12.17.2008

when the levees broke

If the storm doesn't kill me the government will
I've got to get that out of my head
It's a new day today and the coffee is strong
I've finally got some rest

So a man's put to task and challenges
I was taught to hold my head high
Collect what is mine,
Make the best of what today has

Houston is filled with promise
Laredo is a beautiful place
Galveston sings like that song that I loved
Its meaning has not been erased

And so there are claims forgiven
And so there are things that are gone

Houston is filled with promise
Laredo is a beautiful place
Galveston sings like that song that I loved
Its meaning has not been erased

And some things, they fall to the wayside
Their memory is yet to be still
Belief has not failed me
And so I am put to the test

"Houston," Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills


We just finished watching "When The Levees Broke," Spike Lee's documentary about the destruction of New Orleans and its people after the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina.

I don't know why it took me so long to see this movie. Perhaps it's because August 29, 2005 was our last day in New York City, and August 30, 2005 was the day we moved to Canada. When we plugged back into the world and came up for air, we struggled to grasp what had happened.

Or perhaps it's because I knew how much it would hurt. Four hours of unremitting pain, and the incredible resiliency of the human spirit.

It's a great movie, very well made, by far Lee's best and most important film. I always think I'm the last person to see any movie, but if there's anyone else out there who hasn't seen it yet, do.

A hurricane: Bush, FEMA, insurance companies, racism, neglect and the Army Corps of Engineers. If you want to know why I came to hate the country of my birth, watch this movie. But keep a box of tissues handy.

19 comments:

L-girl said...

Sometimes seeing people survive is more painful than seeing them crumble. When I saw people in the Super Dome - hot, hungry, thirsty, filthy, crowded into inhumane conditions - singing "This Little Light of Mine," I totally lost it.

Kevin said...

I remember when this first came out, my friends at the time remarked to me.

"Why didn't they just drive away..."

Class Privilege can be so hard to help people see through

L-girl said...

Right. Everyone who could drive away, did.

Did you also notice how many people left there were sick or disabled? That relates to poverty, too.

Kevin said...

Exactly. Trying to explain to folks that some people cannot afford a car is a difficult task in Texas, probably one of the most heavily driver enabling States ever.

impudent strumpet said...

After seeing what happened in Katrina, I really thought that as a normal part of emergency planning other jurisdictions would make up evacuation plans for people who don't have cars. I'm really surprised that hasn't happened yet.

JakeNCC said...

I have seen this wonderful film twice. It's very powerful. There was some in New Orleans that felt the film did not show the destruction in white neighbourhoods ( 2 of the 3 levee breaks were in upscale white areas ) and didn't buy the theory that the government blew up the ninth ward levees because it was a poor black neighbourhood. How to explain the levee breaks in the affluent white areas or the destruction of mostly white St. Bernard Parish which was also flooded by the ninth ward break? However it was my understanding that Spike never said this was a "comprehensive" film that would show every neighbourhood or group that suffered. It was a view of what happened in the ninth ward and the superdome and such.

L-girl said...

There were many white people profiled in the movie. St Bernard Parish was a big part of the film.

Most of the people in the film were African-American, but then, weren't most of the Katrina victims?

But there were definitely many white people in the film. I'm thinking especially of the two women living in the tent.

However it was my understanding that Spike never said this was a "comprehensive" film that would show every neighbourhood or group that suffered. It was a view of what happened in the ninth ward and the superdome and such.

Yes, in general I think that's true.

JakeNCC said...

I was in Nola in may of 07 with an ex who was at a conference in suburban new orleans and we hired a tour guide to take us through the katrina damaged parts of the area and there just arent words. the scale of the disaster is what cannot be understood unless you see it in person. Mile after mile after mile after mile of devastation from multi-million dollar mansions to massive apartment complexes to middle and lower income neighbourhoods. It was a life changing experience for me and this was TWO years after the hurricane.

I guess what i picked up in nola from some was a resentment that the ninth ward got too much coverage. Its hard to understand but those feelings were there. While Katrina destroyed neighbourhoods of everyone the victims of the aftermath were mostly the poor and the black because so many others had evacuated.

andrewarrigo said...

The Blogotheque site has a live version of the song 'Houston' by REM:

I highly recommend listening to 'Sing for the Submarine' as well.

L-girl said...

Jake, that's mind-blogging: 2 years after.

It's hard not to ascribe that kind of resentment to racism. It's not like the Lower 9th got extra help.

Andrew, thanks for the link. The link in the post is to a live version, too - a rehearsal, IIRC.

I love Accelerate! When it first came out, I listened to it constantly. The only song I really don't care for is Submarine. But I'll check out the link, thank you.

L-girl said...

While Katrina destroyed neighbourhoods of everyone the victims of the aftermath were mostly the poor and the black because so many others had evacuated.

