Monday, August 28, 2006

Unflushed Toilets and Inept Politicians: Joining the Katrina Blogswarm

Last week I attended a meeting in our school library. I needed the restroom, and when I walked into the first stall, I found an unflushed toilet.


So I moved to the second. Oddly, unflushed.

I moved to the third stall. Unflushed.

It took me that long to recognize the problem—the water was out in the building. I checked: the other stalls had unflushed toilets and the water wasn’t flowing in the sinks.

Without better options, I chose the least disgusting toilet and added my business to it.

I tried to imagine what it might be like to be not the second or third person to use an unflushed toilet, but the tenth or hundredth or thousandth person without better options: the plight of those who fled from Katrina to the Superdome, of course.

In Katrina’s aftermath, those overflowing toilets came to symbolize to me the plight of those left behind in New Orleans. Without better options, the poor and marginal were trapped in a drowning city, without resources, without hope.

In Katrina’s aftermath, I tried to get my students to research and examine the social ramifications of what happened in the Gulf Coast and specifically in New Orleans, but most of them, comfortable in lives that so far had been handed to them, blamed the victims. They should have gotten out when the authorities said go. They should have planned ahead. (Never you mind that the authorities themselves planned poorly.)

Eighteen year olds can perhaps be forgiven their naiveté. They’re inexperienced in the ways of the world.

What, though, was the excuse of those in local, state, and federal government?

Given, at times the local and state authorities looked like a cross between Keystone Cops (Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco, well-meaning but inept) and the KKK (the authorities of Gretna, Louisiana who blocked New Orleans residents from entering their town), but in the face of national disaster, national government should be warmed up and ready to take the lead.

Should be.

Was under Bill Clinton. Was so clearly not under George Bush.

What Katrina revealed is what liberals have asserted for years: our current version of federal government is as self-centered, ham-fisted, and oblivious as those in the White House who daily bungle their way through administering it, and in time of genuine need is utterly impotent.

This fall we have the opportunity to both send a message – the current state of this country is unacceptable – and to make real change by electing legislators who will hold this administration accountable. Unfortunately, we also face real questions about the legality of our elections in the face of voting-machine tampering and other voting transgressions (this horror story happened in my county).

We’re all in trouble, not just those of us at the bottom of the socioeconomic food chain. We all need better options. And we need to find those options – soon.

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