Monday, September 26, 2005

My Nominee for People's Grammy: Song of the Year

If any work of art captures what 2005 has been about, it's this one, by the Legendary K.O., with respect to Kanye West, of course. Here's the link if you want to just peep the song, which I recommend if you want to hear all the words.

Still Strugglin'--

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Reading/Doing List


Sister of My Heart, by Chitra Divakaruni

Harper's Magazine, current issue

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer. ("Ant of the Self" is an amazing, nuanced and heartbreaking story).

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, by Samuel Delany


Went to the big ANSWER anti-war march in Frisco today, after going back and forth for the longest time about whether I would go. I've been to my fair share of marches, and although I feel that they are necessary and important for movement-building, I go back and forth about how effective I feel like they are in terms of changing policies, stopping wars, and doing the things that they claim to be doing. For the most part, the marches I've been to--the orderly, slightly staid marches where the routes are all pre-set and legal and there's no real surprises or targets for our demands--have felt more like self-indulgent leftist walking parties, where I get to see a lot of folks that I've known and worked with over the last ten years. But are they really helping to sway public opinion about the war? I'm not so sure.

It was nice to see a lot of the youth that my organization works with at the rally, from both our San Jose and Oakland offices, as well as youth (I'm talking high-school age here in case you didn't know) from other Oakland youth organizations. Didn't recognize any of the Filipino lefties that were marching with the usual red flags--but that's cool; I'm glad it's not all the same folks marching in the same demonstrations. Some of the young folks from Californians for Justice had never been to a march like this before.

Worked on my novel today. Getting a good number of pages done this week, after starting a new novel log to help make my writing more structured.

Got a haircut with my old hairdresser from a few years ago. Have a mini-set of bangs now, a mere 1/2 inch section of shorter strands that barely graze my right eyelid. My hairdresser assured me, "It's what everyone wants right now." I didn't have any alternative in mind.

Had dinner at the fairly new HCW: Home of Chicken and Waffles in Jack London Square tonite. Cool place, nice vibe. H. and I were the only non-Black folks in the place, besides the Latino bus boy and a random blonde white dude in a suit that wandered in to pick up his to-go order. It's the kind of place that makes me happy to be back in the 'Town again.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

Did Ya Feel the Earth Move?

Woke up at 4:25 this morning to the building shaking like a leaf in the wind. Well, actually, it was more of a jolt than a shake--sharp and quick like lightning.

Post-Katrina, earthquakes take on a new meaning for me. They feel more urgent, like the earth's telling us: 'Wake up, get ready. 'Cuz I'm pissed off and I'm makin' y'all pay attention."

In my classic Type A fashion, I spent the next hour listening to the radio and looking online for earthquake preparedness info. I'm no stranger to earthquakes, having been born and raised in Cali, but Katrina and the federal government's slow response to poor communities and communities of color in that disaster is makin' me anxious and wanting to be really prepared. Makin' the trip to Costco this week to stock up. Was planning this before last night's jolt--which was only a 3.0 but felt stronger, since it was centered less than 2 miles north of my house on the Hayward fault--but mother nature's reminder has motivated me to move faster.

And if you need any more motivation to prepare yourself and your family and your community for the next Big One, check out this article about how a major earthquake in California could be worse than Katrina, as well as these hazard maps for the east bay--where there is a 67% chance of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake or larger to hit within the next 30 years--here and here. There's also this kinda cheesy but telling animated shaking mapof the entire bay area, many parts of which are made of landfill (aka earthquake jelly).

People get ready! Don't say you ain't been warned,

Sunday, September 18, 2005

In Search Of...

...Samuel Delany, whom I discovered via my friend, D., a big-time sci-fi-head. I, myself, have not read much sci-fi; what I guess you'd call fantasy and speculative fiction have been more my cup of tea, and even those books don't make up the bulk of my reading list (i tend to read mostly historical and contemporary fiction--my favorite writers include Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz). But as I'm writing a fantasy/SF novel, I've been trying to bone up on the more literary SF out there, and after D. loaned me Delany's Babel-17/Empire Star, a two-for-one novel/novella combo, I've been intrigued by this supremely talented and aesthetically experimental writer. The fact that he wrote Empire Star in the 1960s still boggles my mind because it's so futuristic yet conversational. Almost the entire novella is written in dialogue, almost like a screenplay.

