I came home tonight tired after teaching and switched on CSPAN-2 to see what happened today while I was giving my lecture on Vietnam over and over again. Little did I know who I was going to see: Mama D (Dyan French) of New Orleans testifying before a panel from the House of Representatives about the current situation in New Orleans and the racism during the "rescue." "Katrina didn't do this," she said, "the Isms did this," specifically, she said: CapitalISM, and RacISM. When do you hear people like Mama D testifying in front of Congress, calling capitalism out? I guess you hear them when Cynthia McKinney has an influence on who comes to talk. (Several other dems. have boycotted this House committee because it's not independent, but today's hearings were riveting. ( * Watch this space for a transcript.)
Mama D is a longtime New Orleans activist whose home as become an international left-wing hub in the wake of the disaster. Kids are staying with her as she wages the battle to keep New Orleans blacks from being permanently displaced in the frenzy to seize and remake New Orleans for the rich. She wants to know, she says, Who is doing a Christopher Columbus move in her city and why?.... Listening to Mama D, who's organized her house and has fierce rules that try the patience of the anarchists reminds me of reading the much misunderstood John Brown. Like Brown, she acts with passion to "get things done," is revered by some, thought mad by others. Like Brown, she speaks truths that their society is not willing to hear, and sounds either "mad" or wildly perceptive for stating them as she does, depending on who's listening.
Of course, the more sensational things said by those testifying made it into the news and into a (few) blogs, and unfortunately, fueled dismissive comments. One particularly angry member of the panel, Leah Hodges, compared conditions in New Orleans to a Prisoner of War situation and a Concentration Camp. Mama D believes the levees were bombed. More convincingly, the panelists described the abuse they received from police and national guard members who pointed guns at them, their children, and their aged relatives. They also talked about the current police abuse and dire situation in New Orleans, which you can read about here as well.
The Republican Christopher Shays, (from now on let's call him "Mr. Condescension,") and others questioned the women and implied that their testimony was not true, their comments overstatements, their descriptions of threatening behavior from police and military men, "theater." Instead of harping on the "concentration camp" issue, it would help if the congressmen had heard what the panelists were describing and thought about why those comparisons might have been made. What was the important issue here, defending the memory of WWII holocaust victims or hearing what the hell happened in New Orleans?
However, if you don't believe Black nationalists from NOLA when they decide to give Congress hell, go ahead, listen to the stories of Katrina survivors who were interviewed by Ira Glass and friends for the "After the Flood" and "This is Not My Beautiful House" episodes of This American Life, whose interviews with everyone from tourists to long-time residents to New Orleans high-school kids reveal racism at every level of power in the entire Katrina fiasco as well as some amazing stories of people helping each other survive.
Adding to the speakers' descriptions of police abuse is the release this week of memos that indicated FEMA feared rioting in New Orleans. This fear was obvious in the military nature of the response to the survivors, and in the refusal to let people leave the city, the Superdome, and other places. The victims were being held like prisoners in those places...and it was awful.
After being doubted and accused of lying by members of the panel, Mama D responded in audible pain, "if we're not going to talk about the racism....I have wasted my time by coming here."