12.12.2005

Buffalo and New Orleans, sisters in suffering

When the dikes broke and Katrina spilled over into the proud city of New Orleans, two tragedies occurred: one natural and one man-made. The natural disaster was a hurricane that meteorolgists predicted would eventually come and was a mighty force. The force of the hurricane, while mighty, was magnified thousand-fold by the man-made disaster.

As we all know, the foundation of the city rested under sea level, an artifical arrangement created by the levees and the Army Corps of Engineers. The people of New Orleans put their trust in a distant Federal government, a government that taxed them, demanded and recieved their allegiance and
sent thousands of their sons and daughters away to war. At the same time, the Federal government cut the budgets that funded the very levees that the city relied upon for its survival. The unfortunate people found that when you put your lives in the hands of a barely accountable federal agency (an army division) that represents a government located half-way across a continent away, the inevitable lack of interest from that government can have disasterous results.

This man-made situation was later compounded by the fact that after the levees broke and the tragedy began, the people continued to turn their eyes to a distant Federal government. To all of our horror, that government did nothing for days.

Perhaps some of the people of New Orleans, and the US in general, are beginning to suspect that their trust is misplaced. But of course, up here in Upstate NY, our cities are nowhere near as vulnerable as submerged New Orleans.

Or are they? What about Buffalo's
fiscal problems? When the press discussed photos of the devastation of New Orleans, they would often compare it to a war zone. But to me, ruined homes, boarded up store-fronts and abandoned factories reminded me instead of the Rust Belt, albeit covered in sea muck, not rust and slush.

Is not the tragedy of the Rust Belt not a story of the victimization of communities by central authorities as much as New Orleans is? Perhaps our problem is that our man-made tragedy cannot be blamed on an act of God and that our misery was stretched out over years (and continues) while theirs occurred in a few days. America was justly horrified by the looting and violence in the wake of Katrina, but is able to blithely ignore the spike in
violence that follows every factory closing. Murder, spousal and child abuse, petty theft and alcoholism are some of the symptoms of slow death for our communities that rarely appears on television screens.

Like the people of New Orleans, trusting the Army to build walls to protect them and the Federal Government to bail them out when disaster hit, we trusted the corporations that we worked for to keep the factories open if we did our jobs, we trusted federal and state governments to bail us out if disaster hit. The betrayal of New Orleans in the days after Katrina is a crime that is echoed in the passage of NAFTA and every free trade agreement that not only tears the heart out of our communities, but those of other peoples across the globe.

You would think that perhaps its time that we learned out lesson, but yet you still see so many of our local "leaders" turning to the easy solutions of corporate development and federal/state aid, yet again. How many jobs have to be outsourced before we learn that the corporations don't care a rat's ass about our livelihoods, our homes and our communities? How many "free" trade agreements have to be signed before we learn that the federal government cares more about corporate campaign donations than the people of the Rust Belt? I think it's time we stop seeking our solutions on Pennsylvania Avenue and in the halls of power and instead turn to Maine Street (or perhaps State, Court or Division or wherever) and halls of our own towns, cities and villages.

Posted by Jesse

7 comments:

Alia said...

Jesse, I see where you were going with your comparison. There is one point you made regarding New Orleans, however, where I think you're off.
I don't think America was/is justified in its horror over the looting and rioting that occurred. Both were exaggerated by our corporate, racist media in an attempt to show us that we cannot live without the State. The media looked to make money on pictures of "black people running amok" in one of the most culturally significant African American cities in the United States. Take the newsarticle that simultaneously showed white people "finding food" and black people "looting" for one example.
Everything that Blacks may or may not have looted was justifably taken considering that they built the city under the institution of slavery and have been continually oppressed, marginalized and left to die by the State to this day.

Jesse said...

Alia, you have have an excellent point. It was a terrible misstep, and one for which I should have known better. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by my comment.

The issue of race/ethic relations is often not at the forefront of politics in Upstate New York. It is true, after all, that in most areas outside of our cities, whites are the overwhelming majority.

However, racism, individual and institutional, is not isolated to the South and still is a powerful force in our communities. We must ask how it has come to be that our communities have stayed so homogenized? Binghamton, NY, for example was the Northeastern HQ for the KKK throughout much of the 20th century. Blacks and other minority groups were driven out of many northern towns and cities between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. This legacy of not segregation, but exclusion, is one that haunts us today. The "great white north" is no accident. I suggest James Loewen's recent book on the subject: Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism in America.

Once again, I apologize for my thoughtlessness.

joe said...

Speaking of culturally significant; the guitarist from U2 is trying to raise money for the musicians of New Orleans(especially the folks who play for very little and spend most of their time on street corners...) to get instruments and playing places during the rebuilding. Also, GW Bush still doesn't like black people.

Natalie said...

It's a good thing U2 became do-gooders because based on the merits of their recent albums alone, they should be taken to a CIA secret prison.

ploni said...

Buffalo didn't practically get wiped off the map in a day, you dipshit.

Jesse said...

Ploni,
That fact I never questioned. Obviously Buffalo was not destroyed within a day and the proximate causes(for you Ploni, that means the cause immediately preceeding the event) of their devastation were completely different. Buffalo was toppled over a decade, give or take, by factory closures while New Orleans was annihilated by a wall of water.

However, what I am trying to point out in this article is not that the two events were identical, but instead that their effects and their ultimate causes were similar enough to warrant introspection.

It is difficult to analyze long term effects, as New Orleans happened so recently, but we can see that the increase in violence, the waves of emigrants and the difficult problems of rebuilding echo one another. Only in the case of New Orleans, everything is sped up and so much more attention is given.

More importantly, especially if we desire to prevent another catastrophe, we must come to understand their ultimate causes. If they are found to be similar, which is truly what I am arguing in this article, then perhaps we should take steps to avoid repeating our failure. I have come to the conclusion that in the cases of both cities, the greatest ultimate causes was an over reliance on centralized authorities, especially governments and corporations, that caused each of the cities to be blindsided when those authorities abandoned them.

I think perhaps if you had read into my article, Ploni, and pondered it, you might understand that I was not trying to convince you that Buffalo was destroyed in a day or that NAFTA caused the levees to burst. I also don't appreciate you calling me a "dipshit," this is a forum for civil discussion over the future of Upstate New York; if you try to post again refrain from insulting me or I will not allow the comment to be published.

Linda D said...

I think the comparison is very appropriate, Jesse, especially since Buffalo politicians, their academician advisors, and elites attempt to hide the poverty and destroyed neighborhoods behind glitzy upscale housing and new office buildings in downtown and .