It's amazing how over the course of the week I've gone from crying every time someone mentions our trip to being able to say "Things were absolutely corrupt and it's amazing how little has been done" in an almost nonchalant tone. I suppose I should tell you all why I was in a bitchtastic mood on Sunday. Let me start off by saying that our group leaders had no idea that the organization we worked and lived with would turn out to be as corrupt and heartless as it was, so I can't really blame them. They investigated as best they could, I suppose.
Anyway, we lived in and worked with the ( New Orleans Rescue Mission )
Now, for a Christian humanitarian organization, that sounds pretty fucking immoral, doesn't it? Also, the shelter is going to be knocked over and redone by Extreme Makeover in the next 2 years, so how much did our work actually help? I couldn't say. We ended up undoing a task a previous group had done (moving filing cabinets OUT of the storage room the former group had put them INTO and placing them in the exact spot they had been in before the first group moved them).( However, all was not a complete waste. )
So basically it was the biggest moral dilemma of my life to date. Not to mention that on Wednesday we took an educational tour of the city, including multiple trips to the now-infamous 9th Ward, the neighborhood completely devastated not by the hurricane, but by the break of poorly constructed levees. It was heartwrenching to see people's homes wrapped around telephone poles or slammed 3 or 4 into each other. Dan, an associate professor at Tulane (I wish I knew his last name, Brooke has his info and I need to get it) took us on our tour and showed us the levees, told us which ones broke and what damage they caused. The damage to the city was done by levee breakage, not by the hurricane, and the levees didn't break because of the hurricane, they broke because they were built poorly.
Thus I had an emotional breakdown on Wednesday and ranted at everyone about how I felt like my time was being wasted, that I felt like I was in a summer camp rather than doing the work I was meant to do, and I still feel that way. So while I can feel good about one or two isolated events during the trip, overall it was unproductive in the sense that I didn't do much of anything for the actual people affected. However, it was definitely eye-opening as well as infuriating. The government is so corrupt... I just can't even describe it. There are no FEMA trailers in the 9th Ward. No-one wants to rebuild there except the people who live there. That neighborhood had the highest percentage of African-American home ownership in the country, and now they're scattered. 2/3 of the population, mostly the African-Americans, is still displaced, and yet the city wants to hold elections for the mayor and other major city offices. What does it matter, really? They're getting what they wanted. "The element" is being forcibly removed from the city.
People can deny that this is a racial issue as much as they want, but the fact is it's as much a racial issue as an economic or political issue. Race is inseparable from it all. The blacks are the majority of the population, and they are also overwhelmingly impoverished. Race and ecomonics, hand in hand. If these elections proceed as planned, without any action taken to allow displaced citizens to vote, the city could very well have its first white mayor in 30 years. Whether that would be good or bad is anyone's guess, but it would certainly prove that the demography of the city is tremendously altered.
So, now you know: it isn't over down there. In some ways it feels like it's barely begun. There is so much work left to be done, and the government on all levels seems to be incapable of handling it. The hurricane might have hit 7 months ago, but if you visited the city you would think it had hit yesterday. The flood waters have gone down, but the damage remains. I've been investigating places like levees.org
and Common Ground
to find out what I can do while I'm at school, and how I can help when I get back down there. Hopefully I can go back sometime soon and actually do something productive. I don't care if people think the 9th will be flattened and not rebuilt; I'd rather gut a family's home and save them $10,000 and give them hope, even if in the end it comes to naught, than do anything like what I did last week. I've never felt so angry and useless in my life. Not useless, but misused. Wasted. I never want to feel like that again. So please, remember that just because the media thinks of Katrina as old news doesn't mean everything is all better now.