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Mary Pitt: Time To Fish Or Cut Bait

Time To Fish Or Cut Bait


by Mary Pitt

While Congress is obediently cutting taxes for the rich in response to the wishes of the President, the displaced persons from New Orleans are still crowded into hotels or the living quarters of relatives and other caring persons and rapidly losing hope of ever going home. In the meantime, whatever remains of their homes and possessions are rotting away as are the bodies of their friends and neighbors whom the contractors have not bothered to remove. Many have lost relatives, some even the children from whom they were forcibly separated during the crisis and, as time goes on, their reunion is even more unlikely.

One could assume that there is quibbling over the cost of repairing the levees and/or raising the ground level of the area that was so devastated in order to prevent another such occurrence, but there is no agreement and no plan. There is absolutely no discussion in Congress or the administration about plans to correct the conditions which led to the disaster and to re-establish the city of New Orleans as a viable community. Further , the public appear to have lost their once-deep concern for the plight of these people or the future of their city. When a group of New Orleanians appeared before a Senate committee to tell their stories, one Senator was absolutely un-civil in his questioning, as if they had reason to dissemble about the events before, during, and after the flood.

As with so many things that concern caring people, the government is prone to say, "It's over. Nothing to see here. Move on." After all, the flood damaged only the "poor" section of town, occupied by people of color and the super-poor. They got to have a wonderfully exciting camp-out in the Super Dome and the Astro Dome which, according to Barbara Bush, was a taste of luxury after what they were accustomed to. They got some free credit cards, which should please any poor person, and they got to travel! What more do they want?

They want to go home! It is the Christmas season and they want, as all of us do, to be with their familes, (whatever is left of them). They want to hold their children, to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus in familiar congregations with their friends. They want to walk familiar streets and shop in neighborhood stores, being greeted by familiar faces in the spirit of the season. Instead they are faced with the possibility of arrest on charges of looting if they try to enter their damaged homes to clean up or to salvage any mementos that might be left. It will yet be a long while until they have the time and the opportunity to recognize their losses, homes, friends, jobs, and opportunities, and to grieve for them. There is work to be done and they eager to engage in it.

Meanwhile, the mobile homes and the travel trailers which have been ordered are sitting within a couple of days distant and waiting for FEMA to provide the money to pay for them. This one simple act could have the temporary housing inside New Orleans in a matter of days, available for the families to stay in them and begin the chore of cleaning out and cleaning up their own propety and restoring or rebuilding their homes. The low-income housing that might be appropriate for people to live in are locked up and barred from entry, much less occupancy, and no reasons are given for the failure to open them for the previous residents to move back in. Small wonder that many New Orleanians are convinced of some major conspiracy by the government to prevent them from ever returning to their previous living environment.

Discard the idea that New Orleans is nothing more than a party town. The partying is done by the tourists who take advantage of the celebrations to throw aside their inhibitions and to make fools of themselves in an anonymous setting. New Orleans is traditionally a very religious community. Whether Catholic, Baptist, or a mixture of these and native religions, the people are very family-oriented and devout in their faith. They celebrate life and they celebrate death, they honor their origins, and they rejoice in their freedoms. While they do have a problem with crime, do not we all? Yes, many of them are poor, but is that not why they were living in the flood-prone area rather than on Snob Hill? Many are, nonetheless, well-educated and well capable of self-representation, and some may even decide to enter the political arena as the result of this fiasco.

If you were to lose your home to a disaster, how would you like to be treated? Would you expect your insurance company to brush you off? Would you expect the banks to foreclose on what was left of your home in order to sell it to industrial developers? Would you tolerate being separated from your friends and family and transplanted into a strange community and culture? Or would you get mad as hell and take action? Not only those from New Orelans but also ones who lived in Texas, Mississippi, Florida,and Alabama are facing the same problems, non-caring lassitude on the part of the elected officials who are supposed to represent their interests. If those elected officials who are responsible for their neglect expect to run for re-election in 2006 and 2008. it would seem that they would want to see all those people safely tucked into real homes in a location of their choice. Otherwise, some may find that the "Solid South" is no longer ripe for the picking by any Bible-thumping, psalm-singing "conservative" who puts his name on the ballot.

The people of the Gulf Coast are entitled to courteous answers to their questions and attention to their plight. If they are not to allowed to return to their homes, they should be allowed re-settlement money sufficient to let them put down roots elsewhere instead of being perpetually maintained in the position of beggars and welfare dependents. They have the right, as Americans, to be able to take permanent jobs, to have their children enrolled in schools of which they can feel a part, and in homes of their choice where they can re-build their lives. To expect them to quietly acquiesce to one more condescending insult as their homes are forfeited and their families destroyed as the result of neglect and exploitation by their own countrymen would be the crowning atrocity among the many that have already been perpetrated against the American people by this war-obsessed administration. It is well past time for these people and their problems to be given the attention that they deserve.

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