I've read a few online bios of Delany's, and he seems to be the kind of person I'd want to get to know, hang out with, down a few beers with. African-American, queeresque but married, now teaches at Temple in Philly. I'm also fond of Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, who have greatly stretched my definition of sci-fi and fantasy. No coincidence that Delany, Butler and Hopkinson--who are all Black--treat issues / themes of race, gender, class and sexuality with a natural realness that makes me feel right at home within the worlds they create. But I haven't sought out Delany much until this past weekend, starting on Friday night, when I was at Cody's Bookstore in Berkeley.

Before I started my Delany search, however, H. and I happened upon an interesting reading upstairs on hip-hop activism moderated by fellow Cal alum Oliver Wang; the ever-vivacious Aya de Leon was in the house being sharp and funny as always, along with other hip-hop heads Keith Knight, S. Craig Watkins (whose book, Hip Hop Matters I just purchased) and lone white boy Adam Mansbach. After listening to the discussion and Q&A and doing a meet-and-greet with the panelists as well as panel organizer Jeff Chang, H. and I headed down to browse the shelves.

I picked up Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and scanned the back cover, then read the first page. This is my litmus test for whether a book will make it into my personal library. It usually works. And this is what I read on the first page of 'Stars':

"'Of course,' they told him in all honesty, 'You will be a slave.'"
His big-pored forehead wrinkled, his heavy lips opened (the flesh around his green, green eyes stayed exactly the same), the ideogram of incomprehension among whose radicals you could read ignorance's determinant past, information's present improbability, speculation's denied future.
'But you will be happy,' the man in the wire-filament mask went on from the well in the circle desk. 'Certainly you will be happier than you are.' The features moved behind pink and green plastic lozenges a-shake on shaking wires. 'I mean, look at you, boy. You're ugly as mad and tall enough to scare children on the street. The prenatal brain damage, small as it is, we can still correct...."

And although I didn't buy the book that night--didn't bring my check-card w/ me, dammit!--I spent a good chunk of time today scouring every independent bookstore in central Oakland and Berkeley trying to find a used copy of Stars/Grains. No luck. At Walden Pond on Grand the bespectacled guy behind the register told me that Delany 'moves faster than other stuff'. No f**kin' kidding. I went to no less than six, count 'em, six bookstores trying to catch a deal on this book. In the end, I ended up making the trek up to Cody's again for the new copy.

But it's all good. I've found Delany and now I've got time to savor his work, and to hope that he can teach me a thing or two about writing science fiction that watching 'Star Wars' just can't.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Start Making Sense, Please!

Been in a funky, up and down mood lately. I'm sure Katrina has something to do with it, plus I'm feeling like I'm in a bit of a rut with my writing. I've been writing less and less, although still getting at least a few hours done a week, which is better than before VONA. I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life, and for some reason writing has not seemed or felt all that important lately.

Need to get a haircut. Need to get a manicure and a pedicure. Of course I don't really 'need' these things, but they are the kinds of things that help me feel better sometimes, and make me see that things aren't all so bad. Meditation does that for me too, and I've been meaning to go to a sangha night at one of the local Buddhist centers I frequent--is it coincidence that I got a 'thank you' call tonite from a Spirit Rock board member for my recent donation? I think not--but 'things' keep coming up. Tonite, I had originally planned to go to sangha, but there was M'a birthday dinner to attend (btw, I never realized how many Virgos I have in my life--I've helped celebrate 9 Virgo birthdays this year so far--sheesh!)

But I do need to get back on the cushion (meditation cushion, that is) and back in the saddle around my writing. They are both important forms of (life) practice for me, and I need them, perhaps more now than I have before. But it's a struggle to 'stay awake', I think, to be present to the nuances of life's ups and downs, the joyful times and the mournful times. The Katrina crisis has spurred me to stay home more now, to nest, cozy up with my honey, and just be. And for me, your classic Type-A run-by-my-calendar kinda gal, that kind of slowing down is sometimes difficult.

Trying to make sense of it all. Trying. Sometimes that's all you can do.

In Peace,

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wise Words from a Buddhist White Woman About Racism, New Orleans, Katrina

This is from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship web site.

Be well,

September 2, 2005
Maia Duerr, BPF Executive Director

Let me begin with a statement about my position in this society, because it is absolutely relevant here – I am a white woman, with sufficient economic resources. I have been to New Orleans several times in my life. When I heard news last Sunday that Hurricane Katrina had the Big Easy in its path, the first things I thought of were the good times I had in the city, the beautiful architecture that I admired, and the mix of grit, grace, and soul that delighted me there. More than any other U.S. city I have visited, it was the one that most resiliently withstood the mind and soul-numbing effect of corporate culture. Life in New Orleans, it seemed to me, was raw, vital, and on the edge, for better or for worse. I was sad for myself at the thought of losing all this.

