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Narratives a.k.a. Of Happy Hive Minds And Prevailing Versions Of History

in blogging & bloggers, culture-society-history, education, energy, federal flood, government, hurricane katrina, media, new orleans, recovery, rising tide conference, we are not ok

It appears America up and exploded in these past few weeks. Specifically in the last few days. But It’s All Under Control. As you were.

On August 22nd, a 400-person riot broke out in the peaceful, hippie-beatnik town of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Irony: It happened right after Earth, Wind & Fire performed at something called NewWestFest’s Bohemian Nights. Public take: A bunch of folks came to see OMG Earth, Wind & Fire OMG and began to beat each other up. Those people. Reality: A shoving match between two drunk morons escalated to a surrounding collection of drunk morons. Drunk morons in groups. Go figure.

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A September 1st University of New Orleans student demonstration against Governor Jindal’s drastic reduction of the state’s education budget “turned rowdy.” A handful of students barricaded themselves inside a building and another group marched on the administration building and *horror* stormed Dean Wormer’s office to re-enact The Strawberry Statement would not leave. Two protesters were arrested, peace has been restored to Louisiana and students can expect tuition increases while Jindal hits the American interstates with his success story. It’s all in how you spin budget cuts, you see.

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Then there’s the eco-freak who held three people hostage inside Discovery Channel HQ while program directors looked up the Wikipedia reference for Malthus. Wait for the right-wing airwaves to buzz with the “it is only terrorism when environmentalists, liberals and Muslims do it” message, while they conveniently ignore Crackpot Manifesto Item #5, which calls for “solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that.” Which is not too far off from the wingnut’ I Detest You (But Damn You Mow My Lawn For Cents On The Dollar Sssshhh We’ll Keep You Around) view of illegal immigration, so like Artemio Muniz, admitted “anchor baby” and writer at Texas GOP Vote, I have to ask

While the media focuses on the “eco-rant” of James Lee, ask yourself, is this a terror act from a man who was an extremist of an emerging cult or pseudo-religion? Or was he just plain crazy? Either way, why are some “Republicans” willing to use the same talking points as James Lee?

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Yesterday, NOAA “reopened a 5,130-square-mile stretch of [Gulf of Mexico] waters from far eastern Louisiana into western Florida to commercial and recreational fishing” [link]. The sponge and starfish frolicked on the beach hand in hand singing, “I say Moratorium, you say Affecting Operations, let’s call the whole thing off!” As if the Gulf of Mexico needs any more trouble at this juncture, Mariner Energy’s Vermilion 380 platform exploded yesterday while still in production. Thankfully, the lives of its 13 crew members were spared, the fire was just put out and shutoff equipment worked, but what the hell?

On the day before the explosion, a Mariner Energy spokesperson reportedly derided the Obama administration’s moratorium on drilling (which incidentally does not affect shallow water operations like the Vermilion 380):

“I have been in the oil and gas industry for 40 years, and this administration is trying to break us,” said Barbara Dianne Hagood, senior landman for Mariner Energy, a small company. “The moratorium they imposed is going to be a financial disaster for the gulf coast, gulf coast employees and gulf coast residents.”

Not if the Gulf Coast and its residents and workers are dead or dying from these explosions and its consequences first. You’re breaking yourselves and have only your poorly-ordered priorities, shoddy safety guidelines and inability to manage risk to blame. Do you know what people said about BP and Mariner before April 20th, back when you were doing your jobs relatively properly in the Gulf of Mexico? Nothing. So, quit whining, buy what you broke and fix your company. And remember that you’re not exactly adding to the return on your stockholders’ and national investment at this point.

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After I left New Orleans this past Sunday, what I got from many was, “I watched the Katrina Anniversary specials on cable news this past weekend and thought of you. It looks like New Orleans is really coming back and that the nation’s help worked.” My response, “I appreciate that you did, but wish you were at the launch of A Howling In The Wires and the fifth annual Rising Tide conference, where you would have learned what cable news didn’t tell you then and will never ever tell you.” That:

– the “nation’s money” has still not made it to the right people, i.e. even regular, middle-class folks desperately trying to return home, forget the poor,

– public safety, healthcare and education are age-old problems in New Orleans that will take more than five years and national apathy or sympathy to solve,

– tourism is not a sustainable economy and, if a child’s reward for doing well in a New Orleans school is shucking your oysters and slinging your drinks, why the hell should he or she bother? Why should he or she not turn to a life of crime if it offers more pay and social respect?

– New Orleans may be a cultural island but not a political or economic one and that decisions made at the federal and state levels do affect the city; we are all interconnected this way, and

– for the love of god, you watched FoxMSNBCBSNN. These idiots don’t know their New Orleans geography beyond the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets (you should have seen the number of newsvans with satellites parked outside the Royal Sonesta hotel) and you take them seriously? Then, these douchebags establish other douchebags – Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Mary Landrieu, Ray Nagin and Douglas Brinkley – as The Experts, who are there only to serve themselves and their financial backers’ versions of history and not Louisiana.

This is why I am pleased to report that the Rising Tide conference had 210 paid attendees this year. We growing, people! All of the panels nicely conveyed the mission of Rising Tide, which is to “dispel myths, promote facts, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels.” (And to party like rockstars, WHAT.) We, the ones who sprang into action during the evacuation of August 2005 and haven’t stopped since and those who read, check and balance us and become information providers themselves, are “the first line of defense against ignorance & forgetting,” to use keynote speaker Mac McClelland’s terminology. Against the pablum and feel-good fed to the world by our news media and government this past weekend and every single day before and after.

More and varied independent news providers are crucial for this to happen. It is not cable news’s place to make up a narrative for me. Even so, it is not my place to do the same thing for someone who cannot rebuild their home five years later, as it is not their place to speak on behalf of someone who drowned when they could not fight the raging floodwaters. As Lolis Elie said, culture and experience are like Carnival. “It depends on where you’re standing and who you’re with.”

There are narratives. There always have been. We are creatures of memory and story. Our work then lies in observing and remembering enough and correctly, and what, whom and how much we are willing to believe before we use that to make vital decisions for ourselves and, more importantly, others. What we accept as the truth versus as fable matters. Being able to weigh the ultimate value of that which we hang onto, so tight that another fact or idea and scrutiny can break us, matters.

It has been five years since Hurricane Katrina, The Flood and the information flood it brought with it. My hope for five years from now is increased information flow, but more than that, that we consider the source and its intent. That we build a more accurate picture, and not a sparklingly precise one. For the future we make comes from what and why we remember.

1 comment… add one
  • Tim

    Amen, Sister Maitri. We cannot rebuild New Orleans on a tourism economy. Not unless we want to go the route of Las Vegas, a city that has no substance. We have the port, oil and seafood, none of which rely upon a highly educated workforce and none of which will result in a significant number of middle class jobs. I worry for New Orleans.

    Peace,

    Tim

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