Saturday, September 03, 2005

Break

It caught up with me last night.

I was watching the news when it started, a few tears brought on by the misery of it all: the wailing children and their desperate parents and the frightened elderly and the people slumped over in their wheelchairs and the body bags lined up behind them.

Then, suddenly, it was everything I’ve been fighting back since that first phone call. I guess it had to come sometime.

Today, sorrow gave way to rage. Thousands of people remain stranded at the Ernest Morial Convention Centre. Busloads of refugees from the Superdome were turned away in Houston. Impossibly bloated bodies float in the contaminated rivers that are New Orleans’ streets.

Meanwhile, some refer to looters as “animals” and demand a shoot-on-sight policy, while others blame those who did not have the wherewithal to leave for their own misfortune.

Tonight, CNN reported that 200 critically ill patients remain stranded at the Charity Hospital without food, electricity, or adequate plumbing. The day before, non-essential staff at the neighbouring Tulane Hospital were evacuated by helicopter as Charity’s doctors and patients watched helplessly from their roof. The helicopters did not return for them.

Is it a coincidence that Charity is, as its name suggests, a public hospital, which treats the indigent and those without medical coverage, and that Tulane is a fully private facility? How could it possibly be?

The events of the last several days have exposed the fault lines that we in North America prefer to ignore. Race and class undergird every aspect of this crisis, not in a blandly theoretical sense—there’s nothing theoretical about this—but in a suddenly visible and visceral way. We are seeing the ones who were in every sense forgotten, when the hurricane came and for a long time before.

Listen to Mayor Ray Nagin’s interview. Listen to the frustration in his voice, and the incredulity, as he talks about what has happened. Listen to the way he breaks down at the end of the interview. This man was elected to serve his city, and no one is listening to him.

Please listen to him.

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