Sure, I had noticed the poverty in New Orleans. I had noticed the thousands of Black people living in squalid conditions in the city. It’s hard to miss. But they weren't my first thought when the storm hit.  I had the privilege of visiting there as a tourist, one with means, and then coming back out again to my comfortable life in the Bay Area. I have the luxury of having a self-centered relationship to New Orleans and her citizens.

Then Hurricane Katrina hits. Within a few days, it becomes clear that so much more is at stake than this, my nostalgic vacation associations. People are dying by the thousands, and they are overwhelmingly Black, poor, and/or disenfranchised. How could I have initially overlooked that?

Apparently, that same ignorance was shared and magnified thousands of times by our federal government, by the Bush administration. Or perhaps some of it wasn’t so unconscious. This combination of ignorance plus privilege and power is called racism. It’s a word that we white people don’t like to think about applying to ourselves, especially when we think of ourselves as good, liberal people. But racism is not like a hat that we choose to put on or take off at will. It’s much more like the air that we breathe every day—invisible, and we have no choice but to take it in, often unaware of the effect it has on us.

To witness the travesty that has been New Orleans over these past five days is heartbreaking beyond belief. And outrageous.

Phrases comes to my mind, and at first I thought them too inflammatory to write here. But I will anyway, because I want to wake us up. I want to wake myself up. Genocide. Ethnic Cleansing. Economic Cleansing. What else to call it when thousands of poor, Black people are allowed to die in front of our eyes? And not just any death – excruciating deaths, brought about by lack of food, water… drowning deaths because people have waited for rooftop rescues which never came, and while they watched other corpses float by… children dying, old people dying, disabled people dying.

This is the United States. The richest country in the world. The country that is, supposedly, equipped to handle all kinds of terrorists attacks. As horrible a day as September 11, 2001 was, the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods that we are now witnessing in New Orleans will be far more extensive and long-lasting. And yet, unlike in New York City after 9/11, the people of New Orleans have been left to fend for themselves. In some cases, they are even being blamed for their fate. Michael Brown, director of FEMA, said, "Unfortunately, [the death toll is] going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings. I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.”

Really? One clear description of the situation comes from a Sept. 2 New York Times article by reporter David Gonzalez:

The victims…were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive.

The decimation of New Orleans is the great tragedy and shame of the American people, and particularly, the Bush administration. We don’t need terrorists to take us down. The empire is crumbling from within.

How did this come to happen? Right in line with the dharma truth of interconnection, there are dozens of threads that lead to this horrible conclusion. You’ve probably already read about some of them. But in the interest of waking up, again, I will list them here:

The distribution of resources in our country which has prioritized military spending on the war in Iraq over critical domestic tasks. Budgets for flood control, strengthening the levees, evacuation, and relief have been inadequate and have actually been reduced. Last year, President Bush’s budget cut $71 million for flood control in New Orleans alone. Meanwhile more than $200 billion has been spent in Iraq.

The diversion and deployment of the U.S. National Guard troops to Iraq rather than within their own states. 35-40% of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards are in Iraq, on missions of death, instead of back home where they are so desperately needed.

The intersection of institutionalized poverty and racism that has resulted in so many people living in such desperate conditions to begin with.

Global warming and other environmental issues, which may well have contributed to the severity of the hurricane through having warmed up the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

And, I am not the first to note that the media has been playing into all the racial stereotypes. "Looting" is a code way/short hand for saying that poor/black is bad and privileged/white is good.  Those who are Black and pictured with goods from a store are labeled “looters.” Those who are white in the same situation are portrayed as “finding food.” It goes on and on.

My practice as a socially engaged Buddhist asks me to not exclude myself from this circle of accountability. I too am part of this karma. All of us in U.S. dharma communities are, and those of us who are white and/or middle/upper class or who hold other positions of privilege in this society are particularly called on to examine our role in this system. How can I pay tax money into a government that feeds a vast and deadly war machine but refuses to provide support to the infrastructure of our cities? At this moment, I don’t have an answer. I only know that I, too, am part of this circle of accountability.

