Steve Ralls

Two Years Later: A Front-Page Plea for Help in New Orleans

Filed By Steve Ralls | August 29, 2007 2:38 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: George W. Bush, Hurricane Katrina, new orleans, steve ralls

In September 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, I penned an op-ed in Gay City News about a close friend, Nicole Barbe, who is a New Orleans police officer. Nicole, who had been booted from the military under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and returned to her hometown to serve in a new way, stayed in the city she loved and helplessly watched it fall apart and wash away. The streets of New Orleans were governed by martial law and a major American city was virtually wiped off the map. Bodies - sometimes, entire families - were floating down broad avenues usually populated by street cars and jazz fests. And, in the days and weeks following Katrina, the Mardi Gras mask that was the city's public face was pulled back to reveal rampant racism, classism and injustice.

Today, as the city of New Orleans marks the second anniversary of Katrina's landfall, little has been done to rebuild the city or restore the public's faith in our government's ability to get a desperately needed job done.

This weekend, New Orleans will again play host to Southern Decadence, an LGBT circuit party-ish event that attracts tens of thousands of gay tourists from around the country. The slate of Decadence parties will take place in the famed and historic French Quarter, which was mercifully spared the worst of Katrina's fury. But, just a few blocks away from the party in the Quarter, there is still a part of New Orleans that is struggling to come back.

President Bush returned to the Crescent City today, promising "better days" ahead. He arrived in the city greeted by a front page editorial in The Times-Picayune, pleading - some 730 days later - for the commander-in-chief to "Treat us fairly."

What does it say about the state of our nation when editorial boards have to plead with the President for fairness?

"All Louisiana wants is to be treated fairly," the paper pleaded. "But that hasn't happened."

And that's an understatement.

As Good Morning America reported today, "an ABC News investigation has found that the main government program designed to bring Louisianans home and help them rebuild is in big trouble. Tens of thousands of Katrina victims in the state have yet to receive any money from the Road Home grant program -- and it's not clear if some of them ever will."

"For many of the 184,000 Katrina victims who put their hopes in the grant program, the Road Home has been paved with insult, frustration and bureaucracy," ABC says. "Only 44,000 checks have been distributed, and the director of Louisiana's disaster recovery unit warns that some 60,000 families may not get paid at all unless the state gets billions more in federal aid."

But - and here's the kicker - the executives of the contractor hired to get the job done "were paid more than $2 million in bonuses last year."

Welcome to Bush capitalism, alive, well, and continuing the proud tradition of inequality and poverty this administration has turned a blind eye to, again and again.

"We are Americans who have suffered a great tragedy," The Times-Picayune implored the President this morning. "We have worked tirelessly for two years to revive this beloved place and reconstruct our lives. And we ought to get no less help from our government than any other victims of this disaster."

And that's an understatement, too.

The people of New Orleans deserve better than this president has given them.

This weekend, if you happen to be in the Big Easy celebrating at Decadence, also stop - for just one moment - and peer around the corner. And remember: There is a great American city still struggling to survive.

Today, there is absolutely nothing decadent about life in New Orleans for most of its people. Instead, they are still pleading with their President to "treat us fairly." And that is a great American tragedy that will surely be one of the most sordid of Bush's many low-class legacies.


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Steve, maybe you can connect the dots on a story that I am familiar with only in a sketchy sort of way.

The African-American community concerned about New Orleans has spoken much about a "Right to Return" movement. Essentially, many Blacks displaced by Katrina are not getting any assistance in their efforts to return to their hometown --- and rumor is that there is a deliberate private-sector/public-sector conspiracy afoot. These Blacks want the Federal government to commit to a "Right to Return" policy, promising them a right to return to their former homes, and many Congresspersons have been approached to pass a bill to this effect.

The Blacks may have good reason to be alarmed. The conspiracy rumor goes that many of the real estate developers interested in New Orleans see this as a golden opportunity to effectively "ship out" tens of thousands of poor Blacks (in fact, they have already been shipped out) ... and, with a virtually empty Ninth Ward, the developers can move in and build a resort and gambling mecca that rivals Las Vegas, where only modest little bungalow homes stood pre-Katrina. And then they can lobby the Federal government to fix the levies properly, after the developers have secured their new territory.

Ha! Gay people have no monopoly on decadence, it seems! Ironic was the day when that street was named, "Desire"!

Of course, if there is any truth to this rumor, the Blacks of New Orleans know that, once again, their unfortunate plight is being exploited. And the rumor would also go far to explain why the government might be sitting on its hands for years to come, waiting for those who want to return to give up, or even die.

So, Steve ... have you heard this rumor, too? And if so, do you think there is any truth to it? What might you have heard?

A.J.:

I've heard variations on the rumor. It's been fairly well documented that many displaced New Orleans residents have not received the financial assistance they need to return. However, as far as I know, no one has looked specifically at the racial breakdown among those who did or didn't receive any aid.

New Orleans has always been a racially divided city, and there's no doubt that some white residents of the Big Easy would prefer not to see the Ninth Ward rebuilt, or to see its residents return to the city. However, those residents were really the economic backbone of New Orleans. They ran the casinos, bars, restaurants and hospitality industry in general. Without them, it seems almost impossible that New Orleans could ever regain its complete economic strength.

The 'Right to Return' campaign will no doubt be controversial, and no doubt support will split along racial lines. But, the white residents of New Orleans have failed, again and again, to understand just how important the residents of the Ninth Ward are to their own survival.