Right. It's not just the destruction. Devastating as that must be, the property destruction is almost the least of it.

It's how people were treated, from the day Katrina hit and for days, weeks, months and years afterward.

Other people lost homes, which is terrible, but affluent people didn't experience what the working class and low-income people did. And that's what the movie is about.

JakeNCC said...

The way I explain what I saw is to say if you live in Toronto, imagine getting in your car and just start driving around the GTA, go down different streets and highways, weave your way all through the city and so this for 4 or 5 hours and just imagine that EVERYTHING you saw during this ride was destroyed or had been flooded with 5 to 20 feet of water. Just try to imagine 200,000 homes under water. Its just unimaginable and its tragic on its own but then you have the complete incompetence of the government that makes it worse. And remember Nola is like an island, after the hurricane you couldn't drive out even if you had a car that hadnt been flooded. Everyone that stayed was stranded and the gov't did NOTHING. fucking NOTHING. The USA was on the ground in Indonesia after the tsunami in two days, they didnt land in NOLA for five days.

If anybody hasn't seen this film please do.

redsock said...

Think Progress:

Earlier this week, A.C. Thompson of The Nation revealed that after Hurricane Katrina, white vigilante groups patrolled New Orleans, blockaded streets, and shot at least eleven black men. It “was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it,” said one vigilante. Color of Change is organizing a campaign to tell Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and state officials to investigate the shootings, as “Louisiana’s broken law enforcement agencies have refused to investigate these crimes.” Watch Thompson’s video on his report: (at top link)
Color of Change is also sending messages to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Attorney General nominee Eric Holder. Sign the petition here.

redsock said...

From The Nation article:

"Herrington, for his part, recounted his ordeal in Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke. But until now no one has ever seriously scrutinized what happened in Algiers Point during those days, and nobody has asked the obvious questions. Were the gunmen, as they claim, just trying to fend off looters? Or does Herrington's experience point to a different, far uglier truth?

Over the course of an eighteen-month investigation, I tracked down figures on all sides of the gunfire, speaking with the shooters of Algiers Point, gunshot survivors and those who witnessed the bloodshed. I interviewed police officers, forensic pathologists, firefighters, historians, medical doctors and private citizens, and studied more than 800 autopsies and piles of state death records."

***

Dharma Seeker said...

Thank you so much for recommending this film. I watched all 4 act yesterday and I am stunned. I haven't arrived at angry, I'm still digesting everything and far too stunned to even begin to react. My cousin has just come back from St. Bernard Parish where she has spent the past two months helping residents re-build their home. I mentioned reading about the film on your blog and she lent me her copy.

What I can't get my head around is why USians seem to accept the condition of parts of New Orleans and the treatment of its people. Is that fair and accurate? I don't want to sell anyone short but the fact that things remain in such shambles and lives remain destroyed so long after the fact suggests that to some degree USians will tolerate it. Help me understand?

L-girl said...

It's hard to understand, for sure. I'd say (1) most people don't know about it, (2) there was tremendous amount of disinformation about what happened after Katrina, and a lot of knee-jerk reaction from right-wingers, and (3) most USians feel utterly powerless to do anything about anything. They accept things because they feel they have no choice, and to a large extent they are right.

I hope other people from the US, like Allan and Dean G, are still subscribing to this thread, because I'm interested in what they will say.

L-girl said...

And thanks for seeing it, and telling me so. :)

redsock said...

We moved to Canada on the worst day of Katrina or the day before, so we saw very little news about it. I was not glued to my news message board as I normally would have been.

From stuff I recall reading, the networks, CNN especially, showed a LOT of horrific, very disturbing footage in the few days after the storm hit. They stopped after a few days (a week?). Whether CNN thought it was in bad taste, could not get similar footage later (the govt did close off huge portions of the city to the media and its cameras), or were following govt orders to stop, I don't know.

After the initial reports, it has been pretty much absent from any national news. Sometimes, a story pokes its head up, like FEMA knowingly giving now-homeless people trailers with toxic levels of formaldehyde -- I love this headline: "Feds Deem FEMA Trailers Unsafe, Hand Out More" -- but that stuff came and went in a day and no one really sees it.

What I can't get my head around is why USians seem to accept the condition of parts of New Orleans and the treatment of its people.

There was serious poverty and suffering in New Orleans before Katrina, and no one really cared. (And in many others parts of the country, of course.) Why would they care now?

I think once Bush says "we will help" and the story leaves the front pages, most people think everything is good now.

Dharma Seeker said...

I didn't realize that so many USians aren't aware but that explains so much. Most of what I've heard has been from friends/family who have gone to NOLA to help with the clean up and re-build. I am hoping to go myself in 2009.

I watched Act V last night (bonus extended interviews) and a couple of people remarked that they hoped once the general public saw the footage and realized that New Orleans is still like ground zero after 9/11 congress and the government to have to start getting things done.