I search for ways that I personally can respond, and that BPF as an organization can respond. Here are some:

We can offer emergency assistance to the survivors, in whatever form we have available – financial donations, offers of housing and jobs, transportation, emotional support.

Prior to the hurricane, New Orleans was a city that, even though scarce on economic resources, was full of people with progressive and community-minded ideals. After the emergency needs subside, we can offer support to some of the innovative organizations based in the area to help them reinvigorate the city and ensure that rebuilding efforts don’t turn New Orleans into a corporate-sponsored shell of its former self. See the list at the end of this essay.

We can call for accountability from all government officials, including FEMA and up to President Bush. We can do this by calling our Congresspeople and Senators, writing letters, sitting in vigils, and making our voices heard in countless other ways. We see what is happening, and we do not accept it.  Just as Cindy Sheehan’s courageous actions ignited a massive grassroots movement, we can find ways to rally many people around the significance and symbolism of this tragedy.

We can address issues of classism and racism as they are expressed within our own organizations and sanghas, by doing councils, trainings, workshops, reading, etc. around how these issues separate us and cause harm.

We’ll let you know as more opportunities are developed in the coming months.

The deep wounds of class, race, and environmental degradation to name just a few, will not be healed by quick actions. We are bearing witness to yet another sad, unjust, and deplorable chapter in American history. All of us who are alive in this place and time are being called to respond. Whether we choose to do so or go back to sleep will be the legacy we leave for our world.

Organizations in New Orleans and Louisiana
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
The Douglas Community Coalition
Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and Hope Community Credit Union
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
The Peoples’s Institute for Surival and Beyond
Critical Resistance New Orleans

For an excellent list of grassroots, low-income, people-of-color led organizations doing relief work, see the list at the Sparkplug Foundation's website.

Postscript: Sunday, September 4, 2005

I began writing this essay on Friday, September 2. My emotions were very raw—anger and heartbreak. I still feel those things, but over the past few days, they are tempered as I see thousands of people opening their hearts and homes to the refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Certainly, there is much still good about the American people, and my heart is warmed as I see the generosity pouring forth and connections being made between people across color and class lines. The thing about racism, though, is that it works throughout a whole system, not through any individual “good” or “bad” person. As I wrote earlier, racism (and classism) is the cultural air we all breathe. Seeing this way allows us to go beyond blame and guilt and move into acknowledging suffering and taking responsibility.

We need to ask for and demand a full report and accountability for how conditions in New Orleans got so desperate–both before the hurricane and in the aftermath of the recovery efforts (or lack of them). My hope is that all of us, no matter what race, ethnicity, or social class we belong to, can be brave enough to look at this question, without turning away.

With thanks to Diana Lion and Mushim Ikeda-Nash.

The list of New Orleans/Louisiana organizations comes from Yes! magazine and from Jordan Flaherty of Left Turn magazine. Statistics regarding the National Guard come from United for Peace and Justice.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

And Now for Some Comic Relief

I know I've been pretty heavy and serious on my blog lately, because I felt the times demanded it. But just so you know I haven't been Miss Gloom and Doom 24/7, here's something to laugh at...I like QT but never thought my life story would be worthy of his directorial skills. I guess I was wrong!

In Laughter,

Quentin Tarantino
Your film will be 47% romantic, 36% comedy, 45% complex plot, and a $ 50 million budget.
Wow! What a life you have led thus far! Action-packed, anti-social with probably dark humor. Quentin hasn't really made many films, but each successive one is a bigger and grander project ... and more violent. Karate CHOP! Your life story will probably star Michael Madsen, Uma Thurman, or some TV or movie star from the 1980s for which your film will be the comeback -- let's say Emilio Estevez. Maybe. Now that the QT is dating Sofia Coppola, maybe he'll get some tips about putting some lump-in-the-throat romantic moments in his films. Quentin's short directing resume includes Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 20% on action-romance
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 61% on humor
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 74% on complexity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 91% on budget
Link: The Director Who Films Your Life Test written by bingomosquito on Ok Cupid

A Sign of Hope, But The Worst Yet To Come

I'm glad that the federal government backed down from barring the media from covering the search for "deceased Hurricane Katrina victim recovery efforts". This is a major victory for government accountability, and it was fought by the people who should be fighting for it a hell of a lot more often: the news media.

