Today and this weekend mark the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

After spending my evening in front of the tv (whoa! it’s nice to have cable again) I revisited the disaster that called into question government relief, the role of our government and just how much we can depend on it and the fortitude of the human spirit.

Five years ago I was a freshman in college (again with no cable) with no real grasp on how my role as an undeclared LAS student played into the grand scheme of things, awkwardly balancing my room mate and my high school boyfriend and trying to figure out which end was up.

I remember hearing about Katrina. I remember few of my fellow students reacting and trying to do something for the survivors. I remember the backlash and the outcries but only faint glimmers of this natural disaster.

This evening’s special with Brian Williams and his recollection of reporting on the first 5 days of the storm and its subsequent aftermath is not something I would normally watch.

I like documentaries, but only when I know I’m going to sit down and watch one. I also like good journalism, but that’s awfully hard to find these days amidst the mire of red and blue newspapers.

However, Williams said something particularly striking in his closing commentary.

He said that in the coming years we as a nation should come together and discuss in a public forum what social justice means, what race, class, environment, gasoline, oil and poverty mean to us as the collective.

He called for an assessment of how these things are interconnected in the United States and a discussion of what the plan should be for the future of our nation.

The closing remarks were a feeble attempt to prove that some of these conversations have been had. I argue differently.

  • We have elected an African American president but by no means does that imply race and ethnicity are invisible, generally accepted or that prejudice has been done away with. Especially in light of the constant struggle to categorize people as undocumented, documented or potentially dangerous on sight in Arizona.
  • We have capped the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after months of crude oil spreading across the ocean like ink on a page, forever damaging our beaches, our wildlife, our wetlands and our livelihood. That does not mean our dependency on oil has been discussed, planned for and dealt with.
  • We have attempted to stabilize the economy but big businesses favor their large paychecks over the common good.
  • We have begun to talk about sustainability, but without much progress other than the overuse of the word “green” in the general lexicon.
  • And as far as poverty goes, choose any city in the United States and you will find organizations upon resources and volunteers dedicated to making a dent in poverty and improving the livelihood of people everywhere but because of intertwining social structures, this becomes an increasingly difficult fight.

This is not to simply say that nothing has been done. But it is to say that there is much learning to be done.

So, begin and the beginning and educate yourself. Your family. Your friends.

The people you interact with daily.
Scrutinize the news but read it.
Ask questions daily, aloud or within yourself.
Find some way to give, either monetarily or with your time, to some cause greater than yourself.

As a freshman in college I thought that these simple things couldn’t possibly make a difference, but they do. To yourself and those you interact with.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, Trouble in the Water watch it. Get it on Netflix, your library or the local movie store. And ask yourself as you watch the film questions about the family. How did they end up in their pre-Katrina situation? What could have been done to help them prepare? What was missing when the water started to rise? Why was is nearly impossible to reach proper resources? How have all of these things compounded to place them in their situations today, post-Katrina?

Take some time to read Jobs Aren’t Enough , Gang Leader for a Day , The Working Poor , No Shame in My Game , Collapse or Come Hell or High Water .

Think about how the different systems of politics, religion, upbringing, heritage, race and ethnicity, ability, class, access to resources, employment status and prejudice shape the spaces we live in and how we work together as a people.

Talk about it.

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