We are coming up on the two-year mark since the Katrina debacle in Louisiana and Mississippi. I hesitate to call this date an anniversary because the word implies, in some way, a celebration, a birth. What we are scratching on the calendar is more like a notch on a raw gravestone, a count of the days and years that have passed without a reckoning for those who died, those who lost loved ones and for a city that is still in critical condition.
Not only did our government fail to answer the call of its most vulnerable citizens during that fateful period; it still fails each and every day to rebuild, redeem and rescue those who are ignored because of their poverty, their race, their passage into old age.
The disaster named after the hurricane is not confined to the areas affected. Every emergency room, empty bank account and outsourced life’s work could be named. We live in a country rife with ignored and condemned poverty. The rich, high on their great corporate steeds, ride over us believing that they are out of the reach of global warming and its symptoms, of terrorism and dwindling natural resources. When government officials tell them to evacuate, they drive their cars, board their corporate jets or simply climb to higher ground with ease. At this very moment they are looking down on Baghdad and New Orleans, Pakistan and Sudan, you and me. The feeling of invulnerability that these people have is unfounded, but nonetheless it makes them reckless. They take chances and cut corners believing that everything will come out all right. Their delusions of grandeur and ultimate power put us in ever more dire straits.
If we call ourselves Americans (and mean it), then we are all victims of Katrina. If we breathe the air or eat fresh fruit, if we call on our cellphones, drink water from a plastic bottle or just nibble on a chocolate bar, then we are Katrina; we are the rising waters around the ankles of this world.
When the day comes to mark off the two-year point since the deluge descended on the Gulf of Mexico, we should take care not to make too much noise. We shouldn’t march in that shadow of time or even protest. Rather, we should sit alone in a room with our imaginations open to feel what they experienced on that day: the waters rising, rising and us climbing stairs and ladders, chairs and fire escapes; sitting on rooftops while bodies float by; calling out to passing boats and helicopters that go by in mute witness; being pressed to the roof by the rising tide and being engulfed shouting, shouting out for the ones we love underwater, unheard; the darkness swirling around us as we die with no one coming to save us, or themselves.
Two years have passed and Americans are still displaced, waters are still rising. Wars are raging and we are waiting for a day to vote for a man or a woman who works, not even in secret, for the rich. We wait for this man or woman to lead us out from the disaster like chattel. We feel sorry for the victims as so many felt sorry for Rodney King, not realizing that his defeat was our loss; the blows that rained down on him were also aimed at our freedom, our ability and feeling of responsibility to fight back. Two years have passed and the dead are still dead and the dying are still dying. The clouds gather like angry anthropomorphic gods, and we stumble and fall unable to make a stand or lend a hand or protest all the victims in ghettos, retirement homes, prison wards and dark skins.
Two years have passed and we are still exporting democracy while we continue living under the semibenevolent oligarchy of international corporations and their candidates. This two-year point measures how far we have sunk under the weight of the rich and their political flunkies–while so many of us still celebrate them as if they were pop stars. We experience the silence of drowning men and women. We call out and are not heard. We believe in systems and people who have no faith in us. We perpetuate the rising temperatures and waters and hatred and feelings of hopelessness. New Orleans’s defeat is also our defeat. Its closed schools are a metaphor for our minds and our futures. We see the storm’s passage but we don’t see it coming. But it is coming. And there are no leaders, no corporations, no benevolent billionaires who are going to save our grandmothers and our babies. We must unite outside of the systems that lie like fast food heaped on golden platters at our feet. We must organize at the ground level, where the water has already begun to rise.