Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Friday, September 02, 2005
 
WTF

I've been trying to be even-handed and avoid ranting. But too many straws have broken the camel's back.

Flipping through Lou Dobbs and the Faux News Network, I saw that as soon as anyone in the mainstream media finally points out the brutally obvious--that while only 70% of New Orleans's population is black, over 90% of the people we saw stranded at the Superdome were black--some people immediately point out that the mayor is black in a tone that tries to say, "See? These problems have nothing to do with race whatsoever!" Never mind the fact that the people with the most room to hustle in during this crisis--primarily the federal government--are almost all white. Never mind the fact that it's atrocious that we have so many poor people in the first place, that we care about them so little, and that they are so disproportionately black.

First of all, blaming the mayor now is ridiculous and rude. At least he's down there trying to do his job. Giuliani screwed up a few things before 9/11 that might have made it a lot less horrible, but even Giuliani-haters didn't mention it until weeks afterwards. Secondly, the lumping together of local, state, and federal government functions is also ridiculous. The mayor of New Orleans does not cut funding to the Army Corps of Engineers, does not hire horse-lawyers to run FEMA and does not throw away well-thought-out plans to have pumping ships in place before the hurricane hits.

I'm not saying it's all about race, I'm not saying that the people in charge are being blatantly, consciously racist. Neither was the NAACP or Congressional Black Caucus. Poverty is the real thing. But race is clearly an issue in that poverty. All the happy stories on Anderson Cooper's 360 degrees yesterday were reunions of white people. I don't begrudge them their happiness. But when you see the resources -- a comfortable hotel room, a laptop, internet access, cell phones, a friend's private plane -- available to one couple in order to be reunited with their little baby (thank God), and then you immediately cut over to images at the Superdome with hundreds of little black babies who haven't had anything to drink, it hits you in your gut that 142 years after the Emancipation proclamation we have a really f---ed up situation in this nation. Jesse Jackson said we have developed a great tolerance for black pain in this country, and he's right.

And even if it isn't about race, why the hell is it about poverty? What the bloody hell is up with this? What is up with our system wherein if you are poor you get left behind? The message we're sending the world is that in America, if you are poor, if you don't have a car, if you can't all fit into your car, you will get left behind to die in sewage. As I wrote Tauscher and Boxer and Feinstein--I've never been so ashamed and so disappointed with my government.

And what the bloody hell is up with the lack of communication? Why did it take so long for the Governor to get in touch with the DoD? Why weren't they ready and waiting for the request for troops? Why don't all the governors have satellite phones preloaded with Rumsfeld's personal number ready and waiting? A friend of mine once made fun of me because I "fantasize about logistics" but it appears that we have installed a government that doesn't even understand the notion of logistics. I'm sorry, it has to be said--can you even imagine Al Gore running an administration that is so poor on communication equipment? Can you even imagine Al Gore taking so long to cut short a vacation that would never have been so long in the first place? Can you even imagine Al Gore not knowing that the levees might break? I'm just talking about Gore because I know more about him. I honestly think the same could be said of a number of other presidential contenders--even some Republicans, like John McCain or Elizabeth Dole. I hope America finally realizes that there is some benefit to electing leaders who read books and magazines and like to talk to scientists and engineers.

I'd like to make it clear that when I was questioning the use, or lack therof, of the National Guard, I was not in any way questioning the fidelity or dedication of the National Guard itself. Trent Lott tried to pull that trick yesterday in an interview with Anderson Cooper, admonishing people for making such demands of citizen soldiers. I have nothing but the highest respect for such citizen soldiers who have to abandon their own lives so quickly to take care of others. But, Senator Lott, my questioning was directed at their civilian leadership who waited until the situation was so dire to even call them up in the first place.

I see how angry people are, how even polished news anchors are exploding in fury, and I know most Americans don't want the system to be like this. If we thought the poor deserved to be left behind, that they should be left behind, we wouldn't be pouring money into the American Red Cross. If we thought that logistics and communications were unimportant, we wouldn't be creating a new culture obsessed with exactly those things. But we've lost track of our system. We've let it get out of control. We've made terribly poor choices, we've slacked off on our duties of oversight. We've got to get it back.
There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! -- Mario Savio, Dec. 3, 1964.
And here's the thing: we run it, we own it, and we need to make ourselves free. I'm pretty sick at heart, and this stinks. Let's not wait for everything to be destroyed before we fix it.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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