of the Katrina disaster did not unleash a mass upsurge. In witnessing
the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of people, their dispersal
into near anonymity around the country, and the efforts to demographically
alter the Gulf Coast with the removal of the poor, the Black, the Brown
and the Red, many of us awaited the explosion of outrage that we were
sure would unfold. Yet it
did not. The mass anger that one could cut with a knife did not evolve
into a mass rising against the racist and neo-liberal policies that
had condemned the people of the Gulf Coast to irrelevance.
Why no upsurge? It is anyone’s guess.
I tend to think that the scale of the horror was traumatic. I also
believe that the absence of a coherent leadership originating in the
African American movement and prepared to issue a "call to arms" was
a second factor. In either case, as the weeks turned into months,
and the months turned into years, and despite the great work of people
on the ground in New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, the
Katrina disaster slowly began to fade from national view. The disgust
that so many people felt with the Bush administration turned into temporary
amnesia as too many of us went on about our lives. When the 2007 fires
spread in California and the Republicans suggested that a more cooperative
governor in Louisiana would have brought about better results for the
victims of Katrina (suggesting that California Governor Schwarzenegger
was a role model), this turned our collective stomach, yet the movement
still did not emerge.
The 2008 election represents what
I believe to be our final moment to resurrect the Katrina disaster
as a national concern. Former Senator Edwards, in announcing his campaign
for the Presidency in New Orleans, provided an opening, yet his failure
to truly connect race, class and gender has undermined his efforts
to grab the full attention of the nation to what unfolded on the Gulf
Coast, and what continues to unfold across the country.
Katrina is about neo-liberalism. It
is about the siphoning off of funds from the public sector to the point
that it has become brittle and unable to respond to disasters. It is
about the reallocation of funds to another Gulf, i.e., the Persian/Arabian
Gulf, to conduct an illegal war against Iraq and to prepare for another
illegal war, in this case against Iran. It is about the polarization
of wealth in the USA, and as in evidence on the Gulf Coast, the ability
of the rich to successfully seek safe haven and return to rebuild,
whereas the working class has been largely dispossessed.
Katrina is about racism. It is about
the racial cleansing of the Gulf Coast and the fact that those who
suffered were treated as if they and their experiences were irrelevant. They
were part of a black and brown mass that was largely irrelevant to
the experiences of so-called mainstream USA.
In Minneapolis and the deadly 2007
bridge collapse, we can see that Katrina was not only about the Gulf
Coast, but it concerned the impact of neo-liberalism on the entire
infrastructure of this country and the regular people who depend upon
Despite Edwards’ campaign kickoff
in New Orleans, almost no attention has gone into the continuing disaster
on the Gulf Coast. There has been little discussion of the continued
displacement of the evacuees, or the fact that New Orleans is being
rebuilt in such a way as to almost guarantee that the poor and the
Black have no place to return. Little discussion is taking place connecting
the Iraq disaster and the Katrina disaster. Even politicians such as
Senator Obama, who should know better, have been strangely silent on
the matter of Katrina.
The electoral season is the moment
to re-raise Katrina and we should do so with a vengeance. We should
use this moment to grill politicians, whether they are running for
president, senator, or mayor, on their views on Gulf Coast recovery. We
need to know what stand they are taking not only on how to rightfully
return the Gulf Coast residents to their homes, but also how to prevent
and/or respond to such disasters from taking place in the future.
To do this, we need a leadership core
that is prepared to press for a Katrina rising or a Katrina movement. This
is not about charity. It concerns everything that the Katrina disaster
represents for the present and future of the USA. Using New Orleans
as a symbol for one’s campaign is good, but insufficient. What is necessary
is integrating the Katrina story into the message of any campaign that
claims to be progressive. And that message needs to be one that contains
some actual promises, certainly for the victims of Katrina, but also
for those who are the present and future victims of what writer Naomi
Klein so accurately describes as "disaster capitalism."
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a
labor and international writer and activist, a Senior Scholar with
the Institute for
Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.