Monday, March 19, 2007

It's Easier Than Being Here

During a search for something useful, I came across this mess instead. Yet another rambling tirade about how pathetic and lazy we are down here, how it's solely local government's fault, blah blah blah... I was wondering once again why it is that people from other places feel so secure in declaring what our problem is, especially when it's clear they haven't even had the decency to come see us in person.
"Of course, you see great swaths of destruction that haven't been touched for a year. Can you imagine your city or township doing nothing for over a year and a half? I can't. And of course, the British driver asks why the richest nation on earth hasn't done anything in New Orleans. It would be impossible to explain to him, that in America, no one is going to help those who won't help themselves in the first place."

Then it occurred to me: it's much easier to do that than it is being here because if you've been here, even for a brief visit, you'll have no choice but to sit in despair for a moment once the enormity, the senselessness, and the continuing injustice of it all hits you. It's easier to say the people of Mississippi have their shit together and are already well on the road to recovery than it is to acknowledge that even though we had more damage, Mississippi continues to receive more money. It's not as easy to see the more balanced reality, to go to the coast and see the FEMA trailers still sitting beside Mississippi slabs because Mississippi didn't include them in their rebuilding program.

It's easy to cast us as immoral or lazy or welfare dependent, but it's not as easy to admit that you are in the same social class and economic boat that 75-80% of New Orleanians were on August 28,2005, which means you are equally prepared for disaster. It's not as easy to go on about daily life once you know that the insurance companies you paid for coverage will leave you out in the cold too when you need it but that you better keep working hard to pay those premiums anyway because you'll lose your home if you don't. It's easy to ignore the fact that lazy, dependent people wouldn't be here working full time jobs and then going home at night to fix their houses themselves because they haven't seen a dime of insurance money or the phantom $110 billion Bush swears he sent down here. It's easy to blame local government officials for ineptitude and not so easy to understand that they too are awake at night trying to figure out how to afford insurance premiums and how to come up with the local 10% match for FEMA funds that the federal government has waived in every other disaster except this one. It sure as hell ain't easy to enjoy life knowing that even though the U.S. Corps of Engineers published several hundred pages admitting the levees failed because of them, the feds aren't obligated to compensate you for the losses they caused. It's easier to say "they should have known better!" than to admit that most Americans live in disaster-prone areas and to not believe those who protect you when they say you're safe. It's easier than being here to say from way over there that we're not doing anything to reopen schools when you've never met the superintendent and school staff who are on their 19th month of 4 hours of sleep each night, or the parents who trek their kids across town and back because their neighborhood school is closed, or the parents who get their kids to school regardless of how far away they had to live -- this week, or the cafeteria and maintenance workers who catch a commuter bus 1.5 hours each way everyday to get to work.

It's not easy to feel helpless with the knowledge that the death rate here is still 50% higher than it was pre-Katrina and that it ain't crime that's killing them (unless you count the price-gouging, insurance fraud white-collar type of crime). It's a hell of alot easier to pontificate from on high than it is to open the daily paper to find that 19 months later your fellow Americans in the New Orleans area are still dying from the stress of losing everything they had and from spending every moment worrying, rebuilding, and fighting to stay out of another bout of deep despair. And let me tell you, lazy and dependent people don't feel that level of stress and fatigue.

I guess if I lived somewhere else, I'd sleep better too if I didn't let myself understand that horrible things happen to good, hard-working people like me and that the world is not at all fair or just. God knows it was easier for me to get through the day when I thought that living right, working hard, paying taxes, and being self-sufficient and moral all but guaranteed me a secure existence.


Anonymous said...

That was well said.

I only wish it would be heard by those who need to hear it.

Clifton said...

Very well said...

It kind of explains why my doctor gave me a prescription to help me sleep and he could personally guarentee the medication. The reason why is because he hasn't had a full night's sleep without medication since August 2005. It's hard to sleep when experience tells you that nothing the next day is certain.

TravelingMermaid said...

E.J. -
Beautifully said. You make it simple for simpletons to understand - if they only had the empathy to read it. So much easier to point fingers and pontificate about which they know nothing. Sad but true.

Cursed Tea said...

Wow, I am so sorry for everything youo have to deal with and go through. I came to this city post-Katrina and love it. But I feel so angry and upset at the people who are neglected down here.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense should be able to see that rebuilding your entire life, home, city is going to entail a great deal of stress and that inorder for it to happen, there needs to be support and encouragement. It is criminal that these idiots from elsewhere cannot see this and shout abuse when they should be shouting encouragement.

Keep up the fight.
Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

Fantastic rant.

I suppose that "mess" is what passes for virtue amongst republicans these days.

Anonymous said...

EJ, I've been working on a piece, okay, not THAT piece, another one. It is coming from a historical perspective thanks to a book I just read.

Back when, the "Kaintucks" started coming to New Orleans. At that point they had no legal access to the Mississippi river and wanted to use it as a port. The locals didn't like the Kaintucks. They found them to be overall, crass, ill mannered and rough. The Kaintucks, meanwhile, thought the citizenry of NOLA was a backwards province, very European, and in fact, it was.

Years went by and the port was opened and the Louisiana Purchase was signed and the Americans came. They were mostly white, Protestant, and very very "American" in their approach to business. The city was finally broken into three districts, because the Americans couldn't stand the way the Creoles ran things (which was truly not very efficient) and the Creoles couldn't stand the way the Americans seemed so focused on a puritanical kind of efficiency. As we all know, in the end, New Orleans became a hybrid of the two, and I think, still remains so.

We are outside the scope of what most Americans think an American city should be, and it pisses them off that we LIKE it like that, and it pisses us off that they want our money, our oil, our port and don't want to give anything back.

One thing that can be said for sure, the "European" model that the Creoles were living included at least a modicum of "noblesse oblige", which Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" bears no resemblance to.

There is, no longer, a social contract. Sorry for the rant.

E.J. said...

Thanks for the support, everyone.

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing the Internet stops at the American border, because so many of these rants are brutally establishing carelessness towards the global community with their shortsightedness. Which also makes it a good thing the international community has no interest in investing in New Orleans. I wonder why people still volunteer here, coming from other parts of America?

Welcome to the global village, where many struggle, many are unjustly neglected or tortured by their governments, many get by on their four hours sleep and would die for medication to make themselves feel better. (And some do.) Stress, having nothing, and spending every moment worrying is the privilege of every man, woman and child who has known war. This is nothing here. If your days were easier when you believed your existence was "secure" and "guaranteed", then as an intellectual, you were hardly well travelled, were you?

E.J. said...

I've often thought about how our situation compares to the more severe plight of those in other parts of the world. We are indeed still more well off than many. However, injustice and undeserved malice and disregard are wrong wherever they occur.

One of the reasons I felt "secure" about my existence was because I remained mindful of how good I had it compared to too many other people in the world.

Cursed Tea said...

Thanks for visiting my blog!
I guess what you were saying to anon relates to what you commented on my third world post.

If this truly was the third world then Katrina would have been very different but the tragedy and injustices are precisely because it is not third world!!

By accident of birth I am not living in one of the many countries where life is very very hard. I do all I can to support those countries and to be aware of the corruption that keeps them in their status quo. However I also feel injustice for this city. Its not OK that New Orleans be treated so badly and we not complain just because there are other parts of the world worse off.

Thanks for getting my grey matter moving!!
Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

'It's easier to say "they should have known better!" than to admit that most Americans live in disaster-prone areas and to not believe those who protect you when they say you're safe.' IMHO, you have nailed the heart of the matter with this statement. New Orleanians must be blamed in order to maintain the delusion of safety elsewhere. Great post.