In the wake of hurricane Katrina, two Louisiana natives who live here now and have children at Franklin School sent out an email saying that they planned to fill a 50-foot truck with water, food, clothes, toys and other supplies for the hurricane victims.
Over the Labor Day weekend, Idaho Street behind the school was the busiest place in town as volunteers packed and stacked boxes of supplies that an endless stream of people from all over Southern California dropped off.
On Labor Day, not one, but six 50-foot trucks rolled out of Santa Monica on their way to St. Tammeny Parish, Louisiana.
So it was that two people and one email set off a kind of hurricane of generosity and inspired a California beach town to spend a holiday weekend donating, packing and sending help and hope to people on the Gulf coast 1500 miles away.
Tragically, unforgivably, the federal government has shown none of the spirit, energy and compassion that were at work in Santa Monica on Labor Day weekend.
Well in advance of Katrina, studies showed that the levees that broke and flooded New Orleans couldn’t withstand a powerful hurricane. The federal government could have averted much, if not all of the destruction of New Orleans, if it had responded to the studies and shored up the levees, but it ignored the warnings.
Whipping madly around the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina issued its own warnings in advance of slamming the Gulf coast, but the government ignored those warnings, too, and made no move to mobilize its considerable resources.
After Katrina savaged the Gulf Coast and drowned a great American city in what is clearly the worst disaster in American history, it took the government of the richest and most powerful nation in the world five days to respond.
No one knows how much more damage was done or how many more people died in those five days after the storm hit before the government rolled in, and no one seems to know why it took the government five days to respond, or why, once it was there, it didn’t seem to know what to do.
The Bush administration has sent thousands of troops and billions of dollars worth of armaments halfway around the world to war in Iraq, but it could not manage to send emergency teams and supplies a thousand miles in time to save a city from certain destruction.
When confronted by the failure of his administration to act and to act effectively, President Bush said this was not the time to “play the blame game” and vowed to conduct a thorough investigation to find out what went wrong.
Well, in the first place, this isn’t a “game,” this is life…and death, an American tragedy. And, in the second place, Bush need look no further than his bathroom mirror to find out what went wrong.
He, and his band of buddies “went wrong” long before New Orleans – the addled priorities and policies, the tax breaks for the rich, the bows to the Christian right, the inability to act on the very solid evidence that something very much like 9/11 was coming, and the utterly bogus basis for the war on Iraq – the litany of failure is nearly endless.
But the Bush administration’s performance in New Orleans is not simply a failure, it’s a betrayal.
In ignoring the warnings about the levees, and the storm warnings, and in failing to respond in a timely and effective way, the Bush administration betrayed not only the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, but all of us, along with the very idea of America.
If it weren’t for the thousands of devoted Gulf coast residents – including doctors, nurses, city employees and ordinary citizens, and volunteers from all over the country – firefighters, search and rescue teams, more doctors and nurses, Red Cross workers, and the Coast Guard, which seems to be the only branch of the service that simply does its job – things would be even worse in New Orleans than they are.
We have seen the flooding of a great city, and now we are seeing its dismantling. An estimated 400,000 people have lost their city, their homes, jobs, belongings, family members and friends, and are adrift now in America – with nothing. We have been accused of having a “vivid imagination,” but we can’t begin to imagine an even marginally happy ending for them.And chances are that whatever good comes their way will come from people like Debra Young Krizman and Thomas Browne, the organizers of the truck-lift, not the government, because politics has replaced governance in this country and, in politics, only the rich and well-connected are served.