-making in your town, let me ask one question: When nobody is watching, do you act with your most honorable intentions? Keep an eye on that elephant and everything around it. The steady supply of city money set aside to deal with that elephant attracts anyone in need of cash. When good people pay no attention, who might have their hands in the till?
A hope instead of a plan
Growing up in The Big Easy and that little town by Lake P, we kids were taught the legend of “The Big One.” It went something like this: “Someday a big hurricane is going to hit New Orleans, those old levees are going to collapse, and the city will be underwater. The yankees in Washington won’t save us; they don’t give a shit about the South. The Big One will be the end of us.” So when Katrina was in the Gulf, and not turning away, I was shocked that the city didn’t seem to have a practical plan, or any plan, for evacuating Ninth Ward and other low-lying areas. They knew this would happen and plans don’t cost much.
What’s your city’s plan? Can you view it online or offer comments? Like Houston’s hurricane evacuation plan, does it leave millions of people in freeway gridlock. Get involved. Make certain your city leaders address it.
I remember trying to find someone in authority to coordinate receiving of the Bryan aide. After the Salvation Army officially tried to direct us to a warehouse in north Texas, and we refused, I honestly could not find anyone in authority to direct us on where to take the supplies. Cell phone towers and land lines were overloaded. Finally, through our church affiliate in Baton Rouge, we found a frontline staging area and offered a place to sleep.
In the 21st century, communication threatens to fall apart in every crisis. We have chosen convenience over reliability so when that crisis occurs anywhere,the first thing to go will be our phones. Count on it.
Lack of compassion or responsibility: it’s OUR fault
Seems like nobody has taken responsibility for the disorganized response to our nation’s biggest disaster ever. Our southern President, our FEMA director, the Louisiana governor or the mayor. But what nobody wants to talk about is the fact that the responsibility belongs to all of us.
We elect these people. We have the power to make a difference. How? I say get involved locally.
Make it your personal goal to get the vote off its duff in your local election. 50% seems paltry but would actually DOUBLE the current vote.
Are you in?