On the other hand, I am sad to report that some of our most visible and so-called 'progressive' news media and organizations, such as The Nation and have not made much (if any) mention of the racism underlying the late-game rescue effort, choosing instead to draw links between this tragedy and their 'pro-democracy' agendas that somehow leave people of color's concerns and needs out of the debate over and over again. This happened with Moveon during the presidential election, and it's happening again now, where even if the Democrats say or do something racist (like ignore the face that Gore won in 2004 and that African-American votes were eliminated from the count in Florida), instead of challenge them Moveon just goes along with the party line.

On the other hand, Democracy Now has been doing a great job covering race and amplifying the voices of people of color in the Katrina-hit areas, so kudos to Amy Goodman and company. Alternet has done so-so with their coverage on race. At least they have the ever-reliable Earl Ofari Hutchinson to provide his thought-provoking commentary.

I know there are probably people reading this right now saying "It's not the time for that" or "This is an old story" and blah blah blah. But until white progressives (and the rest of the country) realize and start to take seriously that race is THE central contradiction in American politics (yes, even moreso than class and sexism, although compounded by those two factors), uppity people of color like me will keep shoving it in front of your faces until you wake up and smell the coffee.

On a brighter note, here's another article from the ground by two people who were stuck in New Orleans when the hurricane hit. It's a powerful, detailed account of the desperation of people trying to survive and the abysmal inability of our public systems to take care of them.

'Get Off The F**king Freeway': The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors
by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2005 at 3:13 AM
Two paramedics stranded in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina give their account of self-organisation and abandonment in the disaster zone

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.

Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.

We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had been descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

>From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct.

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered
once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners.

In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

After this post, I'm going to take some silence around this issue, for a little while. Time to regroup and refocus. But in the meantime, here are some words to chew on, meditate on, think about, from three brothers who have good things to say.

First, from Jamaica, John Maxwell sums up the human consequences and the politics of Katrina well.

Then, from another neighboring Caribbean country, Cuba's Fidel Castro, sends a magnanimous offer of relief to the victims of Katrina (doctors, medical aid and of course the solidarity that Cuban people are famous for) without political strings attached. Will the US be open-hearted enough to accept? Supposedly the U.S. has publicly stated that all offers of aid from foreign countries will be accepted.

Finally, from my comrade Van Jones, below, a thoughtful and passionate response to the tragedy we have witnessed from afar.

In Hope,

"Why Bush Should Apologize For His Role In Drowning New Orleans,"
by Van Jones

Don't say that a hurricane destroyed New Orleans. Hurricanes do not drown cities.

It was a "perfect storm" of a different kind that put that great city underwater: Bush-era neglect of our national infrastructure,
combined with runaway global warming and a deep contempt for poor African-Americans.

The result: catastrophe. The flooding was not due to heavy rains. It resulted from a weak levee -- one that was in mid-repair when the storm hit. For years, worried local officials had been begging for increased levee aid.

But Bush had other priorities. To fund his war effort, Bush in 2003 actually slashed funding for the Southeast Lousiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA - leaving millions of dollars of vital repair work undone. And this spring, he imposed drastic reduction in hurricane- and flood-control funding - the steepest in New Orleans history.

In other words, the dollars that could have saved New Orleans were used to wage war in Iraq, instead. What's worse: funds for levees and modern pumping stations that might have spared the poor, were instead passed out to the rich, willy-nilly -- as tax breaks.

With those two simple steps, Bush squandered the hard-won Clinton-era surplus. And thus he left the national piggy bank empty for fixing and maintaining basic U.S. infrastructure.

Bush owes the people of New Orleans and the entire country an apology for under-funding our critical infrastructure.

Had the levee repairs been completed on time (two years ago), Katrina would have hit hard, destroyed buildings and probably taken some lives. But it is doubtful that it would have cracked open the floodwalls and submerged the entire CITY. It took Bush's criminal neglect of his domestic duties to produce that outcome.

But that is only one area of Bush's culpability. Ross Gelbspan says: "Katrina began as a relatively small hurricane that glanced
off south Florida, [but] it was supercharged with extraordinary intensity by the relatively blistering sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico."

In other words, global warming likely super-charged this hurricane. Yet Bush's energy policies amount to an ongoing conspiracy to add even MORE carbon to the atmosphere, further destabilizing the climate.

So get ready for even worse storms next year, and the next. And the next.

And the human suffering was not -- and will not be -- equally distributed.

Poor people and Black people didn't "choose to stay behind." They were left behind. All evacuation plans required the city's residents to have working, private cars -- plus gas money, nearby relatives or funds for a hotel stay. Without those things, tough luck.

