Sunday, September 04, 2005

Opinion: Katrina - The world is watching

In 1968, demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention yelled, “The whole world’s watching, the whole world’s watching…”[1] As in other points in our history, the entire world is focused on the United States and how it is treating its own citizens. We have boasted in the past at how quickly we (the U.S.) have responded to disasters around the world, but last week we failed to get help quickly enough to our own people – on our own soil – in the aftermath of Katrina.

Didn’t the government know that something like this could happen in New Orleans? Yes. They had done simulations and everything that occurred was known ahead of time. Don’t we have resources to respond to such disasters? Yes, although some had already been diverted to other governmental priorities. The result? Many more people died than should have – poor people who did not have the means to evacuate, the infirm, those who stayed to protect their property, and the stubborn. It is the poor, though, that have suffered the most and likely make up a high proportion of those who died.

Like others, I want to thank our news media for asking the questions that we are all asking and keeping a light on the problems that made this disaster worse. I also want to thank Lourdes Muñoz Santamaria, a member of Spain’s parliament, who was stranded with her family at the New Orleans Convention Center. Undoubtedly her phone calls back to Spain, and then Spain’s phone calls to the U.S. government, helped to get things moving. (“Two thumbs up” for bringing international pressure on the U.S.)

Like many others, I’ll contribute to the relief efforts. I know, though, that relief for these people will not be something that will happen for a short period of time, but that it will take years for them to get their lives back in order. (Having lived through hurricane/tropical storm Agnes, I know firsthand of this. The sadness and memories of the event remain with you forever. And this one is so much worse…)

There is a New Orleans tradition of the jazz funeral[2]. Musicians march along with the casket to the cemetery and play music to comfort the mourners. Let’s take time to play some jazz, mourn what has happen in the Gulf Coast, and find comfort in the music. And let us reflect on the changes that need to occur in our government and society to ensure that this never happens again.

[1] You can hear a bit of this on the Chicago Transit Authority album released in 1969 in “Prologue”.
[2] You can listen to some New Orleans jazz funeral music on this page.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We definitely did have our politicians fall along the line in many places, and hopefully some lessons will be learned. Course, the next step is how we can help, and there's my bit of consternation. I was going to give to the Red Cross, but my mother reminded me that once you give them something, you're on their list and you get something from them once a month, whether you've already given before or not. Hence, the issue with making sure I give my donation to the correct charity, for more than one reason.