By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
There will be many remembrances written in light of the 10th anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. There are a few points I would like to add as we reflect on the scope and depth of catastrophe.
First, and not in order of importance, Katrina was not only a disaster for New Orleans, and not only for Louisiana, but was a Gulf Coast disaster. Very little attention, for example, has ever been paid to the impact of Katrina on Mississippi. The devastation not only affected the lives of Gulf Coast Mississippi residents, but had a long-term economic impact on the region.
Second, the disaster, while a hurricane, was not entirely natural. This point covers several issues. For example, while hurricanes are natural, the extent of this storm, and several other more recent storms, speaks to something called “extreme weather,” which is a phenomenon that scientists almost universally agree is related to climate change.
Katrina was also not simply a natural event because of the failure of government to pay attention the necessary precautions essential for a locale that is below water-level. In the right-wing efforts to disempower and strangle government, the preparatory resources that were so important, were unavailable.
Third, Katrina was about race and class. The poor and the Black were the principal victims of the disaster. The Black poor, specifically, were demonized during and after the disaster, including the manner in which elements of the mainstream media portrayed Black people desperately trying to survive as nothing more than looters and thugs. Whites who did what they needed to do in order to survive were treated, by contrast, as heroes or survivors.
Fourth, Katrina was used as a means to restructure New Orleans in a way that served the interests of big business. In effect, New Orleans became an occupied city. The union of the teachers was literally destroyed in a reorganization of the city’s education system, for example. This had nothing to do with the disaster but the disaster was used as an excuse in order to rebuild the city in the image of those who always wanted to seize control of New Orleans.
Fifth, Katrina was about the U.S. and what it values. We should all remember the (lack of) response by the then Bush administration. There was no sense of an emergency. We may remember the words of former First Lady Barbara Bush suggesting that the evacuees were better off in the Houston holding zones than they had been in New Orleans. What did this say about how the former first lady saw the population? What did this say about those who said nothing in response to her remarks?
Katrina was also about the U.S.A. in that it was the canary in the coal mine. The disaster was extreme but it was a disaster representative of the collapse of the basic public infrastructure in the nation, not because there are no resources, but because the resources are to the benefit of the rich and powerful.
This 10th anniversary is a time for reflection but it is also a time for action against the very issues that contributed to the Katrina disaster, issues that remain very present in 2015.