Government agencies should have helped the destitute flee -- even those without cars or cash. But when the "face of suffering" is Black, somehow our high standards for effective action and compassion begin to sag.

Seeing this, Bush could have taken a strong stand on the side of the poor and the suffering. But his half-hearted, emotionally-flat statement on Wednesday did little to rally the nation. It seems that, unless "the terrorists did it," Bush just can't get himself too worked up about Americans dying by the thousands.

So tonight, our sisters and brothers are perishing. And many in uniform who could help them are half-a-world away, in Iraq. Thus, here we are. On top of five years of foolish policies that set New Orleans up for this disaster, we are now witnessing a monumental leadership failure in the Bush White House.

And we must tell the truth about it. Some will say that this is no time for the "blame game" or "divisive politics."

To the contrary: this is exactly the time to draw a line between those who fought to invest wisely in this country -- and those who happily squandered the national treasure on give-aways and imperial adventures. Progressives must not be hemmed in by some false "unity" with a President whose policies are largely to blame for this disaster.

Right now, we must press the federal government to intensify efforts to rescue everyone. Then, we must demand an immediate repeal of the tax cuts -- to enable rebuilding in New Orleans and repair of the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Lastly, let’s insist that any Louisiana and Mississippi guardsmen who want to return home from Iraq to aid their communities be allowed to do so.

The truth is that the poor people of Louisiana and Mississippi were deliberately left behind -- and not just over the weekend. Our political leaders -- most especially George W. Bush -- left them behind a long time ago.

In the aftermath of this wholly avoidable catastrophe, let us do all we can to rescue those who have been abandoned. And then let us rescue the U.S. government from those who engineered their abandonment.

At this point, we have a sacred duty to do both.

- Attorney Van Jones is founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in Oakland, California.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Something to Do For East Bay Folks

I love the generosity I'm seein' from folks around the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It gives me hope in the world again. Keep it flowin', keep it flowin'...One note though: They're going to need a lot more than one truck for all the donations that are gonna come through!



The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County has partnered with St. Isidore's Catholic Church in Danville and Dublin Worldwide Moving and Storage in San Leandro to collect donations for distribution to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Tullock of Dublin Worldwide Moving and Storage has generously donated at least one moving truck to transport goods to St. Vincent de Paul of Houston-Galveston, Texas where much-needed supplies will be distributed to refugees fleeing the disaster affected areas as soon as the truck is filled.

The Houston-Galveston St. Vincent de Paul is seeking the following donations:
Canned or boxed food including pasta, cereal and dry milk
Clothing items and pajamas for children, men and women
New underwear and socks for children, men and women
Towels, bedding, pillows
Personal hygiene items including tooth brushes, toilet paper, diapers,
toothpaste, shampoo
Transistor radios, batteries, can openers and alarm clocks
Toys, coloring books and school supplies


Donations will be accepted in Alameda County at the St. Vincent de Paul District Council located at 9235 San Leandro St. in Oakland (1 mile south of the Oakland Coliseum) on Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 9:30a.m.-12:00 p.m. In the Tri-Valley area, donations may be made to St. Isidore's Catholic Church located at 440 La Gonda Way in Danville from 9:00 a.m.-4:00p.m. on Saturday and 9:00 a.m.-5:00p.m. on Sunday.

The Society is an international organization with resources which we can bring to bear on the situation without over burdening existing relief efforts, says Philip Arca, Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County's Executive Director. "This is an excellent partnership opportunity for the Bay Area to send help to those in need in the Gulf Region."

Staying Awake

The Katrina aftermath in the South has moved me so much (see previous post), I'm blogging furiously for the first time in months. I'm a classic Type A personality--I've gotta do something. I've made my donation to the Red Cross and will probably give to the Mississippi Workers Center, which is the only social justice grassroots group in the area that I have information about in terms of a hurricane relief fund. The local St. Vincent de Paul Society is accepting donations to go on a truck to Louisiana this weekend, so will try to stop by over there with canned goods, clothes and toys. But that's not enough. I have to do more. And as a writer, I know I can throw my words out there to ripple out and touch everyone within earshot/Internet range. So that's what I'm tryin' to do.

I'm glad that Bush is finally starting to feel some pressure to respond more appropriate to the post-Katrina madness. And I'm glad that, as they usually are, the Congressional Black Caucus was quick to hold the President's feet to the fire around this issue.

