New Orleans, the city of romantic myths and memorable music, Gulfport, Pass Christian, little towns and villages whose names only appear on a AAA map are “Deja vous all over again”. If you will remember in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, he had to come to grips with the social problems of the day, which demanded reflection upon the nature of society and, therefore, upon the nature of man.
He showed us a man who went to jail for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. Of course, while he is in jail his family starved to death. We became acquainted with children who need to be fed, men who need jobs, and women who need to be treated humanely. By the end of the play we were crying out for change. The suffering of the people was more than we could endure.
And so it has been with the people suffering from Katrina. People dying in the flood ravished streets, baking alive on roof tops in 95 degree heat, five days without food and water, crowded into the domed prison without the basic sanitary facilities. “Les Misérables”, American style.
Over the course, thanks to the the television coverage of Katrina, we witnessed poor people trapped in a social/political system with no way out. What little they had to sustain life, washed away by the most powerful forces of nature.
President Bush said, ''there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting or price-gouging at the gasoline pump or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud." Troops with guns are meant for desperate people breaking through stores, wading through polluted water to get the necessities of life, dry clothes, drinking water, medicines and a loaf of bread; not for the rich corporate entities.
Did Katrina open our eyes to a problem, which has been glossed over? Are we seeing the under belly of America, the poor, the minorities, the people who could not afford to evacuate; whose very existence depends on the meager handout of the government. A government, which we saw was too long delayed in coming to the rescue.
Did Katrina show us an America that we pretend does not exist? The magnitude of everyday suffering is intolerable and such conditions must be changed through social action. We, members of SNCC and countless others, worked tirelessly to enact social changes only to see subsequent Administrations dismantle them. We are now back to square one. Like Victor Hugo, again, we must convince America that the poor, the minorities, the outcast, the people stealing in the midst of Katrina, the outcast—the misérables—are worth saving.