I just got done watching the first half of Spike Lee's documentary about Hurricane Katrina, "When the Levees Broke. It's hard for me to evaluate it with any critical distance either as a movie or from a political standpoint, but it was very moving and effective at bringing back all the pain of those terrible events last year. What worked most for me was the way that Lee reconstructed the sequence of events, so that information that had come out in bits and pieces over the year were put in their proper place in time, like that conference call video that came out in March. Watching those first five long days crammed into one hour really reminded me of how long it took before the National Guard finally went into New Orleans. The only thing I would criticiz in the documentary so far is that there are very few young people who are interviewed in the film and he doesn't talk to some of the more radical community activists who were there during the storm such as Malik Rahim, Mama D., and Jordan Flaherty. The only newsreporter in part one is Soledad O'Brien. It's not as if others weren't reporting on the story as well.
I was thinking as I watched it, that it was amazing to think that since 2001, we in the US have lived through the two tragedies of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. And now, every Fall is going to have a bitter taste. I was barely able to watch television coverage of Katrina last year because those images of the dead bodies floating by in the water spoke to such a profound level of indifference.
When I look at these two events together a few things strike me. While 9/11 became the source of jingoistic American patriotism, mentioned by Bush over and over again in every speech, Katrina is rarely mentioned. The Bush administration's main response has been to make empty verbal gestures toward the disasster while busily covering up its responsibility instead of taking an active role to improve matters.
Hurricane Katrina should be like my generation's Birmingham 1963. A year ago it was a televised trauma, a shocking picture of the violence of American racism. And significant numbers of people have gone to New Orleans to help the recovery effort. But immediately after, too many were caught up in diversion and distraction, too busy discounting "conspiracy theories" about blown up levvies (an idea which Lee deals with well in the film) and looking to blame individuals, when the devastation of that hurricane was not only in total failure of Michael Brown and FEMA, but the long-term inequalities, defunding of public services, particularly for AfricanA-Americans and other racial minorities, and total indifference to environmental realities that prepared the way for the disaster. As this recent report from Stanford found, "Katrina Did Not Raise Awareness about poverty."
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These realities have not gone away, and because of them the problems in New Orleans continue.