But mostly I'm glad that so many other people in this country have gotten so vocal about their outrage that it has taken so long to get help to the people of New Orleans. In particular, I give big ups to my fellow bloggers/comrades/colleagues who've defied the self-centered/dumb American stereotype and expressed their righteous indignation at the snail's pace relief efforts by our federal government. See what Jeff Chang, Hoovie, Jean and Margaret Cho had to say about the Katrina aftermath, which is undoubtedly one of the worst (if not the worst) disasters in U.S. history, although it's causes were not entirely 'natural'. More on this later.

When will people start to wake up to that fact? And the fact that this is probably just the first in a series of natural disasters that are being caused/ exacerbated by our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and the global warming effect that follows? I keep thinking of the Matrix and Buddhism; how we are all really 'asleep' and need to be awakened.

I think the alarm clock is ringing, people. Are we gonna hit the snooze button or finally get up and face the day?

Staying Awake,

Friday, September 02, 2005

Tell Our Government to "Get Off Their Asses"

The post-Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans is a national emergency. But because New Orleans and southeast Lousiana is mostly poor and Black, our federal government, FEMA and other government agencies are dragging their feet to get help to these people. If you don't believe me, check out the horrors people are facing on Democracy Now, CNN and other news sites for yourself.

And if you're fed up with the slow response to this horrible disaster like I am, call the White House and tell the President to stop the f**king around and get down to the business of saving people's lives.

White House comments:



And I have to say that I'm disappointed that hasn't taken any real action to get real relief to the people of New Orleans. People are just not taking this situation seriously enough.

In Struggle,

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The City I've Dreamed Of, Drowned

I've always wanted to go to New Orleans. Visit the Latin Quarter, see the famous wrought iron balcony railings, listen to the jazz that has shimmied down the decades from Satchmo's and King Oliver's trumpets, pay my respects at the grave of Marie Laveau (the "Voodoo Queen"), eat a beignet dusted with delicately sweet powdered sugar.

I've always wanted to see the )places in the bayou where the Manilamen lived and gathered, descendants of the first Asians, the first Filipinos to set foot on North American soil. I've dreamed of traveling to New Orleans, maybe doing a residency there, spending time on streets where funeral parades are like carnivals, with tuba and trumpet and trombone swinging away.

I've always felt a strange spiritual kinship with that city--perhaps it's because of my natural affinity with the sea, with the peculiar psychic energy that is generated by places that sit on the edge of large bodies of water, whether they be oceans named Pacific or gulfs that spew hurricanes like San Francisco draws fog.

But I never made it to New Orleans, never got to fulfill my romantic fantasy. And now I feel like weeping because this magical city that was the birthplace of jazz, and the inspiration for so many artists and dreamers, has been drowned by a hurricane with an ironically pretty name: Katrina. I feel like weeping because I will never get to see New Orleans, not the way she was.

I feel like weeping because I go to CNN and see Black people, poor people, people who didn't have much to begin with, their faces drawn and scarred with the agony of seeing and knowing that death is so, so close, that the waters of the sky and the earth are all around them, and that there is never enough help and food and safety to go around when you are Black, poor, or don't have much to begin with, in America.

I feel like weeping even though I hardly wept when the tsunami hit in Thailand and Indonesia and Africa, the wave that killed hundreds of thousands of people just the day after Christmas. For some reason, now, I want to weep long and hard for New Orleans and her people. Maybe it's my PMS or just the fact that I can somehow relate to those people trapped on rooftops and in the Astrodome, those victims of a natural disaster so mind-boggling that even usually stoic CNN reporters are breaking down in tears during their on-air time; maybe I can relate to them because I live in the Bay Area, at a conjunction of several major fault lines, where the earth trembles nearly every hour even if we don't feel her shivers, where death is always close by, though silent and waiting. Where even the threat of such natural tragedies could never keep me from staying here, living here, in a place full of beauty and mystery and history.

I feel like weeping when I read emails saying that a comrade who lives in New Orleans is safe, and when I remember the other folks--like Xochitl whom I just saw a few weeks ago in Albuquerque, who offered me a place to hang out if I ever wanted to come down to the Big Easy--the other folks I know who live in New Orleans. Even though they are not my best friends or family members, I still want to weep because I don't know where they are or what's happened to them.

I want to weep, but the tears won't come. So I weep words instead. And pray.

In Hope,

P.S. Please make a generous donation to the relief efforts; the people of New Orleans need us.